In recent months following the delivery of my TED Talk at TEDxSouthbank, a number of people have asked me when I first became involved in helping charities. How did I get started?

I had never really considered what that initial act had been, and so I’ve been mentioning a few different events in my replies, typically from my mid-to-late twenties in the late 1990s.

But a few days ago I was moving some old boxes of documents when I stumbled upon this newspaper clipping from 1985 when as a 10-year-old I had organised for my primary school in western Brisbane to donate toys for a Christmas appeal. This was my very first major engagement with formal charity.

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As soon as I saw the article it all came back. I was in Year 5 at the time, and I had seen the local preschool trying to run a toy drive encouraging families to donate toys to families in need. I say try, because I can still recall seeing the small, almost empty (and considerable shabby) cardboard box, with the hastily written donation sign on the floor as you walked into the preschool and thinking – there’s a better way to do this.

I was determined to put my theories to the test and I asked a friend and her sister to help me. 

Whether from the handing down of entrepreneurial DNA or via sheer instinct (perhaps a little of both) I knew that competition was going to be key. We received permission to speak on assemblies and presented the toy drive as a competition to see which class could be the most giving. A tour of all the classes launched the drive; we explained why it was important and how they could donate their toys. We produced brightly coloured signs and teachers created special, high-visibility donation baskets in their room. We visited every classroom, every day to ensure the toy drive was front of mind.

The toy drive was a major success, and went on to be even bigger the following year. For me it was incredibly rewarding. It allowed me to put my ideas (which now I would call entrepreneurial but were almost certainly labelled precocious or bossy at the time) to the test.

It was also personally beneficial. It was an extremely challenging time in my home life, and it allowed me to focus on taking action to help other people with their problems, when I was not in a position to help myself with my own.

Shortly after this time the challenges of my home life, being a teenager and later a teenage mum monopolised my time and I took a break from working with charities. This time flowed into the next range of challenges: being a university student, a mum and later an internationally travelling business professional. 

But as I think back on that moment when I looked at the donation box at the preschool and at age ten thought – there’s a better way to do this, it comes as no surprise that life has come full circle and I am once again helping charities to achieve their valuable missions.

AuthorJuanita Wheeler