Rochelle Courtenay CEO and Founder of Share The Dignity, and self proclaimed “Crazy Pad Lady” is passionate about offering all women the opportunity to live with dignity. She was motivated to start Share The Dignity in 2015 after reading an article that described the indignities faced by homeless women and those in domestic violence shelters dealing with their monthly period, without financial resources. Rochelle found this unacceptable, and marshalled a committed group of volunteers to spearhead initiatives like #itsinthebag, Dignity Vending Machines, and now Handbags With Heart.
Rochelle’s inspirational leadership to help give vulnerable women dignity when dealing with their monthly period has been widely recognised. Named 2016 Cosmopolitan humanitarian of the year, and a 2016 Telstra Queensland For Purpose and Social Enterprise Award Finalist, Rochelle has marshalled over 350 volunteers to help Share The Dignity. She also has attracted a wonderful group of sponsors who support Share The Dignity’s efforts nationally.
You recently announced the very exciting news that Rebecca Gibney an Ambassador. How did you make this happen?
We were so excited to have Rebecca come on board she really is an Australian icon and epitomises Dignity and her story as a child is very fitting for Share the Dignity. When I started Share the Dignity I had a vision board. I love that board. Nearly everything has actually come to fruition, except my dream to get Oprah to mention the plight of Australian women and Share the Dignity when she was here.
Tell us about creating the first Dignity Vending Machine.
I am so very proud of the vending machines. Nearly 2 years ago I posted on our Share the Dignity page about how amazing would it be if we could get a free vending machine so that women never had to go without the basic of necessities. That was the start of my mission to try to find a vending machine company to come on board to help make this happen. I had more “no’s” than I have fingers on my hands. It was absolute elation when Ventraders in Melbourne said “YES!” they would help me make it happen.
Vending machines are there to make money, right? So when I wanted one that was free, then also wanted to put a timer on it to reduce potential wastage, it was a little more difficult. We had two prototypes made in January this year and the first ever machine was installed into McDonalds Bracken Ridge. This is an area has a high rate of domestic violence. We know that women head to the McDonalds there, because there is a high police presence, clean bathrooms, free wifi and a playground for the kids while they have a little time to gather their thoughts.
The second machine went into The Living Room in Hoiser Lane in Melbourne. Whilst we supply them with pads and tampons, previously people needed to go up to the counter, where men and women there assist you, and ask for sanitary supplies. Now women can just go into the bathroom and a period pack is there at the touch of a button. This will help women who may feel embarrassed to ask, and allow them the dignity they deserve with the basic of necessities.
We were very lucky to have had the support of Queensland Government and won a Dignity First grant for 10 machines. We purchased a further 10 machines, so 20 machines are about to roll out across Australia. How exciting! It is our wish to roll out a further 28 machines this year. We can only do this with the support of our events we hold. This includes our Yoga4digity, which is happening all over Australia as we all unite for the women in need.
What are some of the ways people can get involved to support your important work?
The power of the conversation really is the first way you can Share the Dignity. Share our posts, have a conversation, donate when we have our dignity drives or for #itsinthebag. Or donate online and attend our great events.
What is Handbags with Heart and how did it come about?
Handbags with Heart came about after we had collected over 100,000 handbags in December 2016. I called a major handbag chain and asked if they could offer a discount for women who had selflessly given their handbag to fill with all the goodies to pass on to a woman in need for Christmas. To be honest they were not interested, but I am a big believer in everything happens for a reason. I thought could you imagine if we had our own bags and women in Australia could buy with their heart and know that the handbag they were carrying had a direct impact on a woman because they shared the dignity?
The gorgeous styles and signature pink lining was designed by our Share the Dignity women who gave us their feedback of exactly what they wanted in a bag. We are just stoked with them. Nearly 1,000 bags sold in pre-sale so that was certainly interesting to get them out before Mothers day! We are loving seeing the pics come through and really love that each bag is named after two women that we have been able to help, Jane and Paula. We will do two limited edition bags each year. We’ve been able to purchase 10,000 period packs with the funds raised by selling the Handbags and that is phenomenal!
What has been your greatest challenge?
My greatest challenge is time. There just are not enough hours in the day. I wish I could buy more time but I do feel like I am always in deficit. At the end of the day we are all given the same 24 hours in a day. It’s just about working out what’s the best use of my time.
What are you most proud of?
WOW that’s a tough one for me. I am so proud of so many things. Obviously my beautiful daughters. In the Share the Dignity world I am most proud of the Dignity Vending Machines. I feel like they are my babies (said crazy pad lady), and I really know that these will make a difference to women in need.
I am also proud of the Sheros. These amazing women who come together selflessly to make a difference to women they will never meet. The friendships we have all made cannot be measured. I for sure know I am a better woman for meeting these women.
What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?
Get yourself a vision board, believe in yourself and make it happen.
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