Who are you, Sinead, and what drives you?
I am a writer, coach and trainer and founder of 8fold, a social business and a digital wellbeing company that helps busy people work better. I am the author of From Apps to Zen: 26+ Ideas for Building a Business with Balance and the forthcoming book The Business Yogi: How to be Happy at Work. I am passionate about the power of the web to make an impact and to change lives.
In 2011, I launched the Digital Assistant Academy, an innovative project that trains low income women with in-demand digital skills that they use to create their own micro-enterprise at home around their existing commitments.
I have just received £10,000 from the Nominet Trust and plan to use the funding to design and deliver an e-learning version of the Academy in order to reach more women.
I have also just launched a new social project called the Sky High Challenge. Inspired by the New York Times bestselling book Half the Sky: How to Change the World, I am launching the challenge on Facebook which uses social media and the power of networks to spread the message of the book and to drive direct action and support to help the organisations profiled in the book- changing the world one women and girl at a time. I am a Fellow of the School for Social Entrepreneurs and an UnLtd Award Winner. In my ‘spare time’ I practise yoga, am obsessed with coffee and cake and love to travel.
What change do you bring about and how are you doing it?
There are two changes I am looking to bring about in the world. The first is to change the way that people work, and the second is to help women and girls be empowered to rise up to their true potential whether here in the UK or in the developing world. My work with 8fold is to challenge why we work the way we do. Here in the UK, the long hours working culture and our 24/7 connected lifestyles are causing societal problems in terms of time for family, community and relaxing. Through what I call ‘mindful productivity’ and digital coaching, I help people be more effective and happy at work. The Digital Academy work dovetails nicely with this as busy professionals can outsource parts of their digital lives to those who need work. As a feminist I was always interested in women’s rights but, until recently, had confined my battles to those here in the West – equal pay, the sexualisation of the media etc.
Until I read Half the Sky and realised that there were billions of women and girls living in poverty and facing unspeakable challenges every day, just because they are female. These women don’t need another white person setting up an NGO but they do need people with voices, networks and cash to support the organisations on the ground doing amazing work. My aim with Sky High is to galvanise as many people into doing something to help, however small, and raising awareness of what these women are going through.
What are your top 3 tips to a woman who, like you, is using the web to make a difference?
- Use existing platforms to build your idea on top of. Don’t waste huge amounts of money and time trying to build bespoke platforms or networks. Nearly everything you need to do can be done with a WordPress site, some plugins and a dash of social media. I am a big believer in the Lean Startup methodology – build something quick and get it out to market and see if anyone wants want you are selling!
- Use being a woman to stand out. Women doing interesting things on the web or in technology and few and far between. This means a great opportunity to stand out from the crowd. When I go to tech meetups or events, I make sure I am wearing the brightest dress and the highest heels. Draw attention to yourself and support will come.
- Remember to unplug. Working on the web, we can lose our sense of balance and I think it’s important to step away from the laptop and phone everyday and go do something else!
What specific networks work best for you?
I am part of a number of on and offline networks that are crucial to the success of my business. In terms of online networks, I would not be where I am today if not for Twitter and LinkedIn. Twitter allows me to keep up to date with what’s going on in a time effective way and connect with people I would otherwise not have access to. The kindness of my network was brought home to me recently when my website got badly hacked. After a shout out on Twitter, the offers of help came pouring in! LinkedIn is also a wonderful network because of something I call the ‘power of loose ties’. I meet a lot of people on and offline and make a habit of connecting with them on LinkedIn – these means that I can keep these people in my network, and vice versa, so when opportunities arise you can reconnect.
I am a member of real-life communities such at The Cube, The Hub and Club Workspace which for someone working by themselves I find invaluable to be able to get out of the house and go work somewhere else.
What question would you have loved someone to ask you when you started 8fold?
I once read that the perfect social business is the intersection of what you are passionate about, where your skill set lies, and what makes you angry about the world. I think this is a great filter to test any new ideas and when I was struggling at the beginning to find my voice, this would have been helpful!
Which female social innovator would you particularly recommend our readers to look at/be inspired from?
24 year old Maggie Doyne from Kopila Valley Children’s Home is a heroine of mine and she is one of my five role models that use to remind myself everyday of the work I should be doing. After a privileged North American upbringing, Maggie, like many of her contemporaries, postponed university and set out to travel the world. In Nepal Maggie was struck by the poverty of the children that she met. Determined to make a change, she took $5,000 of her own savings and started to build Kopila Valley Children’s Home. Today Maggie and the community look after 30 children at the home and have built a school to educate 200 more. I sponsor one of the girls in the home each year and I am thrilled to be able to help Maggie in this small way. Maggie’s message that we can all learn from is: Do not wait if there is something that you really want to do. Just do it.