With bittersweet emotions, we farewell the wonderful Chloe Sarapas after nearly seven years at WAGEC.
Who is your favourite feminist icon?
Audre Lorde. Along with inspiring the name of my rescue cat, Audre Loaf, many of her words inform our work at WAGEC. Our Ethical Stance and Feminist approach to leadership are influenced by her words: "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change."
How did you start working for WAGEC?
I started working at WAGEC three weeks after arriving in Sydney in 2017. I had moved over from the U.S. for something different and what I thought might be six months. While looking for work, I came across an eight-week temp role at WAGEC which at the time was called Projects and Administration Coordinator.
After about a year in this role I moved to the fundraising space where I now get to work with the rest of our phenomenal team and community, both of which have grown substantially since 2017. I am so glad that I managed to continue working at WAGEC longer than the eight weeks and have been able to spend well beyond the expected six months in Sydney, living on Gadigal Land for almost seven years.
Tell us about your time working with WAGEC; can you explain your role of Director of Fundraising & Communities for us?
Before I worked at WAGEC, without realizing it, my conception of what it meant to be a leader was influenced heavily by the traditionally "masculine traits" that have historically been tied to leadership. So much so that the term never resonated with me, despite stepping into a leadership and management role a couple years into my time WAGEC. In 2018 our leadership team was in the process of developing a Feminist Ethical Stance and leadership framework. In the spirit of Audre Lorde's message on the importance of using new tools that will bring about lasting change, WAGEC's Ethical Stance defines leadership in its own way, untied to stereotypically masculine definitions that many of us growing up might have seen reflected in prominent leadership figures.
The Ethical Stance, whose development was led by Meredith Turnbull and WAGEC's CEO Helen Waters Silvia in collaboration with our leadership team and staff, prompted a shift in my thinking about what it means to be a leader. Now I was in a space where feminist values drove leadership, which was defined as "using our individual or collective power to influence others and make progress on what matters." Not who could speak the loudest, be the "best" or appear the "toughest." Leadership traits weren't "masculine or feminine" and I began to understand from WAGEC's definition that it was something we can all do at any time. That it was about collaboration, creating structures to support each other, and taking steps toward social change with hope for the future. It was about listening to and believing women's experiences. I will always be grateful for the influence that this Ethical Stance and my colleagues at WAGEC have had on my thinking.
It's meant so much to be part of the WAGEC Community for the last seven years, chipping away at creating gender equality together. There is significant growth that has happened for WAGEC and our Community in this time, thanks to the vision of WAGEC CEO Helen Waters Silvia and Deputy CEO Nicole Yade and the generosity of everyone who has played a part. We've navigated big challenges together from a global pandemic, cost of living and housing crisis and a context where women are being murdered by their current or former partners at alarming rates, despite being an entirely preventable issue.
WAGEC's workforce has moved from 12 to 70, with our services growing to meet community needs. Our flagship fundraiser Walk for WAGEC has expanded to be four times its size in both participants and fundraising revenue since it began in 2019, an achievement that I hope our whole community feels proud of.
Lots remains the same at WAGEC though since I first joined. Our community continues to be a collective of feminist humans who share an unwavering belief in women, children and ending gender based violence. Incredible women walk through WAGEC's doors as part of their own journeys. Our community continues to reflect the grassroots values of WAGEC's Founder Jeannie Divine, who started WAGEC over 45 years ago after having a lived experience of homelessness herself.
Being in the role of Director of Fundraising & Communities has meant I get to work closely with our F&C Team and community of supporters, leading our Fundraising and Community Engagement strategy to secure financial and non-financial resources that support women and families. At its heart, this role and our team is about creating mutual benefit for WAGEC and our supporter community. No two days look the same, where one requires being deep in writing a grant application, another visiting a corporate partner at their offices, planning and brainstorming with the team or being all hands on deck with everyone to put on an event like Walk for WAGEC. The role comes with plenty of challenges to juggle, but the team navigates these with strength, deep thinking and oftentimes a good laugh.
What's been the highlight of your time working at WAGEC? What's been the biggest challenge?
There are so many highlights. But it's the people first and foremost. Relationships are behind all the work we do at WAGEC, whether it's a woman's relationship with the case manager supporting her, relationships we each have as colleagues, volunteers and donors and between WAGEC and other businesses. Behind every dollar we've raised together is a connection with each other and to our cause. Each time I speak with a WAGEC supporter, I see genuine care, generosity and readiness to take action. Each conversation we’ve had is a reminder of why we’re here, working together to end gender-based violence. So the highlight for me at WAGEC is each person in the community, past and present. Thank you to each of you who make WAGEC the special place that it is.
One of the most tangible ways we see these relationships come together as a highlight of its own is Walk for WAGEC, a collective fundraising and community effort that would not be possible without each person involved in forming the whole. The sea of yellow that our community forms each May in Centennial Park embodies the collaboration, relationships and passion that are so important to ending gender-based violence.
Also on the long list of WAGEC highlights is the neighborhood cat Skree who frequents our Redfern office and is very much a part of the WAGEC Community!
With WAGEC's many highlights are significant challenges, which are often symptomatic of living in a patriarchal society, the ongoing impacts of colonisation and the systems in which we work that are unjust for so many women and people in our communities. Oftentimes our work and decisions are not black and white, with many things true at once and no easy answers.
What does community mean to you?
Community for me is belonging, safety and connection. It's a nurturing and stable place created by people with shared values and a commitment to show up, especially when times are tough. It's being part of something bigger than one person and something that one person can't create alone. I see WAGEC being all of these things.
What will you miss most about WAGEC?
When I first started working at WAGEC I felt I had struck gold finding such a special place on the other side of the world to where I'd lived life so far. I feel so fortunate to have been a part of our community these past seven years and have that same appreciation now that I did then for the place we call WAGEC. I don't think there is a place quite like it.
I am certain that everything is going to be in fantastic hands with our next Director of Fundraising & Communities and the rest of F&C Team. Their work already blows me away with so many achievements yet to be seen. They are the incredible humans who make our Fundraising & Communities work happen and it wouldn’t be what it is without them.
I will miss our community immensely, but can’t wait to be a part of it in a different way from the U.S., cheering you all on from afar as you continue working together for safer futures.
Thank you Chloe for all your amazing work over the past seven years. You will be sorely missed by the WAGEC community but we wish you all the best for your next chapter.