International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global celebration of the achievements of women and a call to action for gender equality. This year’s theme of is ‘Be Bold for Change’.
To mark International Women’s Day, I chatted with the founder of the Inner West Mums Facebook group and website, Anita Vitanova, about her background and achievements and what the 2017 theme, ‘Be Bold for Change’, means to her. Anita is speaking at this evening’s Inner West Council’s International Women’s Day event.
Ginny: First of all, how did Inner West Mums begin?
Anita: Six years ago I moved from London to Sydney with my husband. We arrived here on a Saturday and on the Monday my husband went to work. I shut the door after he left and then thought, what next? We didn’t know a single person here other than our landlord.
I soon became pregnant with our first child. As I didn’t have a support network in Sydney, I began stopping people on the street asking them, ‘Who is your obstetrician?’ ‘Where do you give birth?’ ‘Where do you buy your baby equipment?’ I slowly started to build up support around me.
After my baby was born in 2012, I joined a local mothers’ group, which was great. However, by the time our babies turned one most of the mothers from that group had returned to work. I felt I needed to meet some more like-minded mums. So I joined a large Facebook group of mums from another part of Sydney, but I was frustrated that I often couldn’t relate to the posts and recommendations in that group which didn’t cover my experience in the Inner West. Around that time I searched for an ‘Inner West Mums’ group on Facebook and realised there wasn’t one, so together with a friend over a glass of wine I decided I’d start one myself.
Ginny: Were you quite active on Facebook at the time?
Anita: No! I wasn’t at all Facebook savvy or even particularly active on Facebook. Just a year earlier, when one of the mothers in my local mums’ group suggested that we communicate through a Facebook group, I remember thinking, Wow, this woman knows her stuff! I never could have imagined I’d end up running such a large group myself, or that the group could lead to a commercial venture.
Ginny: So what happened after you created the group?
Anita: Inner West Mums snowballed quickly. Within two or three months we had 2000 members. By the end of the first year, we had 8000 members. By the end of the second year, we had 12,000 members. And today we have more than 18,000 members. The group became a support network not just covering baby-related issues, but all kinds of issues that interest mums in this area.
Ginny: What has the group achieved?
Anita: Despite its size, the Inner West Mums group was, and has remained, closely knit. Every day I see small acts of kindness by our members – those who take the time to share a product or service that has helped them in response to a member’s question, those who offer to lend an item to another, those who make us laugh, who give encouragement, and who share information about issues that are important to many. The group has embraced a number of causes, social and philanthropic, and is helping to make change in our community. Just one example of this is our fundraising efforts for RPA’s Newborn Care Unit in the past year. It’s exciting to know that we are able to make an impact.
Ginny: Why did you decide to launch a commercial website?
Anita: I recognised early on that many of the mums in the group were running their own businesses. I decided to provide a platform to help these businesses grow by allowing them to advertise their business for free on a Thursday evening, and to comment on posts related to the product or service they offer. These businesses have enjoyed significant growth by speaking directly to the mums in this community.
After two years of running Inner West Mums, I felt I needed to be able to justify my time away from my family in nurturing this group and providing this platform. So, despite having no business experience whatsoever, I began to seriously consider the idea of creating an Inner West Mums commercial website.
I met with a couple of contacts to discuss the idea. One of them (whom I respect) said it was never going to work as a viable business. But the more noes I heard, the more I was determined to make the idea a success. My family often call me stubborn and perhaps this helped me here!
Aside from being told that Inner West Mums just wouldn’t work as a business, I had a great fear of failure, because I knew that if it did fail it would be in a very public way, in front of the community that I had set up!
Ginny: And how did the launch go? What have you achieved?
Anita: It went very well! We now have more than 300 local businesses in our directory; over 100 jobs were listed on our job board last year; we run offers and competitions throughout the year; and we produce our own content that is engaging and relevant to the group as well as the wider community.
I am proud of the Inner West Mums group and the site, but I haven’t done it alone. I am fortunate to have an amazing admin team on board. And I had some very business-savvy mums help me with the conception and development of the website. It also must be said that I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without my husband Andrew believing that I could do it. Surrounding yourself with supportive, knowledgeable people is so important.
It’s taken me a long time to acknowledge that Inner West Mums is a successful group and a successful business. I used to say that it was something I do on the side with the kids, but the reality is it’s not something on the side, it’s something I do around the clock with the kids. So often when women achieve something they will downplay it.
Ginny: What message do you have for those women who are considering making a change – in their personal lives or their community?
Anita: I’d say this: don’t be afraid to make a change, to leap at an opportunity that comes your way. Believe in yourself and your idea and surround yourself with women who can help you get there. Then go for it!
I think this applies to anyone with a goal, really. Perhaps you have a small business idea but are afraid to take the next step, as I was. Perhaps you’re thinking of a career change, one that allows you a better lifestyle and to follow your passions, but don’t know where to begin. Perhaps you want to lead a healthier, happier life but constantly put the kids first or are afraid to ask for help. Perhaps you’re in a toxic, abusive relationship and dream of a peaceful home. No matter your goal, I urge you to find the strength inside you to face your fear, challenge it, surround yourself with people who can assist you and start making steps towards that change.
Photo credit: Milk and Honey Photography
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