Photo: The Age
Zoe Lamont is founder of 10thousandgirl – a life planning and financial literacy program for young women across Australia, linked with a micro-finance initiative. The idea is that as you increase your ability to effectively manage financially and plan for the future yourself, you increase your capacity to help others. My interview with Zoe Lamont was very uplifting. The idea of a financial life circle is innovative and shows a desire to give back to the planet. This is not usually a philosophy which works hand in hand with finances, but when Zoe speaks about it, it makes perfect sense. Zoe’s holistic view creates a nurturing environment to create financial growth. The following interview is a snapshot of 10thousandgirl and an insight into Zoe Lamont and her visionary approach to financial independence.
10thousandgirl is an interesting name, is there a story behind the name?
There’s a few reasons we chose the name 10thousandgirl.
I don’t personally follow a religion but I am fascinated with a lot of the wise old writings. There’s an old Tao philosophy that to me means individuals need to be free to live their own lives, without being caught up in systems and structures, and when ten thousand of them are left to do so, it’s like a critical mass can create a peaceful ripple effect.
Tao abides in non-action yet nothing is left undone. If Kings and Lords observed this, the ten thousand things would develop naturally.. Without form, there is no desire. Without desire there is tranquility. And in this way all things would be at peace (verse 37. Tr. Gia Fu Feng)
Another verse I like is a bit Robin Hood-ish.
The Tao of heaven is to take from those who have too much and give to those who do not have enough (verse 77. Tr. Gia Fu Feng)
The purpose of 10thousandgirl is to empower women to define their goals and build their knowledge and confidence to understand and navigate the financial system we live in, in turn increasing each of our capacity to help and contribute more broadly. As 10thousandgirl started with a small group of friends in a pub, and grew quickly to run programs in 45+ towns across Australia, we decided it felt like a social movement. Hence the name 10thousandgirl Campaign.
Your “Healthy Economy Cycle” is very holistic and model which gives back to the community. How did you come up with the concept?
The macro model behind 10thousandgirl is largely inspired by my time working as a humanitarian volunteer. When I came back to Australia I couldn’t get over the fact that people in Sydney thought you were a weirdo if you smiled at them on a bus or that they complain about their job or about not having enough money. Whilst on the other side of the world, you’ll come across old women would give you her last piece of betel nut to thank you for visiting her, and find happier children in refugee camps.
This may seem dull and glum, and yes it got me down for a year or two too until I though, hey, why don’t we find a way to share the material resources existing in one part of the world in exchange for feelings of self appreciation, empowerment and refreshed perspective?
So the 10thousandgirl model is being built to have the financial services industry supporting Australian women to learn and build their capacity to be able to contribute and help other women, which ultimately helps more communities to climb the economic ladder where they need the products and services the financial services industry provides. To do this we partner with banks, local professional service providers and Opportunity International who deliver the micro-finance element.
How has starting 10thousandgirl changed or impacted your life?
Well until about 8 months ago when I was very nearly burnt out. I had no life! Tt’s been pretty hard work getting it up and running, but 2-3 years down the track we have some momentum and governance and a board in place so we’re working towards building a more strategic and sustainable model. The first few years have been about proving the concept and now that we know the program has great impact and there’s a demand, we can work on the model to build scale.
I have personally learnt so much and met so many incredibly humbling and inspiring people by creating and delivering the 10thousandgirl programs. It gives me shivers to think about some of the stories of the women who have participated, and the unbelievable continued passion and commitment of the team.
How close are you to achieving your goal of raising $1M for your programs?
Far! We haven’t got near where I’d like to see for our micro-finance fundraising yet – yet being the operative word! One thing we learnt very quickly is that it takes far more effort and resources to develop and deliver the programs across Australia than we first imagined. Because of this we’ve changed our tact from short term thinking. This includes running a five year social campaign to long term thinking and working with partners to embed the educational programs in each community and leave it up to the community to decide how and whether they want to raise money toward micro-finance or sponsor women in their immediate community who may be more marginalised. Many country areas choose the latter, whereas our community coordinators in, say Perth, do extra fundraising for Opportunity International and are really passionate about helping women globally which is exciting.
This year we’re relaunching the Girl Investment Group program which will have a set percentage of the membership fee going toward micro-finance. I look forward to watching that grow and to having a more structured measurable way to do the fundraising. I know one day we’ll reach it but it might be in ten years rather than my optimistically naïve original plan of doing it all in a day.
What has been your greatest achievement to date?
I could say there’s been moments like having a 10thousandgirl proudly share how much she’d learnt and achieved openly on the Morning Show, or the program being acknowledged by ASIC. Or those times I’ve sat with a woman over the workshop lunch break and helped her work through her plan and budget. But really, I think it’s developing patience. I have quite a wild spirit that thrives on diving in, loves immediate gratification, wants to do everything myself. And I’ve learnt over the last few years to slow down, surround myself by people who can do things better than I can and to think about the 10 year impact of my actions, rather than the 10 minute impact.
What inspires you?
People who are willing to be honest about their current situation and to be bold in setting goals around where they want to be. I think that’s why I love the 10thousandgirl programs. I get to sit in a room and listen to people’s dreams and watch them take the first few steps to realising that with a plan, all dreams are possible.
About Zoe Lamont
Zoe Lamont is an innovative young advocate for positive social change. She has been involved in the creation and development of a number of social impact programs including being the founder of the 10thousandgirl Campaign, a life planning and financial literacy program for young women across Australia linked with a microfinance initiative and Future Map, a financial literacy program for the workplace.
Zoe’s passion for seeing people take control of their life and finances stems from a chain of insights gained from her experience growing up on a farm and starting her career at an abattoir in regional Australia and from time working as a humanitarian volunteer on projects in Zambia, Southern India and along the Thai-Burmese border.
A dynamic presenter, Zoe travels across Australia from Alice Springs to Wagga Wagga to Perth presenting the 10thousandgirl Campaign life planning and financial literacy workshops for women and works with leading Australian companies building community resilience and employee engagement through improving financial wellbeing. She regularly appears in the Australian media, is a Fellow of the Australian School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) and received the inaugural ASIC 2012 MoneySmart Award for an outstanding example of an innovative and effective financial literacy approach for women across regional Australia.