Bridget Williams

Social entrepreneur, student

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not”, says Bridget Wiliams quoting Dr Seuss.

At just 22, Bridget has had plenty of experience making things better for her community. She was Student Volunteer Army president for two years, was elected local government board member for the Fendalton-Waimairi ward, and co-founded a social enterprise organisation to raise funds for local charities. She will take up a graduate position with Duncan Cotterill when she completes her law and Bachelor of Arts degrees at the end of 2015.

Bridget says it’s worth stepping out of your comfort zone to make a difference.

“There will always be people who doubt you, but that’s probably because they doubt themselves so why would they believe in you? Surround yourself with positive like-minded people so you can fuel the fire within.”

Bridget was just days into her first year at Canterbury University when the February 22 earthquake hit in 2011.

“It was a dark time, but what did really shine like a phoenix out of the ashes was community pulling together and people putting their needs aside to work for the greater cause.”

Bridget immediately joined the Student Volunteer Army (SVA), taking on the lead role in two years later in 2013.

“SVA was known for shovelling silt, but suddenly there was no more liquefaction and no more silt to shovel. So we started to move in a whole different direction.

“We knew communities needed help before the earthquake and would need help after it, and we wanted to keep helping. I think students have always wanted to be community contributors but society had boxed us as only good for couch burning. We are so much more than that, and the earthquakes gave us the opportunity to showcase that.”

A suggestion from a grateful community member led to Bridget running for local body elections.

“At first I thought campaigning would be so embarrassing. But then I realised the bigger purpose, which was to be a community champion achieving community goals which was exactly what SVA was trying to achieve. So it was a natural step.

“Community board members are a completely different demographic to students, so I was really out of my comfort zone. I was really happy when I was elected because it showed the community believed in this young person.

“It’s so important to have a youth perspective because the decisions being made today are going to affect us in the future.”

Fund-raising organisation Two Weeks Without emerged after Bridget and her twin sister Hannah watched a documentary about the devastating environmental impact of palm oil production.

“We started throwing ideas around, could we give up palm oil for two weeks? What else could we give up? Then we thought why is it just us two, we should get everyone involved.”

They submitted the concept to the Akina Foundation’s Launchpad programme, and made it to the semi-final, although the idea was in its infancy. The social enterprise champion encouraged them to grow the idea, so Bridget and friend Rachael Gresson applied for two University of Canterbury Innovators Summer Start Up Scholarships and won $5000 each to make it happen.

The concept launched this year, with more than 100 University of Canterbury students in teams of 11 going without meat, makeup, moaning, beds, hot water and a range of other luxuries for two weeks. Two Weeks partnered with three local charities, Husky Rescue NZ, White Elephant Trust and Help for the Homeless and teams picked which organisation to support, raising a total of $5,700.

“It’s an alternative and creative way for organisations to raise money for local charities they care about. It’s creative, quirky, you can do it when you want, with who you want and how you want to do it.

“I want to encourage other young women to be the change too. If you don’t champion your ideas, who will?”

Click here to read Bridget's speech to the Ministry for Women's Suffrage 2015 event at Parliament.