Case File No.3: Jacqueline Fernandez
File under: #charity #events #solidarity #drive #selflessness #feminism
Terrorism, broken society, volatile world leaders: who could blame you for losing faith in humanity right now? Well, if you’re feeling helpless or at a loss as to how you can impact the status quo, meet 29-year-old Jacqueline Fernandez and be inspired. Eight years ago after graduating with a psychology degree, Jacqueline travelled solo around Asia and was so affected by the poverty she saw in cities like Manila, it moved her to the point of action. Believing everyone can make a difference in this world, she started devoting her spare time to helping charitable causes when she returned to London. When she clocked how keen others were to support her efforts, she founded the non-profit organisation What You Do Matters in 2012 (of which she is CEO), which makes volunteering accessible for all. ‘Whether you’ve got time, cash or connections to offer, WYDM makes it simple for everyone to get involved by matching resources to the cause,’ says Loraine Fajutag who nominated Jacqueline for this page. ‘Whether she’s sending food parcels to countries hit by natural disasters or arranging a group bungee jump Jacqueline puts her heart and soul into every project and it makes everyone want to help. I don’t know where she gets the time or the energy to do it on top of her 9-5 job as a manager of a vulnerable young people’s service, and private counselling practice. She never stops!’
Jacqueline. When do you get a minute to relax?!
I always find time for Eastenders, but you know what? I like being productive so I’m not complaining.
Take me back to when you did have free time: you went travelling. What did you see that changed you?
I have family in the Philippines so I’ve been back and forth since I was little but, after graduating, I had an office job and wasn’t feeling inspired so one day I decided to find adventure. Bearing in mind I hadn’t been on a plane alone, my parents thought it was a big deal – everyone did, but I needed to do it. I wanted to go to places you don’t when you’re visiting relatives. The rows of children sleeping rough on the streets of Manila — the unbearable smell, that will never leave me.
What happened when you got back?
Being away for six months gave me time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, so I signed up for an MA in counselling and started volunteering. It’s expensive doing it abroad, but I found an initiative in Ghana in a children’s nursery so I put on an event to raise money and that gave me a taste for organising something that brought people together.
What kind of event was it?
There was a fashion show, musical performances, a raffle, loads of kids running around. People loved it — they saw it as an opportunity to have a good time and get involved with something worthwhile. It was mainly family, friends and friends of friends, but it proved there was a gap in my community. Some people baked or brought food; I raised the 1200 quid I needed. After that I did my first skydive and signed up for some 5K runs, anything I could to raise more money.
How did you arrive at the idea of What You Do Matters?
I didn’t know much about charities so, when I came back from Ghana, I volunteered for Kids Company, Victim Support, Over The Wall and smaller, local ones in Newham where I’m from, while I was studying. I invested a lot of time in them but I had so much fun. Getting other people involved in fundraisers and appeals was rewarding too. WYDM came from a need to consolidate because I was all over the place.
Do friends and family ever get fed up with you asking for support or money?
I’m doing the London Marathon for Guys Trust in a couple of weeks, so I wrote: ‘I know I’m asking again…’ when I uploaded my Justgiving page to Facebook, but I don’t expect people to always donate cash. When we did an appeal for Typhoon Haiyan my house was overflowing with food donations so I put a plea on social media and people came over to pack it. The physical side is just as important. So far, over 1000 people have got involved or been part of what we do. In 2015 people who’ve never volunteered before came on Saturday mornings to help the homeless at a shelter we set up in East London. It’s about breaking boundaries, bringing people together.
I notice you keep saying ‘us’ and ‘we…’
Until we set up as a company last year, I’d been doing everything on my own. But there were people who kept volunteering so I formed a core team of ten, all women. It wasn’t deliberate but it’s shaped us. Everyone is an ethic minority, so it provides something that was missing in our community. While none of us get paid, I do cover expenses (we fundraised to create a float) and everyone is just as committed as me. We interviewed new staff recently and the people who applied weren’t friends — they were people who had seen what we’ve achieved in four and a half years and want to be part of it. We’ve organised 20 events since we started.
Tell me a bit more about WYDM and the services you provide now.
Everyone who volunteers gets as much out of it as the charities we support. And while we still do fundraisers like, my fave, the five pound Christmas box appeal — in 2014 I had 334 shoeboxes of gifts for disadvantaged kids stored in my house — we also produce Women Empowerment Workshops and Personal Development Programmes. In my day job I’m a manager providing floating support to young people in Southwark. It’s taught me this age group is the most impressionable so we can make a difference through positive reenforcement. But we see women of all backgrounds and ages, covering everything from gender equality to further education. Last summer we got approached by the National Citizen Service to run their women’s workshops too
Do they pay you?
No, but it’s my baby and it’s changed my life.There’s no money in the third sector. I spent time shadowing our MP Stephen Timms, questioning what’s available to support us, but there’s currently nothing to finance my hundreds of ideas. We’ve applied for grants with no luck. In the early days I used my own money to subsidise events and activities. Now I’ve got a business mentor I’m more savvy; I’m learning about longevity.
How did you come by a mentor?
I’m on a scheme where people from the corporate world mentor people in the charity world. It’s so useful because I appreciate what you can learn from other people. I love going to networking events.
Would you ask established brands for sponsorship?
I got £350 asking someone to sponsor a hall on Facebook, but I haven’t approached any companies yet. Business plans aren’t fun for me, there are members of my team much better at it; I know we have to explore this area and plan to invite potential donors to our fifth anniversary this summer.
Do you have to be super organised to keep on top of everything?
I love a list, but no, I’m really scatty. I’m so passionate about WYDM that I must seem like I’m taking fast when I meet people: I’m all over the gaff! Fortunately I have a good team that keep everything on track.
Have any unexpected doors opened as a result of what you’ve created?
I never saw myself as a keynote speaker but I’ve been invited to talk at charity events; I got asked to talk to girls in Newham college about career prospects and, in 2013, I appeared in a promo video for the Women’s Commonwealth: all these incredible women and little old me. My goal now is to do a Ted Talk.
What physical charitable achievements are you most proud of?
Loved the bungee jump. There were 16 of us; they hated me for cajoling them into it — two of my best friends are scared of heights! When I did my first skydive I wanted to make sure I did something big if I was going to ask people to sponsor it. But I think the London Marathon will be my biggest physical achievement, followed by last year’s Three National Peaks’ Challenge.
Have you always been this adventurous and driven?
No, I went to an all girl school and got bullied in Year 8. It was catty and the desire to most popular meant tearing people down. I was the girl made to feel bad and it gave me the wrong idea about female empowerment. Now my favourite thing is women coming together. I’m a proud feminist, I’ve been on women’s marches – I loved taking women who have never been on a protest before, watching them absorb the atmosphere. I suppose a messy break up five years ago also pushed me to prove what I’m made of. It’s no coincidence I’ve been single for the five years I’ve been immersed in WYDM and all my work trying to make a positive impact. It helps not having to divide myself up. Friends and family understand but, with the work I do for MIND, my private counselling clients, marathon training, work and this, I don’t have time for a relationship. I’m busy every night of the week.
When do you see your friends?
My WYDM team does consist of some of my closest friends. And then, on Tuesdays I do track training so I get friends to come and work out with me.
You really do seem to relish what you do. Do you have a life mantra?
There’s this quote: “life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” it’s true. Everything I’ve ever achieved has been when I’m uncomfortable. But I enjoy the challenge. For the talk I gave to pre-sixth formers on International Women’s Day, one of my main points was to find something you’re genuinely passionate about, if you do that you’ll succeed. Read Start With Why by Simon Sinek. When you love what you do — as I do — you don’t mind the blood, sweat and tears, the stress, the hours, because the reason you do it drives you on.
So where do you hope to take What You Do Matters in future?
I want to become an established charity in London, preferably Newham. A charity that matches volunteering programmes with willing people. Somewhere providing free or low cost counselling, workshops and activities for young people — all under one roof.
Sounds perfectly achievable. Good luck with your vision — and of course the London marathon in a couple of weeks.
For more info about What You Do Matters go to www.whatyoudomatters.com or visit the Facebook page @whatyoudomatters or instagram: @whatyoudomatters. To sponsor Jacqueline’s London Marathon challenge go to https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/teamextreme.
The She Can & She Does Case Files are stories of ordinary women doing extraordinary things. Every fortnight a new one will be introduced to the She Can & She Does Facebook page. Please ‘Like’ the page to show your support and if you, or someone you know, would like to feature, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.