Morgan Koegel is one of the exciting line-up of speakers at this year’s Sprout Summit. Morgan’s One Girl initiative, Do It In A Dress, alongside Craigburn Primary School also recently raised over $240,000 for girls education in Africa! It’s sure to be a fascinating talk – if you want to see her live or on the livestream, book your tickets now.
And while you’re at it, why not help tip them over a quarter of a million dollars!
At the age of 25, Morgan Koegel is not only the youngest member of the One Girl team, but also its CEO. One Girl is an organisation committed to educating girls across Sierra Leone and Uganda through programs that target gender inequality and factors that keep women out of the classroom. Previously Morgan has been the Sector Development Manager of Prison Legal Education and Assistance (PLEA) where she worked in prisons across Victoria, and CEO of Engage Education, a not-for-profit keeping Australian students from low socio-economic backgrounds in school. She is a passionate believer in the power of education and the capacity for young people to do anything they set their mind to.
Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
I took over as CEO from one of the co-founders of the organisation in early 2016 – and the story of how it happened is actually a funny one:
It was late on a Monday night and, like all good law students, I was scrolling through Facebook instead of studying. A friend had tagged me in a video and I clicked through to watch. It was a short about an organisation called One Girl which was looking for their new CEO.
The video finished and I took a breath and swiveled around on my chair. I gestured to the screen to my partner: “that’s my job.”
He laughed. “You’re not looking for a job.”
“No,” I told him. “You don’t understand. THAT’S my job.”
It’s true I wasn’t looking for a job – I’d stepped down from being the CEO of a not-for-profit education organisation to study a postgraduate law degree some years earlier. But after all of my experiences being disheartened trying to create change where I was, I saw One Girl as a place where I could jump in and get my hands dirty with a mammoth task. The thing that really appealed to me in that moment (and keeps me going every day) is that this is a role where I can always finish my day knowing I’ve made a difference. Things happen quickly in this role…and that’s the way I like it!
This role brings together my two great passions: gender equality and education. It’s so inspiring to get to fight for those two things every single day.
Please explain your business model.
We are a registered Australian charity (with DGR status) and we are entirely reliant on community fundraising. We have an incredible network of regular givers and business donors, but the thing that really sets us apart is our peer-to-peer fundraising through campaigns like Do It In A Dress (www.doitinadress.com). The idea is simple: people pick a challenge, raise money amongst their family and friends, complete their challenge in a school dress and as a result, One Girl is able to educate more girls. In the countries we work in, a school dress is a symbol of education and empowerment, and here in Australia we see people be empowered to jump outside of their comfort zone when they put that dress on.
Do It In A Dress has been going for six years now and growing every year – last year we raised over $700,000 and this year we are planning for a big October of dressers!
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next year?
We’re really excited about our next peer-to-peer launching in January, 2018. It’s called “I Don’t Want a Present” and it asks our community to do something they’ve already been doing for years for us: give up their birthday or special event, and raise money instead. The campaign is super cute and snappy and works for people of all ages – we’ve seen people give up their 10th birthdays and their 70th – we even saw a couple give up their wedding! I’m stoked to see how many people we can get to pledge their big day in 2018.
How do you make ideas happen?
We are an incredibly collaborative team at One Girl. Whenever we need a new idea, we get together and look at the “problem” we’re trying to solve, ie what we want to create in a nutshell and why a community member might respond to that. From there, we start throwing around ideas for “solutions” and think about why that might speak to an ordinary Australian. For me, I know we’ve landed on a good idea when the team is in furious agreement that, even if it wasn’t their idea, this could motivate a large group of people to get involved. If we’re going to be successful in educating one million girls across Africa, we need to mobilise a huge community of committed people!
What role have mentors played in your business life?
I’ve never really had a formal mentoring relationship, but I’m lucky to be surrounded by incredibly intelligent, accomplished people who provide a constant source of inspiration and support. I was raised by two incredibly driven mothers who taught me from an early age how to work hard and challenge myself to be better.
Now as a mentor to my staff and others, I work hard to think about the challenges I’ve faced as a young, female CEO and how I can encourage others to find their path to creating a positive difference.
What does your typical day look like?
There is no such thing as a ‘typical’ day for me! Every day is different – the only thing they share in common is that they are hectic (in a good way). Things I do a lot of are meetings with staff and external stakeholders such as potential supporters, talks in front of large crowds of people, approving different strategies and action points for my team, writing outward facing comms along with the Communications Director, revising governance documents and budgets, and the list goes on! Sometimes I’ll come into the office, open my inbox and find that an email has come through with an incredible opportunity – the rest of the day will be all about that!
A question I get asked a lot is how often I get to travel with this job. While throughout the year I’m back and forth from Sydney and Brisbane, I travel to the field (Sierra Leone and Uganda) once a year.
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?
The challenges are varied and numerous, but I think things can be summarised down to internal and external pressures.
Internally, we are a small but dedicated team which makes us prone to burn out. On top of that, as an organisation grows, decisions need to be made that weren’t important when we were small and unknown. When you hit a certain stage of growth you need to be able to take off the rose-tinted glasses and look at everything that has come before you with a willingness to make changes – to your campaigns, to your programs, etc. That can be a really tough thing to do when you’re in growth mode because everything feels positive and exciting, so it’s a massive downer to want to look back and start slashing and burning. That said, being self-reflective during growth is essential if you don’t want that growth to end.
Externally, this is a tough time for not-for-profits and the social good sector in general. There are so many causes and people are so connected – and on the other hand, often cynical. You have to be willing to answer questions and criticisms, as well as be aware of what is happening in the industry around you.
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
I’ll do you one better – here’s two. One Girl has seen enormous growth in the past few years at a time where charities are falling out of vogue and, in a lot of cases, seeing shrinking budgets. I think there are two things we do really well that explains this growth. One is going personal and one is being unique.
When I talk about “going personal” I mean being willing to engage with people on a personal level – to explain to them why you as an individual are passionate about that cause. Whenever I give a talk or write an email, I always treat it as me just having a conversation with one other person – how can I communicate my commitment to them? I often tell personal stories of how I ended up in this role and find that it cuts through the noise of people talking facts and figures. You have to speak with people on a human level to get them to care about a human issue like poverty or inequality.
The second is about finding a unique voice and not being afraid to commit to that. At One Girl we’ve totally rejected the status quo of development organisations with longwinded descriptions of what we do and why we do it – we like to just tell it like it is. The first time I ever wrote an email that was going out to a large group of supporters (in my first week on the job), I showed our Communications Manager (at One Girl called our “Chief Wordsmith”) and she said ‘yeah, it’s good, but now you need to add about ten exclamation marks and three “awesome’s”’. We get so many supporters telling us that they love how we speak and that they’ve learned a lot from reading our stuff because it’s written to be read!
For anyone starting out, I firmly believe that having a grounding in the personal motivation for doing what you’re doing, and second to that a clear idea of how your voice is different than others is key to success.
What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?
I think in general development and education organisations have come a long way in the work that they do and how they communicate it in the last decade. I am constantly impressed with the campaigns and appeals that organsiations like Plan and the Red Cross run to capture attention and inform the public.
A project that we’re in on (and a lot of other like-minded organisations seem to be working on too) is exploring high-tech solutions to developing world problems. Because we provide scholarships to girls in high school, we also have to provide a way for them to study in the evening. Improvements in solar lamps have made them affordable and super attractive to us as an organisation committed to sustainability – and I’ve seen a lot of others orgs heading that way as well.
A group focused on a cause here in Australia that I can’t get enough of is STREAT. Their café is near our office, and in reality we use that as a second office for all of our meetings and interviews! They are a great model for creative ways to grow a social good organisation.
What about internationally?
Same as above!
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
We could not do everything we do without the financial and in-kind support of a whole range of businesses that partner with us. From website help to printing our materials, our friends in business make us look slick. I think a future where more businesses go out of their way to find a charitable partner to support would result in better outcomes in both sectors – in terms of employee satisfaction and customer retention for businesses, and in terms of growth and support for charities.
Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.
I rate our website not just because it’s ours, but because it’s really unique charity website: www.onegirl.org.au
For anyone looking to get into this space, Justice Connect’s hub for NFPs is essential: www.justiceconnect.org.au/our-programs/not-for-profit-law
And lastly, if you’re a hard-working, social change type like me (and therefore a stress cadet) you need this one: www.calmingmanatee.com
Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter.
Celeste Liddle @Utopiana
Clementine Ford @clementine_ford
Kon Karapanagiotidis @Kon_K
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?
There are so many ways to get involved with One Girl – whether that’s becoming a supporter, fundraising for us in your friendship group or business, or learning more about what we do to become an advocate for girls’ education. You can find out more at www.onegirl.org.au.
We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups, marketing, social media, accounting, monetization, product development etc. What would it be?
When people learn about us, they love us, and they never leave. What I want to know as a leader is what is the best way to get our message and who we are as an organisation out to the biggest group of people possible?
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
You might have guessed it already – STREAT at 66 Cromwell St, Collingwood. Once you take a swing in one of their hammocks with a coffee in hand, you’ll never go anywhere else!