25-year-old CEO and charity heroine, Morgan Koegel has experience beyond her years. Nailing her dream job at such an early age, Morgan is all about empowerment, education and levelling the playing field for those less fortunate.
Through her work at One Girl she’s seen viral success and helped get young women in Sierra Leone back to school. Talking with 5Why about her career path, learnings and keys to accomplishment. Prepare to be inspired.
Tell us what you’ve been up to recently.
Morgan Koegel: I am currently the CEO of One Girl, a Melbourne based charity for education in the developing sector. Focusing primarily on girls in Sierra Leone, supporting them in getting an education. Gender equality is a current discussion and that makes our base in Melbourne a unique place, a place of opportunity.
What’s your current role?
MK: The great thing about being CEO is doing something different every day. My day could be going out and meeting with stakeholders, to working at schools. Managing a super dedicated team of women in the Melbourne office makes my job that much easier. I couldn’t be luckier! At the start I came into the role with the challenge of being the new person, but they are so welcoming and hardworking. I needn’t of worried.
What’s an average day look like for you?
MK: I touched on it before but unlike a large charity where your role might be set, we’re still partly in the scrappy entrepreneurial stage, where I get to be quite hands on. We try to be quite reactive because our supporter base is quite young, so our materials are skewed to fit this, speak to them. We can be experimental, young in tone of voice , no big inaccessible programs language. I believe engaging in change should be empowering and accessible.
What is the Do It In A Dress campaign?
MK: It’s a simple idea, we encourage people to pick a challenge, raise money and complete that challenge. Skydiving, surfing, cooking, performing, you name it. A school dress is a symbol of education in Sierra Leone and people in Australia are empowered by it in a similar way.
Do it In A Dress is a fun and exciting take on charity drives, that both educates and funds. Both awareness and on top of that and having a tangible goal, with each $300 dollars raised, we can help a girl in Sierra Leone stay in school.
How do you decide where to allocate the funds raised?
MK: It’s a perpetually difficult decision. It’s something I learn more about with every day. We would never put a dollar to waste. At the end of the day it’s about where is the best place and the smartest development. What’s the return on investment? Is it guaranteed? It’s a process, asking these questions and evaluating constantly.
You’ve worked in a prison, what was that like?
MK: An interesting part of my life, that’s for sure. I was a development manager of PLEA (Prison Legal Education and Assistance). I worked in men’s prisons doing legal education seminars. Explaining to guys in prison how the law affects them. You can do a lot of work in this area and work for many years and see no change.
The law is left to deal with problems very late in people’s life, less than 60% of people are literate. I found it incredibly hard, their lives had already fractured, there was only so much I could do. I stepped away from the law and found myself at One Girl.
Have you always been involved in charity?
MK: I always knew I wanted to help. I worked as the CEO of Engage Education before this, a youth led support program to help students in Victoria reach their full potential. It involved helping the students with VCE (final year of school) prep, running seminars, and ultimately levelling access to support beyond socio-economic status.
After my bachelor degree, I studied law to become to serve myself better as a manager for charity work. Which isn’t the most worn path for those doing a law degree!
Who inspires you both career-wise and in life?
MK: Wow, so many people. The women I work with and have worked with definitely. In particular, Liana Buchanan who works as the Commissioner for Children and Young People in Victoria. Seeing the way she managed the staff and how desperately she tried to change the lives of people she knew and those she didn’t. She blew me away.
In a personal sense, I’ve lived my life with a single mother who struggled her way through a career in a male dominated industry. She implored a sense of empowerment in me. I could achieve anything and everything. She decided on the name Morgan as androgynous. So if I entered a job interview and would never be judged for being a woman. And still today at One Girl there are instances where people are surprised that I am a woman. A female CEO is certainly unexpected.
How has your legal background helped in the role with One Girl?
MK: I think studying law forces anyone’s mind to mature quite rapidly. It positions you to see the negative in everything, the flaws, the failures, the wrongs. Anything I read is filtered through this legal brain. Taking this stance in a class full of lawyers to be was sometimes controversial, but I’m of the position, that you are being willfully ignorant if you know these things and don’t do anything to change that.
What made education your passion?
MK: A combination of experiences. When I was working in prisons I would give these seminars. I had this one guy come along to all my seminars and I thought he must like what I’m saying. I thought, I must be really getting through to him if he keeps coming back. One day, the seminar was full and I ran out of pamphlets at the end. The same man came back and he offered his. When I asked why he didn’t need it, he said because he couldn’t read.
I realised then I had been to pointing to slides that he couldn’t understand and conducting seminars that weren’t accessible to some of the inmates. This was in stark contrast to the work I did with Engage Education and it was a moment of realisation for me.
60 million girls around the world are not in school. The difference is they are pulled out when they get married or to have children, which is often very young. Increasingly people hear about that 1 in 6 girls in Sierra Leone get to go to school. That statistic alone doesn’t shock. But the fact that girls are more likely to be sexually assaulted than attend high school in Sierra Leone, it’s astounding.
12,13,14 is that critical age to work with them to best make changes. It’s less sexy to talk about than our other development programs but one of the ways we help in Sierra Leone is by providing sanitary products. We provide women with biodegradable pads so they don’t have to miss school, usually for up to a week. It’s about asking What are the fundament barriers to education? Without these supplies they have to use kitchen sponges, newspaper, tree bark, for something that isn’t spoken about it’s one of the major factors.
The reality is it’s had a huge effect on my personal trajectory, becoming aware of these things. Education can break down boundaries and engender long term change.
Do you have any quotes you live by?
MK: Jane Goodall; “What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what type of difference you want to make”
The idea behind that is no matter what I do in my life the big and small decisions I make that try to help the planet; they matter. I’ve been given all the opportunities in my education and I would love to see what others can do with that same affordance.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
MK: I see myself here. This is my dream job. I recognised that my age could be seen as a weakness when applying and utilised that. Truly I see myself in this organisation growing and developing it. I was so incredibly set on the job; I had no doubts about it. I stayed up all night to do the application.
Still people will meet me and be quite be quite surprised. I encourage people who are young to raise their hand and put themselves forward.
It’s about gender too. A man will apply if he meets 60% of the criteria, for women they put themselves forward when they meet 100%. All experiences in a persons life not just on the job experience matter. It’s thinking critically about the things going in their life that can be valuable to the organisation outside your resume. I read recently, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s CEO. It addresses woman’s professional capacity wonderfully; they always think they require more. In roles that involve public speaking or putting your hand up in a public way, young people and women can often can get left behind.