Womaneer: Meet the Australian Woman Making Real Change in Uganda

Updated 05/09/18

Introducing: Womaneer, our new series that highlights and celebrates the oft–overlooked women of our day who are making waves in the fields of politics, crypto-currency, not-for-profit, and design. Each of these women have something in common: vision, grit, and a heavy dose of persistence that keeps them going despite the odds.

These women are proof that the gender gap is closing… that is, if you fight for it. With some guts, you can become the next pioneering voice in your field—a womaneer. Last week, we heard from Aimie Rigas of Power Ledger. Now, meet the next Womaneer in our series, Caitlin Barrett of Love Mercy Australia, a not-for-profit charity that supports women in Uganda.

Read on, to learn about how Barrett is making a difference in Uganda, and about some of the obstacles women working in not-for-profit face today.

"I studied a Bachelor of International Studies majoring in Development, then did a Master of Development Studies at UNSW. I also went on exchange for a year in Paris, which helped open my eyes to what I wanted my future to look like."

"My master’s degree in particular was very helpful. I found it extremely practical. It helped that I could go to work the following day and implement a lot of the things I was learning, particularly around project management and working with vulnerable communities."

"My story is a little different, as I started the organisation myself! So rather than "break in" I created my own while I was at uni—it wasn’t the easiest way to go about it, but after eight years in the industry I can say that I’m glad that we did it!"

"I was the founding CEO of Love Mercy at age 21. My roles before that taught me to be administrative and know the nuts and bolts of running businesses. I worked for some Australian brands that started in their living room that are now very successful, so I saw first-hand the processes and the systems needed to grow a brand from something small into something bigger, while retaining the grass roots vibe of what we do."

"I fund agricultural loans for female farmers in Uganda. Day to day, I oversee all the operations, fundraising, marketing, and reporting for Love Mercy in Australia, which all help to achieve our vision in Uganda; to restore hope to communities after decades of civil war. I work closely with our Ugandan organisation to ensure that our overall goals are met. We are aiming to reach 20,000 women in our agricultural loan program, Cents for Seeds, by 2020. This year we are also building a maternity ward in a remote village with little access to proper health care."

"Last year we had 10,417 women receive a loan of 30kgs of seeds. She plants them, harvests approx. 300kgs and returns her loan to us. We were super excited about that milestone, as it’s the half way point for our overall vision of 20,000 women by 2020.  We also are recognised by Australia’s peak body for International charities, ACFID, as one of its code of conduct signatories. This means we are among the more transparent and best-governed organisations in the country. That was a massive achievement for our small but passionate team."

"Fundraising is hard! Last year it was reported that Australians gave less money to charity than in previous years. Government funding is continually cut to the aid sector which puts lots of organisations running great projects under pressure. We rely on generous Australians to make a $30 per month donation to loan one women in Uganda 30kg of seeds. That donation is crucial to our work."

"The not-for-profit world typically attracts a lot of women. However many of the major organisations are still headed by men. Not-for-profit boards are still majority male. I think as with lots of organisations, it can be difficult for women to work their way up to the top of organisations that are stuck in traditional ways of doing things, with rigid working hours and little to no flexibility when it comes to managing work and family life."

"There are some factors which make starting out today much easier. Communications and technology has advanced so much in such a short time that women can do anything from anywhere they like. The problem with that is that you can fall in to the trap of never really turning off—of always working, and never resting."

"Alongside gender bias I have encountered issues around my age. I often receive comments about looking young, or shock at the fact that I am a CEO and have two children. Mostly it comes as a veiled compliment, but I have had one occasion when I was speaking at a conference and the person introducing me made extremely offensive comments about my looks and the fact that I am a working mum in front of an audience I was about to present to about innovation in the work place. Needless to say, one of my first points was about inclusive language and support of diversity in the workplace as being key to progress."

"Honest answer—fake it ‘til you make it! For many years I thought everyone would realise that I had no idea what I was doing, and was the world’s biggest fraud. Until what I was doing kept working, and we kept growing and gaining more and more momentum. I found a few mentors who really backed me and taught me to have confidence, and believed in me. Now I have realised that EVERYONE feels like they’re just making it up as they go along, and if they say they aren’t, they’re probably lying."

"I am not great at this one—although I am getting better. I have two young kids and a long commute. I try to do all my phone calls while I travel so that I can switch off and hang out at home. This doesn’t always work due to the time zone difference as Uganda is waking up as I am getting ready to go home for the day. I try to ensure I spend several little chunks of quality time each day. We share around the dinner table about the best and worst parts of our days. I do bed time every night and I take my eldest for a chino date on the way to school once a week."

"This year I am aiming to get 13,000 new seed loans out to female farmers in Uganda. I also aim to build a stand alone maternity hospital that will provide excellent quality of care to hundreds of mothers and their babies this year. To do this we need to expand our donor base and keep partnering with generous Aussies and great brands who support our work. This year is going to be our biggest yet!"

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