Small Business

What it feels like for a girl

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Dannielle Miller has strong views about women and she’s not afraid to voice them. Born resilient, Miller’s early years were spent in hospital recovering from third degree burns – she’s determined to make changes to the way women see themselves, and how society sees them as well.

A former school teacher, Miller’s business is called Enlighten Education. With her business partner, Francesca Kaoutal, she has developed self esteem programs to help young girls ‘like’ themselves for what they are, not what society tells them they should be. Enlighten Education works in Australian schools with teenage girls, many of whom she says are hurting. She’s a woman on a mission with a big heart.

Mind over matter

Enlighten works with girls on what it means to be a leader. The program looks at body image, at the media’s portrayal of women, female friendships and personal safety.

“I was a teacher for seven years working in disadvantaged schools with kids at risk. Often in these schools, if you’re really good at what you do, you get promoted quite quickly because a lot of senior staff leave.”

At 23, Miller was running the English department in a school of hard knocks. “The kids were having narcotics meetings in the library at lunchtime; it was full of catastrophes. But I loved those kids passionately – they’d call it as they see it.”

And while she’s a natural born teacher, she says she’s always learning.

“It taught me to connect because I think when you connect with people at a human level, if you capture their heart, the mind will follow. If you emotionally engage people and let them know that there is something in it for them and that you care about them and you’re passionate about your work and value their feedback, you can achieve so much.”

That was a great foundation for Miller, who was further promoted to writing curriculum for the Board of Studies.

“I was asked to look after enterprise education for Catholic schools in NSW and [find] ways to create more entrepreneurial young people. I’ve always had this interest in being entrepreneurial and I starting doing my MBA to help me get more business savvy. I wrote a course on being entrepreneurial, which was approved for the HSC.”

While developing the course, Miller continued to expand her knowledge, this time about business.

“I’d go to conferences that would feature young entrepreneurs. I remember one in Melbourne and there were all these young entrepreneurs [with] interesting stories and all driven people, but they all spoke about what they had to give up – relationships. That is such an old fashion view of entrepreneurship to me – [that it] doesn’t matter who you burn.

“I got more interested in this notion: what does a real entrepreneur in this millennium look like? Yes, it’s someone who’s creative, good at solving problems, someone who can think outside the square. But it’s also someone who values people and relationships and that’s going to be more important as we move forward.”

The power within

With her focus set on helping young women, Miller’s life as a business owner had begun.

“Working in disadvantaged schools I saw so many girls with such poor self esteem. I saw more and more girls with eating disorders and self harm had reached epidemic proportions with young women. Binge drinking is [also] out of control with teenage girls. I got [increasingly] worried and actually needed to leave my position of writing curriculum and get back [to teaching]. I can inspire them and I knew I had a real story to tell.”

And her story is one of courage and learning to love yourself, no matter what life brings your way.

“I was burnt when I was little and have third degree burns on my arm and my neck. For me, growing up as a teenage girl was incredibly challenging because I was really having to struggle with: am I going to be beautiful? I became so consumed by my scars that I self doubted. I went from a feisty little girl to this self doubting adolescent who really thought her arm, although it wasn’t physically hurting her anymore, was going to damage her whole life.”

So how did she cope and get to that spot where self love flourishes?

“Reading the words of other women – Naomi Wolf and Germain Greer and many other feminist writers who write about recognising that we’re more than just our bodies. For years, I wore jumpers and skivvies — all the photos of me as a teenage girl I had long sleeves on and in summer I’d pretend I was sick and wouldn’t go to carnivals and do all the things you could do to escape.”

The domino effect

And then one of those peripatetic events happened.

“In the Amazon jungle on my honeymoon, we were trekking and came upon this village of native South American kids, who hadn’t seen a lot of westerners and hadn’t seen blonde hair either, so they were all excited. Then they saw my arm and got really frightened and ran and hid.

“All the little kids were scared and the guide said to me ‘they think you’re going die because they’ve never seen a big scar because anyone who gets hurt just dies’. I said ‘oh no, tell them I’m fine’. They all came running out and starting touching me and stroking me. And it was this beautiful moment, which I was lucky enough to catch on film. My guide said they were saying I was a brave girl, an Amazon warrior. I loved that and for me it was a moment when I though ‘yeah, I am actually and I’ve got some stuff to share’.”

These days, Enlighten Education is making big inroads. In 2007 it won the Australian Small Business Champion award for Children’s Services, and Miller was named the NSW/ACT Small Business Champion Entrepreneur, a great validation for what they do. But she believes that businesses don’t have to have a win at all cost mentality.

“Women can run a really successful business that serves a bigger purpose other than making them rich. You don’t have to cut off everything else around you. Our business was set up to be quite female oriented to acknowledge the fact that we all had small children and that was important to us.”

Miller explains how her husband calls her an “opportunity magnet” and says she knows why.

“It’s because we give out good energy to people around us and we acknowledge them and that comes back to us 10 fold. If you do things with authenticity it does come back. Like the kids in the classroom, if I didn’t believe in my messages and didn’t live by what I tell the girls to live by, then our business wouldn’t continue to develop and prosper the way it does.”

Published on: Friday, March 05, 2010

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