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5 self-made Aussie women share their incredible stories

To celebrate International Women's Day, we round up of some of Australia's most inspiring and influential women.

Every year, March 8 is the date the world bands together to celebrate International Women's Day. The theme for this year's campaign is 'Be Bold For Change' - and forging a more inclusive and gender equal working world.

To mark this year's celebrations, Lifestyle spoke to five Aussie trailblazers who are all making waves in their chosen fields.

Here, they tell their incredible success stories and what drives them.

  • Emma Isaacs - Founder & Global CEO of Business Chicks 

At 37, Emma Isaacs is the founder and CEO of a multi-million-dollar empire and one of Australia’s largest communities for women, Business Chicks. The company produces over 90 sell-out events each year, facilitates thousands of new connections each week and recently expanded to the US.

A passionate philanthropist, Emma bought her first business at 18, counts the likes of Sir Richard Branson as a friend, is a serial property investor and has raised over $10 million for charity. Oh, and she is a mother to four children - with a fifth on the way!

For Emma, success means having the resources and ability to make choices. "It's also about the quality of your relationships and what people say about you when you’re not in the room."

"If they’re speaking highly of you, then I’d say you’re likely a successful person and winning at life!," she says. "Success is also about having your head hit the pillow at night and knowing that you’ve done your best, for yourself, and for others too."

Favourite quote: "'Live life as though everything is rigged in your favour.' I love that. I try and see beauty and the positives in every situation and I always try and believe that something magical is about to happen!"

What philosophy or mantra do you live by: "'If it is to be, then it’s up to me.' There’s such power in owning your personal leadership. I try take massive risks (like moving my family halfway across the globe to Los Angeles) so I can grow Business Chicks here in the US."

  • Ronni Kahn - Founder & CEO of OzHarvest

In 2004, events organiser Ronni Kahn was shocked at the amount of food wasted by the hospitality industry. She set up the incredible not-for-profit organisation OzHarvest, which collects surplus food every day from restaurants, hotels and other food outlets.

To date, OzHarvest has delivered 60 million meals to Australians in need via 919 different charities and rescued 20,000 tonnes of good quality surplus food. 

Ronni was also instrumental in changing existing legislation across four states that had prevented food donors from supplying excess food. Renowned for her efforts in entrepreneurship, social impact and innovation, she was named Australia's Local Hero at the 2010 Australian of the Year Awards.

"Now more than ever before, it is so important we educate the next generation on where their food comes from, the importance of reducing food waste, food sustainability and the resources it takes to get food on our plate," she says. 

What philosophy or mantra do you live by: "Being bold for change is part of my DNA," she says. "The success of OzHarvest relies on passion, energy and relentless determination to influence change. Leadership with a bold mind and a brave heart is the only way I know, and so far it’s working!”

  • Jessica May - Founder & CEO of Enabled Employment

Canberra entrepreneur Jessica May founded Enabled Employment when she struggled to find a job she could do from home after she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The company finds job opportunites for skilled people with a disability.

Her start-up takes a unique approach - the only one of its kind in the world - and business is sky-rocketing. In the last two and a half years, they've advertised 1369 jobs, and have 6225 candidates on their books.

For Jessica, the definiton of success is to achieve social change for some of the most disadvantaged in our community.

"It's about changing attitudes and ensuring it's a matter of fact, everyday practice to employ people with a disability. It shouldn't be a charity donation, it should be standard human resources practise," she tells Lifestyle.

"When it's standard practice in every Australian workplace to employ people with a disability without batting an eyelid, or expecting a government subsidiy, then that means we've succeeded."

Favourite quote? "Lift as you climb" - an abridged version of a quote by Mary Church Terrel.

What philosophy or mantra do you live by? "Kill them with kindness is our mantra at Enabled Employment. There are no wrong questions, we're trying to break barriers here, so people must be allowed to find out how to help. That might mean making mistakes, but that's why we're here, to ensure we can all learn how to do things better."

  • Janine Allis – Founder of Boost Juice & Retail Zoo

Referring to herself as 'the accidental entrepreneur', Janine Allis' journey from housewife with zero formal business training to the head of a multi-naitonal corporation is not your average success story.

After leaving school early and travelling Europe for six years (which included a long stint as a stewardess on David Bowie's yacht!), she noticed a gap in the healthy fast food market. In 2000, after extensive research, Boost was born.

Today, Boost Juice is in more countries than any other juice bar in the world - employing over 6,000 employees in 12 countries and over 400 stores. Based in Melbourne, Janine is also a mother four - so she understands first-hand the frenetic pace of juggling work and motherhood. 

“Boost has a can-do attitude. We don’t believe in the word ‘try’ because that means I’ll give myself permission not to succeed. You don’t try, you just do it.” 

According to Janine, when you’re young you think of success as financial, winning the grand final or passing that big exam.

"But as you get older you realise that success is more it’s a lot more simple – it’s to love and be loved, " she tells Lifestyle.

"Yes, you get a buzz from the wins in life but it’s the simple things that you find success in as you get older. It’s a family dinner playing cards, it’s your partner remembering the little things it’s your kids growing up happy and healthy. That to me is success."

Favourite quote? "I am not smarter than anyone else, I just stay at problems longer." - Albert Einstein

What philosophy or mantra do you live by? Love life and life will love you right back.

  • Daisy Pearce - AFL footballer, Melbourne Football Club captain

While she may seem a fish out of water among the entrepreneurs above, there's little doubt that 28-year-old Daisy Pearce is a pioneer in a field that is dominated by men.

The captain of the Melbourne Football club had been touted as arguably the country's best female footballer, a natural leader and the 'golden girl' of women's AFL.

She's played a pivotal role as an ambassador for both the men and women's game and the incredibly successful launch of the AFLW competition in February this year. 

"As a small child, I had dreamt of playing professionally like my idols on TV, but then a more realistic 12-year-old me worked out that all my heroes were men and I accepted playing simply because I loved it," she wrote recently in her regular column for Fairfax.

Fortunately, Daisy didn't give up on her dreams and is now a role model and leader for the next generation of young footballers. The former midwife also looks set to be the first ever female board member for the AFL Players’ Association - paving the way for bold changes. 

 
 

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