I rise today to talk about HerCanberra, a popular website started by local Canberran Amanda Whitley in January 2011.
HerCanberra was designed to connect Canberrans, particularly women, with their city and with each other. Last week I was honoured to attend an exciting launch of their free hard-copy magazine called Magazine. The event attracted around 150 people, and it was a celebration not only of HerCanberra’s expansion from online to hard-copy media, but also of Canberra and the contribution of women to our city.
It was also a significant milestone for HerCanberra and a demonstration of the strength of our economy that such successful local businesses can flourish. My hope is that Amanda’s example will encourage more Canberrans to follow their passion in a uniquely Canberra way.
Amanda was an executive in the Australian public service when the premature birth of her youngest daughter meant that she needed to take extended leave from paid work to look after her daughter at home. She found herself isolated and mostly housebound caring for an unwell baby and her big sister, who was two at the time. Looking to connect with others, both in Canberra and across the country, she came across the burgeoning community of "Mummy bloggers". Amanda came across the website Mamamia and soon became a contributor and moderator.
After about a year, Amanda had the idea to start a multi-contributor website which would showcase the talents of local Canberra women and focus on life in Canberra. HerCanberra is not a hard news site or, at the other end of the extreme, the equivalent of the social pages, but contains stories that would encourage people to see just how much this city has to offer. So HerCanberra was born.
Last week at the launch of Magazine, Amanda expressed her gratitude to family, friends and the HerCanberra community, and especially her husband, who encouraged her to turn her idea into a reality.
Today HerCanberra boasts around 70 contributors and has over 65,000 monthly readers. I have been one of them for a number of years. At the launch and in the lead-up I had the opportunity to speak with a couple of the contributors. They were women who were keen to express themselves creatively and extend themselves beyond their usual home and work routine.
In contributing to HerCanberra, the women are reaching out and creating their own community, not connected by immediate geography but, rather, by interest, sharing information and experiences with like-minded Canberrans. The website reviews and promotes local businesses, including restaurants and cafes, fashion, beauty and fitness providers, through to pieces about women’s contributions to Canberra, politics, religion and our identity.
The success of HerCanberra underscores the value of online forums in connecting people. As Canberra grows and people are less likely to know their neighbours or join community groups, online communities fulfil a social inclusion function, allowing people with different schedules and commitments to still "meet" in a central place. As many commentators note, social capital in Australia is changing and diminishing. Whether a forum connects people of a certain demographic, such as women or Canberrans, or people with interests in fitness or food, they offer real social capital possibilities for people to get in touch and share their experiences.
Amanda has grown HerCanberra from an idea in her head. As she said last week, "I told my husband about it and he said ‘It’s a great idea. Go for it.’" Such a simple idea, through much hard work, has turned into something great. It has delivered content every day for three years, which is amazing in itself, but it is the connections and conversations that have followed where some of the real value lies. Amanda is also a fiercely proud advocate for Canberra, often uncovering more and more of its treasures and sharing them widely.
To her enormous credit, Amanda has maintained a very inclusive and positive mood across the site and in everything she does. At times social media can be a nasty environment. HerCanberra has none of that, and that is no accident, but a tribute to Amanda and her team’s approach.
HerCanberra also demonstrates the very best of what Amanda calls the "hyperlocal" merging it with new technology and what I believe is our community’s innate desire to connect, share and learn. It also demonstrates that although online tools can be viewed as disruptive technology, women across Australia are making the most of it. Mumpreneurs like Amanda are making the most of this technology and, as in HerCanberra’s experience, are using an online platform to deliver a very old-fashioned product—a hard-copy magazine.
HerCanberra’s growth and reach is a fantastic example of another successful Canberra business, to add to the list we have discussed here today. It is also a fantastic example of so much that is great about our city. Two key features of the newly launched Magazine were a feature on "What Katy Does Next", about our former Chief Minister Katy Gallagher, and also a feature on 15 Canberra women to watch in 2015. I was honoured to be named as one of these women, and especially enjoyed meeting the others. I hope the connections we made through this experience will endure, and I look forward to talking more about each of them.