Not everyone knows what they want to do as soon as they leave school – or even after they finish at university. When Zoe Lamont graduated from her communication degree with Charles Sturt University she decided to take some time for herself and travel. Ironically, it was an experience which set her on a path to help others by fighting to reduce wealth inequality in Australia and creating a world worth living in!
Finishing uni in 2003, Zoe headed home to Wagga Wagga. She then spent a year working three jobs to fund her adventure abroad.
“I was set on heading overseas, so bought a one way ticket to London. But while partying overseas was fun, after a few months I decided to join a volunteer organisation. Over the next two years I was posted to Zambia, southern India, along the Thai-Burmese border and on remote Cicia Island off Fiji.
“Working as a humanitarian volunteer was an opportunity to not only travel and explore the world, but also to fully immerse myself in other cultures. The experience changed my life forever. Long story short, it helped me realise how lucky we are to simply be born in Australia.
“The communities I visited and friends I made are my drivers. Every day of my life they inspire me to have a positive impact on the world.”
Reaching out to 10thousandgirls
Zoe’s travels sparked a passion for social justice, social enterprise, women’s rights and financial equality. So, she returned to Australia armed with determination and set about making a change – for women here and overseas.
“After toying with a few failed start-ups, finally one of my ideas got some traction. I set up a not-for-profit called the 10thousandgirl Campaign. It was designed to build financial engagement in young Australian women while also raising money to deliver microfinance loans to women in developing countries. These loans would help them to start and build businesses – and step up the economic ladder.”
Beginning in 2011, the 10thousandgirl Campaign aimed to deliver information programs to more than 10,000 women. It was a winning formula.
“Turns out it wasn’t just me and my friends wanting to get on top of our finances and start to learn and plan for our future. A grassroots swell of support emerged. Our 10thousandgirl life planning and financial literacy workshops were soon getting national mainstream media attention and winning awards. Volunteers popped up all over the country. We ran 10thousandgirl life and financial wellbeing programs in more than 80 metro, regional and remote towns across Australia.”
Zoe closes one door and opens another
When the campaign reached its 10,000 goal it was time to wrap up the project.
“It coincided with me having a new baby and a toddler, so it was time for me to enjoy a sabbatical. My husband and I were also running our Wagga-based food business, My Chef Cuisine, when I got a phone call asking if I wanted to start a women’s super fund.
“One too many conversations over the last 10 years made me realise just how badly the financial system and super is failing Australian women. I had known for a long while that better financial products and services were needed. Years ago I had dreams about starting a women’s bank.
“So knowing deep down this was my next move, I said ‘yes’ and joined forces with two extremely clever women, Christina Hobbs and Alex Andrews.
“Driven by our frustrations and a vision for a fairer economic outcome for women in particular, Verve Super was born. It was Australia’s first ethical super fund which was 100 per cent for women, by women.
“In December 2018 we were ready to launch. The night the fund went live, before it had even hit the press, we had members. It became clear to us that young people (and women in particular), are actively searching for financial products and services that fit their needs, speak their language and meet their values.
“Verve was designed in response to women’s needs. It offers female-friendly fee breaks, access to free financial education, a supportive community with online check-ins and face-to-face events, ethical investments, national advocacy for women’s economic advancement and transparency across everything we do.”
Fighting to reduce wealth inequality in Australia
For Zoe, helping to establish Verve was an important first step to righting what she sees as a national system that results in financial inequality for women.
“The stats speak for themselves. They demand real change.
“From the very first day that a graduate begins work, the average young woman will be paid $5000 less than a man. On top of this, the reality is that women undertake most of the nation’s unpaid caring work. The result is Australian women today retiring with 47 per cent less super than men.
“Single women over 55 are the fastest growing group of people experiencing homelessness in Australia. You’d think that with all that underpayment, and all the crucial unpaid caring work undertaken by women, that our retirement savings system would be designed to give women a boost. Wrong!
“Of the $36 billion that the government spends each year on superannuation (through tax concessions) three-quarters of this goes to men – with the wealthiest men in our society gaining the most benefit.
“The system is broken and this needs to change. But in many ways the superannuation gap between men and women is the result of the lifetime of inequalities that women face.
“If we are to ensure that no Australian woman, or man, retires in poverty then we need to examine some things.
- Pay inequality and how to financially value caring work.
- The relationship between financial inequality and domestic violence.
- Lifting the old age pension.
- Reducing discrimination and increasing support for women of cultural and linguistic diverse backgrounds and those who identify as LGBTIQA+.
“At Verve, we want to shine a spotlight on the myriad inequalities that can lead to the super gap. We aim to support our members with financial coaching and advocacy, as best we can to fight wealth inequality in Australia.”
Focusing on a financial equality for all
Creating a world worth living in is a continuous endeavour for Zoe – and she has her eyes set firmly on a fairer future for all.
“In my lifetime I want to see a significant shift of wealth, in two areas.
“Firstly, a shift of wealth away from companies and industries with negative social and environmental impact. These include fossil fuels, gambling, tobacco, weapons and armaments, detention centres, and those that breach labour rights and abuse workers in supply chains.
“I want to see investment into companies with positive social and environmental impact, such as healthcare, healthy food production, renewable energy, companies with female representation on boards, and those companies who comply with labour rights in their supply chain.
“Secondly, I’d like to see a fairer shift of wealth to value those taking on the unpaid and low paid caring roles in communities. Because these people are the ones responsible for weaving the fabric of society.
“Without their love and their hours volunteering in schools and communities, our standard of living would be far lower. At the very least, every person who takes time out of the workforce to care for others (whether it’s small children, elderly parents, or someone with a disability) should have their superannuation paid for by the taxpayer. They should not be putting their financial future at risk by doing this vitally important work.”
Homegrown in regional NSW
While Zoe is certainly worldly-wise, well travelled and aiming to create meaningful change across the globe, Verve was conceived and launched in regional NSW.
“I grew up on a farm between Wagga Wagga and Junee, then lived in London and Sydney for many years. But after a while, I couldn’t handle one more day of hopping on a bus or train and having no-one make eye contact, everyone glued to their phones.
“One of my favourite things about living in regional Australia is the openness. People still acknowledge and smile at each other as they walk down the street.
“This is how I want my children to grow up. I can’t tell you how many serendipitous and heart-warming moments I’ve had due to random smiles leading to conversations with strangers.”
It remains important to her that people in rural and remote areas have access to financial support services.
“Technology has opened many doors for people in regional Australia. It’s exciting because, with technology, rural-based people can research and access financial support, education and services that may be based elsewhere. It opens up a wider choice of providers. But, in terms of supporting people facing financial exclusion, it’s still vitally important to ensure there is face-to-face counselling and services available locally.”
Create a world worth living in
What does a better world look like to you? Does it mean fighting for social justice or financial equality, finding a cure for illnesses, improving education, making new discoveries, leading a movement or developing innovative technologies? Or is it about having an impact in your local community and making a difference to the little guys out there? If you want to make a difference in a career you’re passionate about, you can with us.
Our wide range of courses will give you the skills and industry knowledge so you can be the change you want to see in the world. Follow your heart, get qualified and land a job you’ll love with Charles Sturt University. Let’s get to work!
- Access a free financial wellbeing program from Verve.