Inspirational Female Founders – Alison Weir

Introducing Alison Weir…

Meet Alison. Founder of Wonderland Communications (a three-year-old global consumer comms agency) and co-founder of The Kindly Collective, a charity that offers help to grassroots projects that support vulnerable women, kids and creatures.

Based in Bristol and London, Alison has worked in consumer communications for nearly 20 years. She’s led UK, European and global campaigns for airlines, tech companies, entertainment and FMCG brands. With a degree in conservation, she has a big passion for ethical & environmental issues and campaigns, from social justice to sustainability.

How did you come up with your business / charity?

Literally through necessity – I’d been learning my craft and running other people’s agencies for nearly two decades. Making people good money whilst developing a better product and developing teams. I was always delivering someone else’s vision and  was always being criticised relentlessly for not following the rules. The bureaucracy and process-for-process-sake wore me down, along with the constant negativity. In the end, I had a good cry, closed my laptop, and never opened it again. A few months later I was at the pub with my husband. We took some drawing pads and sharpies and started writing out what I loved and loathed about my industry, agencies I’d worked at, clients, the work, the team… and that list (essentially what became a list of ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s) led to Wonderland. I registered the company name within the week, sorted out the email address, and got on with it.

Who has been your stand out business / charity mentor?

I’ve never had a mentor! True life fact. I had considered it at various points in my career but struggled to find someone who wasn’t massively patronising and / or who I genuinely felt I could learn something from. 

What advice would you give a promising business/ charity founder?

Oh gosh. So much to share but so much of it is out there already so it won’t sound like new news! Mmmm. Let’s try with this little lot…

  • Set your values, vision and mission at the beginning. Work super hard to understand how they translate into every part of your business, and then live and die by them. These are the things that set you apart from others, that define how you behave and what you stand for. They are your DNA!
  • Sleep as much and as well as you can! The working 5am-midnight mentality is very 1980s and won’t serve you well. Your brain needs a rest if it’s going to be able to do its thing.
  • I was told that when you start a business you shouldn’t expect to have a holiday for 3-5 years. Like ‘you won’t sleep’ this is also total nonsense and a matter of choice. Within 3 months of starting Wonderland, I was on a beach in my swimming costume, beer in hand, working through a load of complicated data. The brilliant thing about setting up on your own, is that you can genuinely work from anywhere. So, go anywhere and do it!
  • “Don’t be a dick”. The most important four words ever. In life and in business.

How would you define your leadership style?

‘Highly organised chaos’! I like things to be very well planned, however I also don’t like predictability and strongly believe in the creative magic that can come from chaos! These are generally at odds with each other, but we’ve found a way that enables us to plan to within an inch of our lives and leave room for the madness to creep in when we need it to, so it never gets boring.

How can businesswomen support other businesswomen?

See the point above about ‘Don’t be a dick’! I think it’s as simple as being conscientious, respectful, caring, nurturing and trying to do some good for others along the way. At Wonderland, we’ve always wanted there to be a higher purpose to what we do, which is the reason I founded our charity Kindly a little while ago. It enables us to support vulnerable women, kids and creatures through fundraising initiatives like the Anthony Burrill ‘Kindness Is Strength’ print last Christmas. That statement is something we believe in very much, professionally and personally.

” Failure is part of becoming successful ” – What has been your most memorable failure and what did you learn from it?

My most memorable failure was actually failing myself. Not realising, before it was too late, how tired I was. Not looking after myself. Not taking time out or off. Taking too much on. It was a never-ending cycle of exhaustion, emotional, mental and physical. It wasn’t pretty then and it’s not pretty thinking about it now. What have I learnt from that failure? Well I’m writing this from bed because I’m ill with a lurgy. My husband would tell you this is because I’ve worked too much and too hard this year. So maybe I haven’t learnt anything?! Except I have. I’ve learnt that I’m pretty good at what I do. I’ve learnt that I don’t need to prove anything to anyone, and in fact I never did. I’ve learnt to trust myself. I’ve learnt to believe that I am worthy of good things and good times and great people. And then, when a time comes that I need to spend a few days in bed, I do it with absolute relish, ten thousand cups of tea, my favourite dirty snacks and my dog. And I love it.

What three things do you absolutely need to help you through your toughest work days?
  • My husband
  • Someone asking, “would you like a cup of tea?”
  • Noise! A strong and eclectic soundtrack + lots of chatter + interruptions + the dog + laughter = happiness + productivity

Keep updated with the work of Wonderland Communications & Kindly Collective

Wonderland Communications

Inspirational Female Founders – Abi Wright

Introducing Abi Wright…

Meet Abi. Founder of Spabreaks.com an online Spa Travel company which offers affordable and exclusive offers for spa and theatre packages, recovery retreats for ‘singletons, hen parties, groups and everyone in between’.

How did you come up with your business idea?

I worked in the world of hotel spas for about 10 years before I started Spabreaks.com. During this time, I really got to know how many amazing experiences there were available, however the message wasn’t really getting out there.  Everyone had a very linear idea about what spas were about – often deemed to be just for rich, perfect women with perfect lives and lots of money. 

I really wanted to show everything that spas had to offer – from the real wellness side of things to the fun of an afternoon tea with friends and facials, and how important all of that is to wellbeing.  So, when I set up Spabreaks.com I really wanted to showcase spas differently, market them more dynamically and make it really easy for individuals to find the right spa break for them through the advice and expertise of our team.

My goal was to bridge the divide between commercial success and brand integrity for the many amazing spas in the UK and around the world.

Who has been your stand out business mentor?

I have not really had a mentor of my own, which is why I think I am so passionate about wanting to provide support for other young people, especially women, to feel supported and empowered to achieve their goals in work and life. 

I don’t come from a remarkable background.  I wasn’t remarkable at school.  I failed every maths test I ever took.  In fact, my teacher told me I wouldn’t amount to anything at all.  I don’t have any formal business training, and I started my company at the same time as becoming a mum.  But I am doing it and I have amazing people around me, working with me every day. 

That said, while I don’t have mentors I do have women who I thoroughly admire in the industry and who I take real inspiration from – people like Sue Harmsworth, who founded ESPA and has made a phenomenal contribution to the wellness industry.

What advice would you you give to a promising entrepreneur?
  • Know your industry – the best ideas come from people who have really observed the industry they want to be in and understand how it works and what its limitations have been.
  • Trust your gut – get other peoples’ opinions of course, it’s good due diligence.  But if you know your industry then you can afford to trust your gut on the decisions you make.  Sometimes that’s all you have.  At least if it doesn’t pay off then you have the peace of mind that you did what you thought was right at the time.
  • Surround yourself with people who share your vision and are passionate about driving it forward.  You don’t want a team of yes men around you, but you do want people with the energy and enthusiasm to make things happen.  You definitely don’t want people with a ‘can’t do’ attitude because they will wear you down.

How would define your leadership style?

I really work hard to try to empower other people to feel confident in their roles.  I am always involved in every aspect of the business.  I think it’s really important to muck in and know what’s going on, but I don’t believe in micromanaging your team.  I really think it’s important to build trust in the people you work with.  That way it becomes an amazing and really powerful working environment.

How can businesswomen support other businesswomen?

I really think it starts with the attitude we bring into the room to be honest.  I think sometimes there is a culture of trying to bring other women down, criticising and I don’t like that.  As a woman you’re often damned if you do and damned if you don’t, but I really believe that a rising tide lifts all boats.  We’re all in this together, so be helpful, be positive and be encouraging.  There’s room for us all to be successful!

” Failure is part of becoming successful ” – What has been your most memorable failure and what did you learn from it?

I don’t think it’s one particular failure that I would highlight, I think it’s lots of little things that didn’t quite work out as planned, or perhaps more importantly than anything it wasn’t a reality of failure but my feeling like a failure at times – that has been challenging.

Like I said before, I was never exceptional at school and I didn’t have a big fancy business degree I could point to.  I have always felt a bit like the underdog, and I have always been proving to myself, as well as to anyone else, that I can make it all work. 

That’s something you have to square with in your own head, but it is a driving force.  I think the biggest challenge for me, as well as the biggest driver, has been balancing being a working mum.  There have been plenty of times I have worried I have done the wrong thing, that my children might resent me for working a lot.  I have always tried to make sure I am home when they are home, and flexible working has been a big part of that, but it doesn’t stop you from worrying and that’s always felt like the biggest gamble because you don’t really know the result until it’s too late. 

That said, my kids are getting to an age when they do voice their opinions and thankfully they are really proud that mummy is out there working hard.  That feeling and that knowledge has also really informed how I try to support my own staff to balance home and work, especially when they become parents or their personal lives present challenges.

What three things do you absolutely need to help you through your toughest work days?
  • My husband
  • My children
  • My team

Standing for Trees

Sustainability… It is at the core of what we do. But it’s not always possible to avoid making a negative impact on our planet.

The aviation industry is a key contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. According to Clean Energy Wire, the worldwide emissions produced from airplanes and other aircraft is the equivalent to the greenhouse gas output of the whole of Germany. Worryingly, however, the level of aviation emissions is fast growing. By 2050, these emissions are projected to consume approximately a quarter of the world’s remaining carbon budget.[1]

Reducing our global carbon emissions has become one of the greatest ecological problems facing our planet to date. As such, businesses and individuals alike have sought to look for ‘greener’ alternatives. One proposed action, that has gained a flux of interest, is ‘Carbon offsetting’. This is the process of compensating or negating the production of carbon dioxide emissions, by participating in schemes designed to make equivalent reductions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. One example of this is planting trees. So, the question is: is carbon offsetting worth it?

At One World Women, we know that it’s time we take responsibility for carbon emissions that the travel to our partners in Africa generate. No business can operate without a carbon footprint, but it’s the action we take to reduce our negative impact that matters. Therefore, for every ton of CO2 we produce via our overseas projects, we offset this by planting trees via Stand for Trees initiative.

Carbon offsets can be a great way of making up the difference, whilst also buying some time until international emission policies and systems significantly change for us to reduce our global CO2 output . Naazia Ebrahim from Stand for Trees told us, “we do expect people to mitigate and reduce first, but there will always be unavoidable emissions, and that’s where offsets have a role to play”. Although not a long-term solution, carbon offsetting allows us to be conscious of our ‘footprint’ – and like most things, the first step is understanding that there is a problem.

The closest forest to our Gambian partners is the Gola Rainforest in Sierra Leone . We, at One World Women and the communities we work with, have chosen to partner with and support the Gola Rainforest Project. This landscape is one of the most threatened in the world and the Rainforest plays an integral part to the region’s biodiversity. As such, supporting and maintaining its health and longevity will help to mitigate the effects of climate change – at least in the short term.

Stand for Trees is a community of people who are taking action to protect forests and combat climate change. At the heart of their projects lies the principle of partnership and engagement of local communities – enabling them to become active environmental stewards of their forest.[2] We support their Sierra Leone project, which directly promotes sustainable development and livelihood activities for 122 forest edge communities (24,000 people) in the world’s 8th poorest country. The action of working in tandem with more people-centred climate justice movements, aligns with One World Women’s values – providing on-the-ground support to women within the countries that we operate. Whilst this is not a licence to pollute, as Ebrahim rightly argues it is “just an indication of why we think tropical forest offsets, in particular, are extremely valuable.”

Given that aircraft emissions from jet fuel are projected to more than triple from now until 2050[3] , many governments, businesses and NGOs have sought to introduce and implement ‘offset-certification schemes’. In this way, carbon offset schemes allow individuals and companies to invest in environmental projects around the world in order to balance out their own carbon footprints.[4] Stand for Trees’ Gola Rainforest project is the first VCS and CCB validated and verified REDD+ project in West Africa and protects the largest remaining area of Upper Guinea Rainforest in Sierra Leone, an internationally recognised hotspot for wildlife.[5]

Each Stand for Trees certificate represents one carbon credit – in other words, it’s one tonne of carbon dioxide not released into the atmosphere as a direct result of the project’s activities. Since Stand for Trees can count how much carbon is in the trees they save, they can put a financial value on the standing forests through carbon credits. Once that happens, locals have an alternative to cutting them down, and the carbon stays in the ground. Through this model, they provide an economic alternative for communities living in forested areas so that they have a real choice between destroying their environment for survival or pursuing a sustainable pathway to economic development. They protect trees in vulnerable locations around the globe so that they “are worth more alive than dead”, creating real and effective action.

It has been suggested that trading carbon credits between industries and participating in offset programs may be the cheapest and most politically feasible way to help industrialized countries reduce emissions.[6] However, as deforestation continues to cost our planet around 15 billion trees each year,[7] our journey towards sustainability continues to develop. Offsetting cannot, singlehandedly, tackle climate change; we must move to a low-carbon world as quickly as possible and everyone, from individuals to businesses can get involved in this initiative.

To calculate your impact on the planet, use Stand for Trees’ handy calculator: https://standfortrees.org/en/footprint


[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-37573434 (accessed 19/04/19)

[2] https://standfortrees.org/en/protect-a-forest/gola-rainforest-project-connecting-forests-people (accessed 18/04/19)

[3]www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/climate_law_institute/transportation_and_global_warming/airplane_emissions/pdfs/Airplane_Pollution_Report_December2015.pdf

[4] B. L. “Offsets: Worth the Price of Emission?” Science, vol. 318, no. 5847, 2007, pp. 37–37. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20048500.

[5] //standfortrees.org/en/protect-a-forest/gola-rainforest-project-connecting-forests-people

[6] Johnson, Mark, and Hannah Wittman. “Carbon Trading.” Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, vol. 6, no. 1, 2008, pp. 10–10. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20440785.

[7] https://cnn.it/Ghlio2 (accessed 19/04/19)


Photo by Magda Ehlers