“Confident girls make confident choices,” says Chloe Chick, who started SisuGirls last October. We chat to the energetic entrepreneur about her business and the fun-based programme she’s developed around a love for sport and a passion to inspire girls between the ages of five and 15 to live life with inner confidence and strength.
Tell us about your motivation to start SisuGirls.
Last summer, my husband James and I returned with our two children to our previous home in Chamonix, France, in the Alps, where the lifestyle is based on the outdoors and adventure. My children’s old school-friends seemed to have progressed straight from nappies to comfortably climbing rock faces, walking on glaciers and biking rugged mountain paths.
Apart from their physical abilities, I noticed how their interaction with the natural environment impacted how they moved and expressed themselves: they were confident, determined and self-assured in their bodies. In comparison, my six-year-old daughter didn’t have that level of confidence.
It got me thinking: how can I bring that experience back to Singapore and apply it to the area of building confidence in girls? My personal experience with sport and adventure during my childhood, as well as my ten years of experience operating mountain-based expeditions for women, was important background to this.
After returning home, I started working on the idea of creating an environment and network of support for girls to develop their inner strength through physical pursuits. I believe confident girls make confident choices.
Sisu is an unusual word; what does it mean?
It’s a Finnish word, which directly translated to English means determination, bravery and resilience; it’s a spirit – the innate confidence and tenacity to dust yourself off and try again. Success in this day and age is so often determined externally (the house, the handbag, the car), but we want girls to understand that success is an internal thing.
Why focus only on girls?
The sisu message encompasses everyone: young and old, male and female, but our programming and focus is on girls. I believe they need a leg up. I believe that a lot of girls and women too often follow stereotypes and feel societal pressures to adhere to the rules. But if we gave ourselves permission to pursue what really inspired us, I believe there would be a lot more girls and women reaching their highest potential.
Plus, some girls acknowledge that they feel uncomfortable doing sport with boys, while others dislike competitive sport, so SisuGirls is about building a safe environment for girls to explore their abilities. Ultimately, I want girls to develop their own confidence to decide for themselves who they want to be – not what society, their culture or their family experiences tell them they should be.
Why is risk-taking so important?
The more we encourage risk-taking at a younger age, the more girls will be aware of what constitutes true risk later in life. Risk-taking in a safe environment is critical for developing sisu. What we classify as risky is different for every girl; some are more confident than others, so we push each girl individually until she is confidently extending out of her comfort zone. If girls never take risks, how can they make judgements and decisions based on their surroundings, or learn about limitations?
Talk us through a lesson.
Our programmes focus on instruction in one of three sports: skateboarding, rock climbing or running, as well as the critical SisuGirl element. We place significant emphasis on the language we use, and we discuss relevant and age-appropriate issues; mentoring is vital. For example we discuss ways to manage the inner voice: that voice in your head that says you can’t. Every week we distribute a book about inspirational women and encourage the girls to try something, even if they fail – after all, it’s only from our mistakes that we learn. Designed for girls aged from five to 15, the programmes are fun-based, rather than academic.
Any interesting insights you’ve picked up from the girls?
Rather than having their parents coaching from the sidelines, kids say they want to be left to do their thing. So let’s leave them to it, even if we do think we’re helping. Another insight has been how we, as parents, can impact our children subtly without knowing it, particularly when it comes to the message we send about physical activity. If you run or exercise every day, you should talk about how you enjoy it, how it makes you feel healthy and helps you develop a strong mind – don’t concentrate on what it does for the way you look. Girls pick up on this.
What plans do you have for the business?
By its nature, this business is driven more by passion and purpose than it is by profit. But at the same time, the programmes are inherently expensive to run, so one of my challenges it to make them more accessible.
So far, SisuGirls is unique to Singapore, but I’m looking to expand the concept to other countries and to grow it as a movement, an internationally recognised brand. To that end, we’ve already created some empowering online resources, including blogs from female ambassadors, podcasts and a series of children’s books about fearless females.
Finally, do you still find time for mountain-climbing?
Unfortunately, not so much anymore. But I still love being in the mountains, and I try to hike, camp or trail-run in nature as often as I can.
The backstory from Chloe herself:
“I left Australia in 2003 to work with Gemma Sisia, who was establishing the School of St Jude in Tanzania. That morphed into a six-month road trip across Africa with my now-husband. During that time, we noticed the frustrations of the local non-profits who were continually passed over for funding projects by the larger organisations.
So we created 3 Peaks 3 Weeks Africa, a fundraiser that saw an all-female team climb three of Africa’s highest mountains in 2007 and raise $385,000. We’d always thought it was a one-off. But the transformational journey the women experienced and the impact of the money on the recipients inspired us to run the event annually for a further five years.
By 2008, I had relocated to Switzerland, via London, and was taking care of my daughter, Olive (now aged six), as well as working as the co-founder of the Peaks Foundation, which organises women’s adventure treks and fundraisers. During my years with the Peaks Foundation, I noticed that women who possessed natural self-belief and self-confidence tended to exhibit it all the way through a trek. But it was not easy to change the mindset of those who lacked a positive attitude. It raised questions in my mind about the natural confidence of our girls, and what we were doing about it.”
This story first appeared in Expat Living’s October 2015 issue.