Millicent Barty is the Founder of Millicent Designs; Co-Founder of Solbridge Ltd; Yher Pacific Program Manager – YGAP; Chair of the Young Entrepreneurs Council Solomon Islands and Trustee of the Solomon Islands Tourism Development Fund.
Millicent, tell us, what do you love about what you do?
In 11thgrade, I had an incredibly inspirational teacher, Mr. Adrian Thirkell. He was the epitome of Nikos Kazantzakis’s words,“true teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own”.
Though teaching as a career crossed my mind, I would have never made a great teacher but I aspired to be a “true teacher” in my area of interest, which is design and social entrepreneurship. I love that I am, not only doing something that I am passionate about but that I could also be helping others do what they love.
And how do these roles play to your strengths?
I believe my strengths stem from my experiences and passions, and a strong belief system in social good and empowering others. The roles I am undertaking contribute to my greater vision in the socio-economic development of Solomon Islands and eventually the whole region.
What would be the top five things that you have learned to be a success in your job?
- Making ‘Failure my best friend’
The top 3 qualities I look for in a best friend are honesty, encouragement and trust and, if we look hard enough and if we don’t let it deter us, failure possesses these qualities. My entrepreneurial journey has been nothing but failing fast and learning fast. Failure has been honest to help me realise some of my business ideas had no market value. It has encouraged me to believe in myself to be able to diverge, or converge, my business activities and it is only through my failures that I have learnt to trust the process and myself.
- Say ‘YES’ to every opportunity
(Within reason of course) – It had never crossed my mind that I wanted to be an Entrepreneur. I kind of stumbled into it and created Millicent Designs because I couldn’t land a job after graduating from university. I had a dream in mind but had no idea how I was going to achieve it. I was still figuring out my “purpose” and I remember spending almost two years saying yes to every opportunity that knocked at the door (some even as crazy as build a solar panel shop display where I found myself learning to use a power drill and a jigsaw to execute it). Some opportunities I’d delve into it without really knowing what I was doing but looking back now (having slightly figured out the area I serve my passion best and hence being more selective), I always appreciate the invaluable lessons from those experiences because, in hindsight, they have allowed me to exercise my ability to take risks and believe in myself.
Like Pablo Picasso appropriately stated, “I’m always doing things I can’t do. That’s how I get to do them.”
- Copycat syndrome is an opportunity – Share your ideas and grow!
Copycatting is heavily perceived as a negative trait in our small Pacific communities. I’ve come across many people who don’t want to share their ideas from the fear of someone else copying it, but I am of the opinion that this is a societal attitude that sometimes holds us back from progressive development. I feel like many think there is a finite amount of resources so if someone is getting successful, people think there is a lesser chance of them to reach success as all the resources (or rather ideas) are being used up. It’s not that the pie is “this big” and everyone is competing for a slice but rather, the pie is as big as we make it, and everyone can be successful not at the expense of someone else.
Personally, I love sharing my ideas. It’s been really beneficial to where I am today because by sharing, I’ve managed to develop them further. In the context of social entrepreneurship, where impact on livelihoods is core to your business activity, copycatting is an opportunity to impact more lives.
- The best “role model” I can be to anyone is to teach them to love and respect themselves.
There’s a hidden pressure, burdened by social expectations, that sometimes come with “success” or achievements. I’ve learnt that in this territory, I am of most use to others and to myself, by being simply me. I think that’s a really important lesson, especially to our younger generation growing up in this social-media era where they are constantly bombarded with “the perfect image” and face massive pressure conditioning them to be someone else.
- Surround yourself with people who lift you up!
It is crucial for your personal growth.
Who do you look to for inspiration in your career? Where do you go to learn more to progress in your work?
I’m a creative person so stimulus is almost second nature to me. I am constantly inspired on a daily basis. Individuals do not necessarily inspire me, but rather, the particular features (characteristics) they possess to do what they do. I find inspiration in the simplest things; like the arts & crafts ladies on the street that I walk pass their stalls almost everyday, I am always inspired by their persistence to wake up everyday, set up their stalls early and sit all day with a smile. I may not know their personal stories and struggles, but I am always inspired by what they do and how they make others feel.
If someone wanted to pursue this career, what advice would you give them?
These are not my words but “be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help and brave enough to ask for it”.
What was your journey to get here? And where do you see yourself in ten years?
My story roots from an underlying desire to resolve my own cultural identity crisis, that stemmed into, what is now, a dedicated chapter of my fervent entrepreneurial responsibility to bridge social cleavages through communication that uses the structures of our traditional oral history (“Kastom Stories”) and to empower women and youth in socio-economic development.
A decade of my upbringing was in Indonesia with my British stepfather and the concept of home was always quite obscure for me. The way in which I remained connected to my Solomon Islands heritage was through collecting kastom stories, at every opportunity, when returning there for school holidays. I also believe that growing up in the impoverished masses of Jakarta triggered my immense interest in humanitarianism and community service.
After completing school, at 18, I decided to take my gap-year in the Solomon Islands where I participated in our national pageant and won the title of ‘Miss Solomon Islands 2009 – 2010’. This role exposed me to the dire social and cultural issues specifically affecting women and youth not only in the Solomon Islands but the region (I was 3rdRunner-Up, Miss South Pacific 2009). Education became my priority to address them.
Studying Design at University, I learnt that only 17% of our adult population (ages 25 – 60) were literate, and I spent my final year at University designing and developing my Kastom Stori Taem Tool (KST).
Having being deemed “too inexperienced” after graduating, and after a year of dispiriting chances at employment, I decided to start my own business (Millicent Designs) to offer this service and fund its development on my own to be able to carry out my mission.
I started off designing greeting cards which I sold door-to-door, and at the market, to meet my startup costs. I also delved in different disciplines of design to save capital prior to marketing the KST tool.
Today, the very same NGOs and Ministries are hiring me for my KST service. My work includes translating political pledges and ideas into information-graphics to ensure that marginalised groups can engage in the electoral process, to shift traditional perspectives on the role of women in leadership and to tackle social and cultural issues like domestic violence. It is also being used in development projects, specifically in educating and empowering landowners, to alleviate assumptions surrounding sustainable infrastructure projects that would benefit the country as a whole.
Unemployment was the crux for the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey. My motivation and passion to shift traditional perspectives, to keep the uninformed informed and to ensure that no one gets left behind, has progressed to fostering a conducive, entrepreneurial ecosystem to tackle high unemployment. An ecosystem that empowers women and youth through entrepreneurship. I am incredibly blessed with my yher Pacific managerial role to be able to extend this passion throughout the region, particularly by contributing to supporting female-led ventures in social impact.
In ten years’ time, I will be 37 and I see myself continuing to serve my passion for the socio-economic development of our region and empower young minds to pursue social entrepreneurship. I believe the best solutions to our problems are local and collective … and hopefully I will start a family of my own too!