Mandy Dante is the Founder and CEO of Flourish Girl, Australia’s leading rites of passage programs that work with teenage girls & gender diverse students between 13-17 years old to build their self-awareness, self-confidence and social connectedness within their school community and other trusted relationships. Also an ex-speech pathologist, TEDx Speaker and an Australian Accredited Facilitator, Mandy is the first-senior female facilitator at The Rites of Passage Institute.
She is creating immense impact among the youth and has set an incredible example of what it is like to have passion with purpose. Today, we got the opportunity to talk to her about her journey.
You left your career as a paediatric speech pathologist to start and run FlourishGirl. What inspired you to do so?
I reflected a lot on my high school years after leaving and I thought so much about how I wasn’t able to be my true authentic self. People saw me as the happy, friendly girl that got along with everyone but what people didn’t see was how I was constantly stressed out, anxious and insecure about myself. I also remember girls in my year level would come to school with bandages on their wrists as a result of self-harming, I remember overhearing conversations about girls eating an apple a day to lose all this weight before formal. Reflecting on my experiences in high school, I wondered what would have happened if we had a safe space to talk about everything inside of us before it got to a stage of severe mental health challenges. And that is where Flourish Girl came about…to create a safe space for teen girls and gender diverse teens to know that they can be themselves!
You were named as 2018's Young Social Pioneer from The Foundation for Young Australians, A winner of the Pro Bono Australia Impact 25 awards & a Finalist for The Young Achievers Award . What was one challenging moment you met in your journey and how did you overcome that barrier?
Great question! I feel like I’m forever being challenged in this space! A challenging moment I feel like I’m constantly coming up against is the lack of resources we have at Flourish Girl, when you have a fire in your belly to create a big impact but know you don’t have the resources to achieve it can be really difficult to sit with. I’ve had to do a lot of internal work on myself and not compare our organisation to other amazing organisations because our journey at Flourish Girl is and will always be different and unique. How I overcame these challenges is by zooming in to where we are now and being grateful for the support and resources we do have and continuing to dream big and play big. Having faith, love and respect for myself have been a huge part of me being the leader I am today and allowing FG to be at the place it is today…in saying this, I do still have my days and that’s where I lean on my loved ones for support.
You are the first female facilitator at The Rites of Passage Institute. What is your message to women breaking down gender barriers and establishing themselves professionally in often male dominated domains?
Great question!! This is a big juicy one - I think the first thing is to acknowledge that there may be parts of you that are terrified about putting yourself out there, especially in environments where you don’t see yourself represented. But one thing I always fall back on is that despite it being so damn hard and uncomfortable at times, I think about what can open up to other young women if I can pave a new way now. I also think about how there is no right time to dive into these environments and that I tend to fall back on the question of “if not now, then when - if not me, then who?” Another practical tip is finding a tribe of other women that are strong, powerful and passionate about similar things to you. When you surround yourself with other powerful women it does help so much!
Who is your biggest inspiration and why?
There are so many incredible women and men that I admire but I would have to say my biggest inspiration is my mum, I tend to describe her as love on legs! The number of sacrifices and hard work she’s put into making sure I and my older sister have an incredible childhood is priceless. The way she loves my dad is so beautiful (they are actually high school sweethearts) She is very ambitious and hard-working and also leads from a place of love..all the time! She is also very humble in her power and I think that’s something I really admire in her. It’s like she has a well of unending energy and love for others <3
What is one piece of advice that you would have liked to give your younger self?
Spend more time with yourself and get to know your intuition (that gentle whisper of truth in your head and heart). Having a strong foundation within yourself will set you up so much to become more of the person you are and also the path of purpose you want to lead in this world. You don’t always have to do the same thing as your friends, and I encourage you to not always do what your friends do because it may not align with you and your values and that’s okay!