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Alumni Stories

UC's 30th Anniversary: HERCANBERRA CEO LEADING BY EXAMPLE

This year, UC is celebrating our 30th anniversary as a university.

We've achieved a lot over the past 30 years – risen in world rankings, conducted breakthrough research, opened world-class learning, teaching and sporting facilities, and expanded our academic offerings.

All this has been possible because of the amazing people who make up the UC community.

As CEO and founder of HerCanberra, Amanda Whitley believes in leading by example.

One of Canberra’s best-known entrepreneurs, the University of Canberra alumna provides huge inspiration with her innovative outlook, resilience and hard work, as she juggles family commitments with a burgeoning business.

The concept of HerCanberra evolved after the birth of her second daughter. Sophia was born at 30 weeks, weighing just 1.4 kilograms, and she had to spend 10 weeks in hospital.

Diagnosed with a chronic lung disease, Sophia continued to need ongoing support as she grew – so Amanda stayed at home with two young children.

“I had been planning to work longer in my role as Communications Director at the Australian Public Service, but it was no longer an option,” Amanda says.

It was during this difficult period – feeling utterly isolated and disconnected – that she began volunteering with a small-but-growing website, and formed an online friendship with the site’s editor, Mia Freedman.

That website was Mamamia, which has expanded in recent years, evolving into Australia’s largest independent women’s media group.

Feeling reinvigorated through the community connection established online, Amanda was ready for new challenges.

“I realised Canberra didn’t have a similar product, highlighting things such as kid-friendly places to eat,” she says. “I wanted to establish an online community for Canberra women. There was a digital media landscape, but Canberra had no place in it.

“I pitched the business case of an online magazine to my husband, who is the sounding board for my many, many ideas. He said ‘I think it sounds great – you should do it’ – and HerCanberra was born.”

By 2011, HerCanberra was operating out of Amanda’s home, creating an inclusive digital community for women in Canberra.

The online magazine focused on a wide range of issues impacting women, and quickly found a previously untapped market.

Everything was going well, with HerCanberra growing into one of Canberra’s leading lifestyle media brands – but Amanda’s resilience and ability to innovate would be needed again when COVID-19 changed the media landscape in 2020. Amanda drew on both her upbringing and experience to come up with a practical solution.

Growing up in a housing commission home in the NSW country town of Tarcutta – population, 300 – Amanda had always had her feet on the ground, while having the ability to visualise and create.

It held her in good stead in her journey from communications maven to stay-at-home mum to media entrepreneur.

She knew what she wanted to do and set about doing it, deciding from an early age that she wanted to be a writer and working towards it.

“Growing up in a small country town, I always wanted to write for magazines, but I didn’t get the required score to get into journalism,” says Amanda. “I started studying a degree in General Communications, moving to Public Relations at the end of my first year. It was perfectly suited to someone who likes to write, but also craves variety and the chance to think strategically.”

After looking at several universities that had Communication courses, she decided on UC, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, specialising in Public Relations.

“My first job out of university was at a fashion and PR agency in Sydney, promoting high profile brands such as Ray-Ban and Redken. It wasn’t for me. I felt like a fish out of water.

“I then ended up moving to Griffith to be nearer to my family after my my father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.”

Amanda became a driving force in marketing with Riverina Citrus, an organisation that represented around 450 citrus growers. She ran national marketing campaigns, lobbied politicians, and effectively ensured the product was being sold in supermarkets around Australia.

This five-year period proved to be pivotal, as she entered the next phase of her life as an Australian Public Service Communications Director back in Canberra, before embarking on the journey that would lead to one of the most successful media stories to emerge from the ACT – HerCanberra.

The success of HerCanberra has brought many accolades for Amanda. She was awarded the title of ACT Woman of the Year in 2016 and was named one of the ‘100 Years, 100 Great Women’ by UN Australia, for making a difference to Canberra.

Those rewards haven’t come through waiting for opportunities, but creating them.

Business at HerCanberra was booming until the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, forcing HerCanberra mainstays such as event promotions to be curtailed. This resulted in a significant downturn in the business, as felt by most media organisations at this time.

Amanda stepped back from the day-to-day running to take up a position as the Deputy Information Coordinator for the ACT Government’s COVID-19 response, managing the public information campaigns, social media channels and website.

She says the decision to work outside HerCanberra ensures the survival of the business, with the website continuing with an audience that relies on its content more than ever in these uncertain times.

“I feel incredibly fortunate that I have been given an opportunity to step into an important role which allows me to give back to my community in a different way, while relieving financial pressure on the business and also giving the HerCanberra team a chance to put their own stamp on the brand.”

Her determination to keep the business on track is to be admired. Amanda says she is able to utilise the skills learned through her time at UC, despite the years that have gone by since she graduated.

“I really appreciated UC because of its emphasis on practicality. You learn everything you require in the workforce,” she says.

Amanda has demonstrated her appreciation for her alma mater, with HerCanberra offering an internship program for UC students in the past five years.

If anything, her story should be enough to educate the next generation of the ebbs and flows of the media industry where change is inevitable and resilience, innovation and hard work are mandatory.

Photo: supplied

In this special 30th anniversary series, UnCover is sharing the inspiring stories of UC staff, students, and alumni.

Know someone with a great story? Send their details to stories@canberra.edu.au.

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