It’s never too young to start: an honest interview with Maja Wilbrink.

Last week FUEL was lucky enough to sponsor an event hosted by ChangeMakeHer, an organisation aimed at empowering women in typically male-dominated industries. Earlier we heard from the organiser, Maja Wilbrink (second from left) who at 17 is nothing short of impressive.


Image: Tanya Meessmann (FUEL Founder), Maja Wilbrink (ChangeMakeHer co-founder) Ivana Santic (ChangeMakeHer co-founder) & Ellie Price.

In your own words, tell us a bit about ChangeMakeHer?

ChangeMakeHer is an organisation aimed to empower young women to pursue traditionally male dominated fields, so areas like STEM, entrepreneurship and general leadership roles. At the moment our main focus has been our first ever event filled with keynote speakers, panels and workshops.

We’ve also been conducting a career story series on our blog. This is where we interview women from across a variety of fields about how they got to where they are now. We think that a lot of time there’s a lack of story-telling, and it can be easy to view some career pathways as distant and unachievable.

You often don’t get to see the backstory of how people got to where they are and the challenges they faced along the way. We are trying to show young women that they’re just as capable.

What made you want to get involved with such an initiative and why do you think it is so important?

I’ve personally been involved in the entrepreneurial online community for a few years now and the lack of women has been something that stood out. For example, I’ve always had a desire to learn more about coding and so I attended our coding club at school, which had a grand total of 3 girls. On top of that, I work part-time with a tech start-up and I’m the only female on the team of about 15. Even though it’s an incredible team and I’ve never felt uncomfortable about it, I still think the ratio speaks to broader issues.

Engaging young women during high school is incredibly important, because I think there’s a huge gap in the way the education system operates at the moment. High school is the time when young women start to form their perspective on their position in the world and what they want to do career wise, so it’s crucial to show them what’s out there and engage them sooner rather than later.

What challenges have you faced during this initiative, and how did you get passed them?

To be brutally honest, when we first started organising our conference, we had no idea what we were doing. Planning an event and all the logistics behind it was a big learning curve, and it’s definitely easy to become overwhelmed by all the things you need to take into consideration. We realised we had to be extremely organised and plan our time well, especially as we were in the middle of going through our biggest exam blog at the height of preparation. Prioritising tasks helped us a lot in that regard.

Never be afraid to reach out and ask for help… If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.

In the end, we were so lucky to receive support from a lot of incredible people and organisations (including FUEL!) along the way, which made things run a lot smoother. I think the biggest thing I would say is never be afraid to reach out and ask for help. A lot of amazing things that have happened would have never have happened if we hadn’t reached out or just asked. I think you’ll find that a lot of the time, people actually want to help and be of value, and if not, the worst they can do is just ignore you or say no, so you don’t even lose anything in that situation. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.

What would you say to people who think you are ‘too young’ to be doing what your doing?

I think you’re absolutely never ‘too young’ and in fact, it’s even better to start when you’re young if you want to. Reflecting on it, I’ve had so many ideas in my head for a while, but I used to have all these limiting beliefs and be like “oh wait, there’s no way I can do that. I’m only 16”. I always knew what an ‘entrepreneur’ was, but I always associated it with people like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs, and it seemed so distant and unachievable. It’s only once you start actually doing things and bringing your ideas to action that you realise you are fully capable. It’s an extremely powerful realisation.

Starting while you’re young is actually better, because it’s the time in your life where you have the most time and fewest responsibilities. I thought I was a busy person before, but I actually had a lot of spare time where I wasn’t doing anything productive. Now I know to spend it working on projects I feel passionate about. It is so much more rewarding.

Thanks Maja, we couldn’t have said it better if we tried!

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FUEL's Founder - Tanya Meessmann