The Inside Story: Alicia Curtis – A Revolutionary Woman

Alicia Curtis is one of Western Australia’s most inspiring social and business entrepreneurs as an award winning speaker, leadership facilitator and community change maker.

Living the life of a revolutionary has always come naturally for Alicia. Her leadership journey started at 12 years old attending the first International Children’s Conference organised by the United Nations and then co-founding her own children’s conference in Perth.

Alicia has a Masters in Business Leadership and was named in the Westpac and Australian Financial Review’s 100 Women of Influence List across Australia.

Alicia continues pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. She is the co-founder and inaugural board chair of a women’s giving circle called 100 Women which inspires everyday people to become powerful philanthropists.

Alicia is passionately driven by her purpose to ignite leaders to transform the world for the better – whether that be in the workplace or broader community.

Can you give us an overview of your business?

Alyceum’s key purpose is igniting leaders who change the world for the better. To inspire people to live purpose and values driven lives and lead positive change within business or the community.

Having a business is about having a deeper purpose. I believe business is a powerful vehicle for social change. Business can play a role in solving important social issues either in the programs we provide or our involvement in the broader community. In today’s world, it’s not enough to live a purpose and driven values life.

What did you want to be when you left school? Did you study?

I was studying law at University and it wasn’t the best fit. I was different to the other people studying law and I was getting a little itchy around what I was supposed to do, which drove the search for something that was a better fit. I went part time at Uni and started an idea I had, helping young people step up as leaders and make the change for the better.

I was lucky I could switch half way through my law degree to study a Masters in Business Leadership, which was much more well aligned with my business.

I had a lot of practical experience in being part of teams, leading teams, stepping up and speaking in public and then the Masters gave me the theoretical side of leadership, which was a great mix for me going forward in my business.

Was there a significant turning point when you decided to become an entrepreneur?

I fell into business. My Dad had owned a business for around 34 years, maybe it was through osmosis I learnt about having your own business and being self-sufficient. It wasn’t something I thought about.

The huge turning point was when the deviation from the traditional pathway and ever since then I have loved business. I was spending more time reading about business and leadership in the library at Uni rather than law. I also came across Anita Roddick books, she was one of the pioneers of the triple bottom line and using business for a vehicle for social change. That hugely inspired me and spoke to me. Up until that point I had focused a lot of my leadership in the community and volunteer space and to see that business could be used as a way to create change really spoke to me.

I started talking in schools, developed half day and full day workshops, leadership programs and it evolved from there.

I’ve also never had a job working for someone else, I have always been self-reliant, self sufficient and ridden the ups and downs of business.

What do you believe was the best decision you made in business?

Investing early in myself. In the beginning of my business for the first five to seven years I invested a lot in myself through education, masterminds, mentors and mentoring and that has shaped my knowledge around how to run my business as well as the business side of things to; the sales, relationship building, marketing etc. Without really challenging myself to grow my knowledge in those areas I probably wouldn’t be able to stay in business.

Looking back is there a piece of advice you wish to pass onto someone starting out their entrepreneurial journey?

There is a huge pressure to follow your passion and for a lot of people that becomes their business, but there isn’t a lot of focus on the other side, the harder stuff. It’s not all fun and rainbows not about doing everything you’re passionate about every single day, it’s a lot of hard work.

People think it’s going to be working 40 hours a week doing stuff you love. Learning a lot and building in areas that really stretch you, being ready for that. It gets glossed over. People then say what am I doing wrong, it’s not what I signed up for.

Who do you look up to in business? Who inspires you?

Lots of people inspire me all the time. Anita Roddick, I keep going back to her book. I really wish I heard her speak before she passed away.

A few years ago, I attended a business course at the Gross National Happiness Centre in Bhutan. They are leading the way in different ways we measure success.

My book shelves are filled with people who inspire me. The social entrepreneurs who are changing the way business is done, they really inspire me.

How have you personally measured your success?

This is ongoing as life changes and what’s important to you five years ago isn’t now. For me when I started my business it was a way of being flexible around my volunteering commitment. Community has been a huge cornerstone in my life and business allows me to do that.

Family. Having two kids and being able to spend time with my family and being flexible and not missing out on them growing up.

Leadership. Being able to step up in different ways, in my family business and community and drives campaigns, I think are important.

With having my kid’s stability is becoming more and more important in my life, building a legacy that’s going to grow and scale and being known for something. That’s the phase that I’m in my business currently.

Luckily I have older mentors who are reaching the peaks of their career success and say enjoy this time you will have plenty of time to focus in on the business.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

In two ways, the internal and external. For different people, it will be different barriers, some struggle with internal barriers, their knowledge, skills, network and confidence. Their locus of control is internal.

The external, you might have the skills, but there are structural barriers that hold women back, the cultural norms, you can’t have kids and be a leader, you can’t be pregnant and have a leadership role or access to child care. There might not be the right networks to support your ambitions.

More focus is happening in that space. Realising women can have all the skills etc but we need to identity the structural barriers not supporting women to step forward as leaders.

We also need to have businesses that realise we aren’t robots and that we need balance.

Other than your business, what other hats do you wear?

I am the Co-Founder and Chair of 100 Women, a Perth based not for profit whose mission is to ignite women’s philanthropy through the power of collective giving to enhance the empowerment of women and girls.

After reading Half the Sky, I was compelled to start an initiative that created real change for women and girls which also brought together women who wanted to make a difference in the world. I didn’t want to start another project based women’s organisation as there are many great organisations out there already. I wanted to start a project that was going to be an income source for women’s projects. That’s how the 100 Women initiative came about!

Do you have any tips for those struggling to gain a successful work life balance?

It’s about being really clear about the roles that I play in my life, not having too many roles and what are my goals for those roles. When there are too many priorities we get stressed.

You need to be focused on what you’re saying no and yes to.

How have your kids impacted the way you structure your day?

It’s turned it upside down! I used to be a person who would get up early and focus on a block of work, then go for a run, then come home and focus on another block of work.

But I’ve realised nothing stays the same for very long with kids, they go to school, life will change. I’m constantly checking in and adapting to what works and what doesn’t. It’s about being adaptable and flexible and trying different things.

What is your favourite thing to do in your downtime?

There isn’t much downtime at the moment, a lot is about being with my family. The things we do as a family, go out for walks, catching up with friends. I also love to read, learning is always important to me.

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