Meet the team travelling from Sydney to Sierra Leone (sort of)

According to the Qantas website it takes one day and nine hours to fly from Sydney to Sierra Leone. But what if you decided to walk, run, swim and cycle the distance?

Sound impossible? Not to Ellie Keft….

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She’s one of our incredible One Girl Ambassadors – and that’s exactly what she forty of her incredible, fitness-loving buddies are doing. Between August and October the Sydney to Sierra Leone team will exercise their way across 16,000 kilometres, and while they’re doing it, will raise at least $6,000 – enough to educate 20 girls.

Now that’s an epic vision!

Every time team members head out to run, ride, hike, hit the gym or paddle their surf ski – they log their distance and post it on the team’s Facebook page. Ellie keeps tally and updates them on their progress. So far they’ve covered enough kilometres to make it out of Australia and they’ve almost hit their fundraising target!

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If you haven’t already guessed, Ellie knows a thing or two about fundraising. So we thought we’d let her tell you, in her own words, exactly how she does it…

What got you so inspired in the first place?

Three years ago I travelled to Tanzania as part of an adventure fundraising trip for Australia for UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees]. After the trip, I hung out with one of the mountain guides, Imran.

Whilst I was in the city, his sister was tragically hit by a car and killed. She had been a widow and had a 7-year-old daughter, Maurine. I went back to the city to visit the family and offer my condolences and realised that without support, Maurine wouldn’t be able to go to school ever again. The only wage earner in the family now was Imran (his wage was no more than $20 per month) and education for a girl, as much as they loved her, was not a priority.

I contacted the rest of my Australia for UNCHR team and explained the situation, asking them if they were willing to support Maurine for her schooling. I stressed they would be committing to at least 12 years – we needed to stick with this girl throughout.

Four of my team agreed and Maurine started attending school just after I flew home. Now Imran sends me periodic updates – pictures of Maurine in her school uniform, or with her grandparents, or doing her homework, which I then send on to her supporters. We have a fantastic little system going on and I feel proud that we have been able to make it work.

I’m studying International Development, so I really do know the extent of the problems we face in educating girls globally, however being a part of Imran and Maurine’s lives has helped me to believe that change is possible, you just need loads of passion and a touch of effort!

So the connection with One Girl was crystal clear. I knew that we were making a difference for Maurine and her family, and One Girl provided the platform for me to be able to make that change on a larger scale.

My decision to apply as an Ambassador was a no brainer!

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How did you come up with the Sydney to Sierra Leone idea?

The Sydney to Sierra Leone concept essentially was designed to combat that labour and time intensive trap you find yourself in if you fundraise all by yourself. I realised that I would have access to not 1 network, but 30 and up to 40 networks if I invited my friends to join!

The movement/ activity part of it was a huge aspect. I know for myself it is hard to find motivation to exercise and get outside with the frantic world we’ve all found ourselves in. I wanted a fun way for people to push their limits and get outside for some positive, healthy activities.

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How did you get such a big team together?

I sent out a long-ish Facebook message to pretty much everyone I have on Facebook – even my partner’s family! I got a bunch of hell yes’s, a handful of maybe’s and a whoooolllle lotta no’s! I’ve been faced with many no’s before so I wasn’t hugely fazed. I bookmarked the maybe’s and came back to them in a week for the conversion (not all successful!), and the no’s I said ‘no worries, thanks for the message!’

I also very specifically de-emphasised the fundraising aspect. I wanted this campaign to be accessible to all people, not just those who are super passionate about educating girls.

This is also why I made sure to keep each individual’s fundraising goals low. I suggested $300 but also gave them the freedom to choose – some put their goals as more and some as less. It was completely their choice meaning that they could own their connection to the challenge.

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Your launch email was super motivating – did that get the numbers?

For the first two weeks of the campaign I let it run with around 15 people to test the waters and build up some momentum, but soon put a call out to the team to do some recruiting. I gave them a challenge to recruit one person each – many hands make light work!

The motivation that I put forward for that was, if we didn’t find more people, we wouldn’t complete our challenge of 16,000km by the end of October. It worked really well and we now have just under 40 in the team!

People are often willing or even keen to be involved in things or help out, but will not do so until asked – a lot of people operate that way. So simply asking works. I made sure my team knew that in order to recruit, they needed to keep the requirements for joining at a minimum (small distance contribution and no obligation to fundraise huge amounts), and to tell their friends that we NEEDED THEM!!

You are incredibly responsive to your team’s individual FB posts – how important is that in keeping the team so engaged?

It’s important! Well a good thing is that it is actually vital because I need to update each person’s amounts daily onto my spreadsheet, and they need to know that I am doing that. So the encouragement I provide them is incidental.

But on the other hand, the way the challenge is design, engagement is compulsory. This means that the team stays engaged because that’s what they signed up to do!

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What’s involved behind the scenes?

Lots of Facebook. Updating the spreadsheet with the distances, replying to messages when the team is trying to recruit friends and family, organising dates for group activities, sign ups to events such as half marathons, making social media images/ posts and maps to show their progress. Things like that. Oh and then obviously actually doing the exercise- leading by example. My busy life makes that hard but I try my best.

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Here are Ellie’s pro fundraising tips:

#1. Don’t do it alone. Capitalise on your friends’, your family’s and your friends’ friends networks!

#2 Be wholeheartedly behind the cause but don’t push it too forcefully down the throats of others until you know they’re frothing on it as much as you.

#3 Ask for help from friends with the things you don’t know how to do – I have a geeky boyfriend who made me a hectic spreadsheet, a graphic designer friend who helps me, and the One Girl team who are the hugest exploding ball of energy I have ever seen!

#4 Don’t push the fundraising. If your campaign is well-designed, engaging and the cause of the charity is well-defined (One Girl has totally nailed this), then donations should naturally flow in with minimal effort. Fundraise in ‘waves’ too. Our initial launch was big, and we smashed our target in 2 weeks, but you may have noticed we have gone quiet recently. That’s intentional. In the final weeks of the campaign we’ll be back with our ‘please donate’ posts!

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You can bet there’ll be some celebrating the day Ellie and her team hit the shores of Sierra Leone!  We’re so inspired by what she’s created with her team and we’re cheering them on every leap, step, kilometre, and bound they take towards their goal!