What do a 25-year-old Australian feminist, 21-year-old Nigerian artist, 36-year-old Indian scientist, 27-year-old Liberian activist, a 32-year-old Swedish entrepreneur and a 20-year-old American pop star have in common? Don’t worry, you can take a breath, this is not the premise of an outdated racist joke. It’s part of the diverse team it took to get The Cova Project, a not for profit organisation, up and running.
This International Women’s Day, I’d like to talk (brag) about my latest venture, The Cova Project, and not about the obvious things, like the health benefits of providing menstrual cups to girls in Sub-Saharan Africa or the environmental benefits of products that don’t impact waste management systems. Instead I want to talk a bit about something I don’t think we often give enough credit to, social media.
Yes, social media is home to some of humanity’s worse behaviours, but it is also a relatively level marketplace where everyone is invited to sell their wares. When we started The Cova Project in Sydney, Australia, we had a small team and literally no money. What money we had came from our own pockets and it was pennies. We bartered with everyone, trying to pull on heart strings and have talented Australians do us favours for little to no return.
We’d tell them our story, how we had teamed up with a brilliant supplier of menstrual cups in Sweden, who out of the goodness of their heart was selling us a top of the line product for a marked reduction in price. How we had local partners on the ground in multiple African nations, who saw the cup as a solution to the 50 days of school a year some girls miss because of their periods. How girls with just eight years of education help grow local economies and are four times less likely to get married young. How we were ready to make a difference with their help.
Sometimes it worked (thank you again to our wonderful local suppliers), most of the time it didn’t. When we’d get quotes for simple tasks, the prices were exorbitant. We were a small charity trying to provide safe sanitary solutions to Africa, not a bank, $400 for event invitation design was a nail in our coffin.
We started an Instagram page for The Cova Project and advertised to our friends, local colleges, schools, and universities. We were Australians reaching out to Australians. But as we watched our donations start to come in we were amazed by some of the locations they were coming from. A donation from France, a donation from Macau, a donation from the UK, US, from Sri Lanka. Our global reach was astounding, all because we were representing our cause on social media, in the global marketplace, not from a soap box on the streets of Sydney.
It made us wonder why we were looking for services just from our community when the rest of the world was also showing interest in our work.
We started pumping out emails, dm’s, messages… We joined Fiverr and other outsourcing sites. We stopped focusing on location and started focusing on identifying like-minded individuals. Within a month, we’d developed a global community of people, happy to lend their services free of charge. We outsourced all design elements of our educational materials to talented individuals in Nigeria and India, we had an emerging American pop star perform at our L.A fundraiser, we began working on a project in Liberia where we could reach thousands of girls living in West Point. We were a team of generous people, most of whom would never meet in person but a team nonetheless.
The Cova Project, which has grown to be something strong and beautiful was built off the efforts of talented people all over the world. Because of the technology we have access to today, it was no harder communicating with Emmanuel in Nigeria than it was emailing your local Officeworks.
We had spent so much time thinking small that we’d forgotten about 99% of the world. And when the entire premise of The Cova Project is a bunch of girls from Australia wanting to help girls in Africa, why would we assume people in other parts of the world wouldn’t want to help us?
This International Women’s Day, I want us to really focus on the word ‘International’.
This International Women’s Day, I want us to really focus on the word ‘International’. We may celebrate with our local girl gang, we may think about our actions and our progress, but don’t forget to look at what’s happening in India, Sweden, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Brazil…. There’s important work going on everywhere, work that because of social media, you can easily support. So go on, have a scroll through the IWD2019 hashtag and where better to start than by clicking here and checking out The Cova Project (shameless plug).
In a world where working together can sometimes seem challenging, it’s important to remember how easy it is to connect.
It’s a small world so now, more than ever, think big.