Power of Passion

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The Power of Passion: An Interview with Girlboss Enterprise winner Monique van der Westhuizen

Most Kiwi kids are no strangers to small towns and all the bittersweet feelings that come from living in them. It’s tricky to find something to be passionate about, but once you do, beautiful things happen. Monique van der Westhuizen moved from South Africa to the small Mackenzie Country town of Twizel when she was thirteen, and the passion she has found for her community and environment has turned her into a powerhouse in female-driven enterprise.

“I love art and the environment, and this year, I loved skincare and our community. So being able to channel positive things to make a product is really important.” 

Channel these things she does – not only into her dream product, a “new type of art paintbrush that has interchangeable heads to reduce waste,” with  “handles made out of customizable plant-based resin,” but also in her community and skincare focussed soaps – “but it isn’t just soap. All our ingredients are locally sourced and focus on skincare. So, we try to help people with eczema, psoriasis, sensitive skin, and acne. A lot of research went into our product, and we have a lot of happy, recurring customers. And we managed to make our production zero-waste, which was important to us.” The heart and thought that she’s put into her product has been recognized on a national level and is inspiring to youth around the country.

Her business, Gold Tiki Venture, was created as part of the Young Enterprise Scheme, a program that allows year 11-13 students the opportunity to set up a business as part of their schooling. “I chose to take up business and start Gold Tiki in level 2. I’ve always kind of had a thing for business because my dad’s in the industry. That year, I designed a new type of art paintbrush… It’s an idea that would work, but I got to a point where I needed a lot of funding, which a little rural area school does not have. I also joined a Young Enterprise Scheme that year and made it to the regional finals. I would’ve gone to nationals that year if I’d made a single sale, which was pretty exciting. This year, I decided to do something a little bit more lowkey.” Monique is calling her award-winning efforts in enterprise ‘lowkey,’ but the amounts of passion and research that have gone into not only her product but also developing her skills have been anything but ‘lowkey.’ 

“I was one of the first in my generation at Twizel Area School to join the young enterprise scheme, so no one really had a clue what it was about, no one could help me, and I was the only one taking the class, so that was a challenge in itself. The community stepped up this year and helped a lot. We were supported with market days, movie nights at the local events centre, and a few non-uniform days, which gave us most of our funding. It was great to see the community support us. It’s really cool to see the YES being recognised more now because it’s an awesome course.”

This sort of community involvement is such a testament to small communities and towns, even though they’re often looked down on in favour of bigger, fast-moving cities. The relationship that has been fostered between Monique and her community is incredibly inspiring to youth around the country who might feel unsupported in their small towns – it’s a reciprocal relationship, so if you give your passion and love to your community, you’ll get it back.

This year, Monique took on a mentorship role in her skin-safe soap venture. “When the year started, I had no idea what I wanted to do… then a kid came up to me and said, ‘I want to try the YES project. I don’t want to do it alone, and I don’t know what to do,” and I was like, “Oh yeah, alright, join me, and I’ll try to teach you what I can.” He’s really good at maths, so I showed him the finances, and we had weekly meetings so I’d tell him how I did the challenges last year, and we worked very closely together. We’d bounce ideas off each other, and he started getting into the hang of it. He started coming up with all of these great ideas, which helped. It was nice not being all alone.” 

Monique’s hard work, passion, and dedication to creating products led her to the GirlBoss awards – which she didn’t even know about until she was nominated. “I started researching them and looking into what they do, and I was so annoyed that I hadn’t heard about them earlier. They run so many amazing courses and workshops.” “Just after the Canterbury GirlBoss awards, I got an email saying I was a finalist for the nationals, which I didn’t even realise I’d applied for just by entering the regional competition. And pretty soon after that, it was like ‘Oh, you won the national finals,’ and I was like - what? I think that was out of like 700 people, so it was pretty exciting.” 

“A bunch of the girls there also had businesses and stuff, or were doing community focus projects, so I was able to make a lot of connections with those girls and talk about the issues that we faced, and we could relate to each other’s struggles. There was one girl from up north - she’s fantastic - she makes care packages for hospitals and stuff, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s really cool,’ and now I’m in the process of making some soaps for her to donate. It’s so cool, just a bunch of like-minded girls in this huge network - there are thousands of them - and you can really relate to all of them and just bounce ideas off each other.”

Monique’s experience and success within her business have profoundly impacted her community and her life – her leadership is evident in her mentorship of younger students and her role as Head Girl of Twizel Area School in 2023. She also has valuable insights for young girls looking into business and enterprise. “I think it’s essential – especially for girls – to realise that you can do business. It’s not a male-dominated field anymore, which is a huge thing to realise. Even if you come from a small town, it doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. You can do it if you’ve got the passion and the motivation. 100%. I think girls just need to channel that passion and motivation and do something positive in the world.”