By Ram Khatry
26 January 2019
A Melbourne “social entrepreneur” has been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for her trailblazing philanthropic enterprise that aims to better lives of thousands of disadvantaged women in Nepal. The award is also recognition of Stephanie Woollard’s role in inspiring young Australians to be better members of the community and act beyond self-interest.
The Order of Australia is conferred by the Governor General. Ms Woollard will receive the Medal amid a ceremony at the Government House in April.
Some 12 years ago, Stephanie Woollard could not walk away when she came upon seven “disabled women who were ostrocised from their communities and stigmatised because of reasons out of their own control”. It was during the final few days of her Nepal trip when she decided to do something to help that group of seven disabled women making soaps and candles off a dilapidated tin shed. She had but $200 left on her!
Ms. Woolllard eventually founded the Seven Women, named after these seven disabled women she met while co-leading tours with Duke Of Edinburgh, in 2006. Today Seven Women is a thriving social enterprise which has been a launchpad for learning in education, skills training and income generation. These activities are empowering women to become independent and then share their skills with others. The organization has had great ripple effects not only in Kathmandu but into remote villages, benefitting over 5,500 marginalised women in the mountainous country. Its operations began the moment Ms. Woollard took the first step and used that $200 in her back pocket to hire two trainers “to up-skill the women to manufacture a range of different products appropriate for sale abroad.”
Now, Ms Woollard may well be better known in Nepal than in her own country of birth thanks to her relentless efforts and unwavering commitment to make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable women in Nepal.
The Medal of the Order of Australia award recognises Ms. Woollard’s success in bringing about a positive change in Nepal through her humanitarian work. It was established in 1975 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The Medal recognises outstanding contributions to the community by exceptional Australians.
Former diplomat, and supporter of Seven Women, David Livingstone highlighted her activities “reach far beyond her work in Nepal and that when Ms Woollard shares the Seven Women story at conferences internationally, it has a positive effect on the perceptions of Australia.”
“Ms Woollard’s work with disadvantaged women in Nepal is widely recognised in that country, and is also associated with Australia and the Australian character,” Mr. Livingstone states.
Mr. Livingstone further stated that Ms. Woollard “brings people together and is a great unifier of the Australian society” and in sharing her story to taking action “she educates and inspires Australians.”
To date, there have been over 3000 international visitors to the Seven Women head office in Kathmandu. These keen travellers participate in cooking classes, craft classes and basic Nepali classes for travellers and support the sustainability of the model by generating local income to fund Seven Women programs and providing training and employment for women in the hospitality industry. Ms Woollard’s Tour company Hands On Development leads life-changing immersions which provide the women with a different skill in travel and tourism, therefore enriching the lives of both travellers and locals through connection and opportunities to contribute in meaningful ways.
It is through Ms. Woollard’s unique gift of marrying business acumen with philanthropy that she has now developed an organisation that directly and significantly assists over 5500 women.
Stephanie Woollard has been awarded internationally for her achievements, including in 2016, when she received the Rotary International Responsible Business Award, presented at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
Ms. Woollard holds a masters degree in Peace and Conflict Resolution from Sweden’s Uppsala University, a qualification that aptly complements what the responsible social entrepreneur has been trying to achieve for over a decade.
“If there is suffering in our world we all suffer and it is up to those who have the voice and means to make a difference to step up and do more,” says the philanthropist entrepreneur. She now wants to grow the work of Seven Women beyond Nepal by connecting people from different places to come together and have a greater collective impact. The OAM winner is now pursuing this dream through sharing the life enriching experiences she has had in Nepal with others through her Hands on Development tours, giving unique experiences through visiting a range of different organisations, including seven women, world heritage sites, ancient cities and villages. Her tours are designed to inspire through lived experience and connect people to issues that matter to them.
“If we stepped up and took responsibility for that state of our world, and did a little bit more with the resources we have been given, the world would be a different place,” says Ms. Woollard.