There, I met Sylvia, an inspiring woman from Papua New Guinea (PNG), who is living with HIV and working hard to improve conditions for other HIV positive women.
Kiri’s name came up when I was talking to Sylvia about how people could help her with her work in PNG, as someone who was already supporting Sylvia’s work, and who had become a vital connection for her.
When I dug a little deeper, I found that Kiri is an incredibly inspiring woman, who has dedicated herself to improving conditions for women across the world. Kiri is the Director of Think Out Loud, a specialist gender and development advisory company offering customised support to meet the needs of NGOs, governments and social enterprises working towards gender equality and women’s human rights globally.
We caught up over email between Canberra and where Kiri is based in Buka, Bougainville.
Tell me a bit about yourself.
I had a fairly standard upbringing in a small beachside town dominated by white middle class Australians. My mother is a nurse and my father runs our family business (a backpacker’s hostel). I have one brother and one sister. I come from a long line of courageous and strong willed women who tend to outlive their husbands by a number of years. My grandmother is 98 years old and still swims at an international level, my mother runs hospitals in some of the worst conflict zones in the world. Those experiences have all shaped the person I am today.
When did you first found Think Out Loud? What drove you to starting the organisation?
Think Out Loud is a business, not a not-for-profit organisation. It’s an important distinction because it took me a while to feel comfortable making a profit from gender inequality!
I started consulting on community development projects when I was 29, I started Think Out Loud about 12 months later, but it really grew in size and scope in 2014 when I employed another full time consultant. Getting started was a combination of hard word, lots of networking and the support of some great women who were good enough to give me a foot in the door in the development world. Being a consultant takes a lot of courage, confidence and tenacity – you only get one ‘yes’ for every hundred ‘nos’ but you need to persevere.
Think Out Loud offers an alternative to the traditional consulting model. We work with NGOs and governments to provide technical advice in the area of gender equality, at a reasonable rate. We do this through a partnership model, which is focused on building organisational capacity around gender mainstreaming. We work globally across a range of areas, including training and capacity building, program design, policy development and gender mainstreaming. We also develop learning resources for gender practitioners.
What is the project your most proud of working on through Think Out Loud?
There have been so many! Recently highlights include working with Dr Jackie Huggins to draft the 2014 CEDAW Shadow Report for Australia and working with UN Women to design a toolkit for grassroots community organisations in the Pacific called ‘How to Design Projects to End Violence Against Women’. For that, we created a character called ‘Moana’ (with the help of Anthia our super talented graphic designer) who shared her story of taking action to end violence in her community.
When did you first meet Sylvia? Tell me a bit about your friendship and how it has evolved.
I have been traveling to PNG a lot over the past few years for different projects and I always make an effort to drop in to the YWCA when I am passing through Port Moresby. I used to see Sylvia a lot and was aware of her work with HIV positive women. A couple of times I invited Sylvia to give testimonial at different trainings and events I was involved in, that’s when I really took the time to listen to her story and understand exactly what she has been through. Since then I have just done small things to help her out, applying for scholarships, paying her school fees so she can go back to school, getting a bank account etc. They are only small but they add up to something much bigger. I once heard someone define family as your ‘main people’ – I guess in that sense Sylvia and I are family.
You were part of a successful fundraising campaign to help get Sylvia to the next World YWCA Council in Thailand later this year. Why is it important that Sylvia goes to World Council?
It’s crucial. I doubt people know it at the time, but when Sylvia was selected as a delegate to the 2011 World Council she was experiencing violence from her partner and his family on a daily basis. When she was preparing to go, her community didn’t believe her, they couldn’t understand why someone like Sylvia would get such an amazing opportunity. That experience was life changing for her, people started to respect her because they new that other people respected her.
What do you hope to achieve through Think Out Loud?
Aside from continuing to grow the profile of the organisation and take on more consultants and bigger projects, I’d also like to start the ‘Think Out Loud Foundation’ – a not-for-profit arm of the business to support creative and innovative grassroots efforts to promote gender equality.
How can people help?
I don’t need help! Help Sylvia, or better still, find your own Sylvia…