Q&A: NFP cutting poverty and oppression strand by strand

This week we talk to Selina Tomasich, founder of Hair Aid, a not-for profit that since 2010 has been providing free training in haircutting for people living in critical poverty and girls rescued from prostitution and the sex trade.

ISB: Not having any experience in the hair and beauty industry, why did you choose this field to be the foundation of your not-for-profit enterprise?

ST: The accidental meeting between myself and two nuns led to a conversation about them desperately wanting to provide livelihood skills for parents living on the streets and slum communities motivated me to help. The nuns explained that parents abandoned their children on the streets because they couldn’t earn any money to buy food and feed them. I learned that if the parents had a skill they could earn money and buy food and keep their children alive and with them. This was the catalyst for me doing something to help. I originally started helping by setting up sewing training. Then the nuns suggested teaching hair cutting and from this suggestion, we are now teaching 1500 people a year how to cut basic haircuts to earn money in their local community.

ISB: What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting Hair Aid off the ground, and how did you manage to overcome it?

ST: No one challenge is the biggest, there are many and each is significant. Working in developing countries meant forming relationships build on reputation and trust. Many locals living in poverty do not trust outsiders to complete what they said they will. They have been disappointed before with people promising them things, and it took many years for Hair Aid to be accepted and now we are welcomed in by Government, local Barangay Managers and our training is known to be credible and sustainable. We go back to communities every six months and we offer advanced training and ensure our trainees are supported in every way.

ISB: How do you sustain the operations of the enterprise, considering the many projects you have in different countries?

ST: We enter new countries after much research, planning and cultural considerations. We develop local networks, working with on the ground NGO’s and charitable organisations and together we plan and develop the training to suit that location specifically. This gives us a strong team to sustain operations back at headquarters (also known as my home office!) and on the ground in each country. I liaise with our international teams regularly and any modifications that are needed are reviewed and implemented as needed.

ISB: What has been the reception of the hair industry in Australia to your endeavour and in what ways have they shown their support?

ST: The Hair industry has embraced the concept of Hair Aid and continues to do so. The Australian Hairdressers Council continually supports our vision, as does industry trade shows and expos around the world. This allows us to get out amongst the stylists and share the work Hair Aid does, raising awareness with potential volunteers and sponsors. Volunteers now come from all around the world to work as a team and teach people living in poverty the skill of hair cutting. We have hairdressers that work from their home salons to high profile and award winning hair stylists that come on projects.  Each volunteers fundraises to cover their costs and they give up their life, their work, their families, their sport, their social events and they travel to developing countries to share their skills with those less fortunate.

ISB: How do you see Hair Aid developing in the next few years?

ST: Hair Aid already has a Hair Aid Sweden team. Our goal is to establish in the UK (June 2019), USA, Canada (July 2029), and New Zealand (August 2019). This means creating autonomous teams that know and understand Hair Aid’s vision, mission and values but is agile enough to allow for innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. Hair Aid is keen to offer more training events, in more countries. To do this we need more sponsors. We have identified a diverse sponsorship base that will raise awareness for philanthropic opportunities to expand delivery into more countries. For all this to happen I need to speak at more industry events at a global level allowing us to reach a captured audience and directly engage with industry.

ISB: And finally, what is the no. 1 piece of advice you’d give to those considering launching a not-for-profit enterprise?

ST: I always imagine what the world would look like if every able person living a privileged life (and by privileged I mean access to safe and secure housing, food, basic needs met), would just commit 2 hours of their time a month to help a cause they are passionate about. Imagine the hours that could be used to help others. Imagine the work that could be done for the greater good. Imagine if you, reading this, created a not for profit enterprise where volunteers could come and help you achieve what you are passionate about. Imagine the value that would create for you, them, others. So, my advice is to do it. Get up, find out how, ask lots of questions but do it. Don’t talk about it, because there’s lots you can do to make this world a better place, and the world is waiting for you to help

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