Robelen Bajar is the founder and publisher of woman.com.au. A marketing strategist and lifestyle blogger, social media butterfly, lover of sky high stilettos, ballroom Latin dancer and coconut farmer. After her parents were caught in the typhoon Haiyan in Samar, Philippines, she took a chance on humanity and it paid off. Her story is one of the human spirit, entrepreneurship and social change.
Tell us about woman.com.au.
It is an online publication and community of women entrepreneurs. We feature female founders, share their stories in the Founder Diaries as well as curate a calendar of events covering business, personal and professional development, networking, conferences and seminars for women in business.
How did you get started and what was the inspiration behind it?
The idea of woman.com.au actually started when I found myself unemployed after graduating from university. I got a group of friends together who were in a similar situation and formed a networking group of young graduates who were looking for their first big career break. We found mentors, attended industry events, went to seminars and short courses and put together a career plan. We also made each other accountable ensuring that we stayed the course and followed our career plan. It was through this process I realised the value of communities and genuine connections – my first epiphany. It was also through this process that led me to move to Melbourne where I landed a job in media/PR within 2 weeks of arriving.
A big part of my job was devouring business publications where I had a second epiphany – business publications are so bloody boring I had to do something about it. I wanted to start a business magazine written for women. And so I started learning all about print publishing while working as media adviser for a boutique media communications agency.
Meanwhile, I noticed an opportunity emerging in digital marketing, and having always had an interest in tech, decided I wanted to be part of it, so I switched from PR/media comms to digital marketing and worked for a tech company who at the time was leading the space. It was here I had my third epiphany. Forget print, digital publishing is the future!’
I had already been blogging at the time but it was around a theme of relationships which largely documented my experiences as a single woman looking for Mr Right. It was my creative outlet. It wasn’t until I left a corporate career to work as a digital consultant for tech startups that I got to work on this idea of creating a business news website for women. I started by testing the market, initially launching mygirlfriends.com.au – a place where women discuss issues that are important to them and seek advice from a panel of experts and the community. What I found is that although it was a great idea, the site needed content for the business to be sustainable. After a few months of planning and getting nowhere and feeling extremely frustrated, I decided to lock myself in the house for one week during the Christmas/NY of 2012/2013 and built version 1 of woman.com.au on wordpress. I spent $24. The rest as they say is history.
Your parents were in the typhoon Haiyan in Samar, Philippines and you lost contact with them for days during and after the event. This was your catalyst for giving thousands of dollars to a man you met on facebook, who claimed to be able to assist. How did it feel making this equally brave and desperate decision and how did it turn out?
We were in a desperate situation. We hadn’t heard anything about our parents for days, and news on the ground was that the situation on the island was hopeless. Entire towns and villages were simply gone. Coastal towns were unrecognisable even from the air. There was complete destruction everywhere with no way in and no way out. We needed to know if they had somehow survived and the only viable option was the help offered by this stranger who claimed to know our parents and offered to lead the rescue and relief operations. My siblings and I decided to put our trust in him resolved with the possibility we could lose it all. It was a huge gamble and one we were prepared to take. It’s just money – I can make it again. What value would you place on the lives of your loved ones?
I completely understand the kind of risk we took but I have learned that the world is full of honest, kind-hearted people who are willing to put themselves in harms way to help others. I’ve now come to realise that one of the biggest things that holds us back as a society is our lack of trust in others. Whether it’s an employee, a colleague, partner or a stranger, our level of trust and faith in humanity should be greater than our fear of each other.
There was over 1.4 million people displaced by the super typhoon, and now you are working to help them rebuild. Can you tell us a little about what you want to achieve and how?
We established Amazing Grace – a social enterprise based in Balangiga Eastern Samar. It was launched at my wedding, a very small and intimate ceremony, where I announced my crowd funding project to get the social enterprise off the ground.
The social enterprise helps local farmers and entrepreneurs create a new, vibrant, sustainable agri-tourism industry through micro-financing, skills training, and financial and business education. Amazing Grace has 40 founding members consisting of farmers, entrepreneurs and members of the Balangiga community. The social enterprise is built upon five key principles:
- Environmental sustainability
- Integrated organic farming
- Training and education
Its mission is to transform Balangiga Eastern Samar from a devastated community into a bustling coastal town with a prosperous agri-tourism industry. We will do this by encouraging and supporting locals to create thriving businesses that sustain their families, create jobs and rebuild their lives and the community they live in.
The organisation successfully pitched funding support from Caritas Germany to build a bio-fertilizer production plant which is now under construction.
Where we need help is in the purchase of equipment, seedlings, livestock, tools and machinery needed to help members of Amazing Grace run its first ever project – to create an organic farm.
Photo credit: Robelen Bajar