"Actively seek opportunities to be exposed to new thinking and to meeting new people. You never know where new ideas might come from and where new connections might lead."- Maya Shino
Where are on the planet are you currently based? Wellington, NZ- living in beautiful Mt Victoria :)
You co-founded a website call Lawspot.org, tell us more and how did it all come about? LawSpot is a website that uses a Q+A platform that helps make it easier for New Zealanders to access and understand the law. Members of the public can ask their legal questions and LawSpot's qualified lawyer volunteers will answer them for free. LawSpot operates under an innovative public-private partnership model with Community Law Wellington and Hutt Valley (CLWHV), a community law centre in the Wellington region. All answers are monitored and approved by CLWHV before they can be published. It is the first website in Australasia to use this public-private partnership approach to address unmet legal needs. The website has been running in private beta since May and publicly launched on 1 August 2012.
As for how the whole idea came about, I've always had a social bent and over the years I've volunteered for a number of community organisations with a focus on issues of social justice and equality (such as UN Youth, TradeAid and English Language Partners). These experiences complemented my studies in law and politics at Otago University. I never had the explicit intention to become a "lawyer/social entrepreneur", but through becoming a lawyer volunteer at CLWHV when I entered the legal profession, I could see that tools were available that would aid community law centres to better deliver the important services they provide across the country to make legal information and advice more accessible. It was through a conversation with my co-founder, Bowen Pan, on the Wellington waterfront one day that we came to realise that a Q+A website would be just the way to fully harness the power of the internet to assist community law centres in New Zealand. And LawSpot was born! (FirstStep.me says brilliant!)
How important is knowledge of the law or a countries legal system to young individuals on the planet? Absolutely key. Young people tend to be more activist and idealistic than their older counterparts (not as many responsibilities to drag them down!) so I think they have the energy to create real change. However their efforts will only be effective if they have a sound understanding of the law and the legal system in which they operate. Young people need to know their rights and also the limitations on their rights so that they can navigate a path to creating the changes in society that they demand (or, taking a step back, that they would demand if they had this necessary base level of understanding).
Was starting your own business always a goal and do you see your career better off for it? I hadn't previously considered starting my own business. I'd always been involved in non-profits and community organisations throughout high school and university but only recently awakened to the benefits of operating under public-private partnerships (or applying business models and execution to community-focused organisations and objectives). I think the move towards entrepreneurship has been hugely beneficial for my career as it has opened my eyes to new ways of thinking and given me the confidence to approach people at the very top of my profession that I would otherwise have limited access to as a junior lawyer. It has also equipped me with a completely different skillset to that which I've been formally trained in, and I think this adaptability and breadth of experience will be an asset in any future career changes. (FirstStep.me takes notes...)
What are the biggest challenges that you see in terms of the current global economic climate for start-up businesses? Securing funding. Things are tight for everyone and those in the non-profit space have to compete fiercely for financial backing just as for-profit businesses do.
Where do you see yourself in ten years time? Guiding other non-profits to achieve greater success by ensuring they harness the power of technology to its full potential. Can't narrow it down much more than that I'm afraid!
Do you believe that starting the day is best on a cup of coffee…(The FirstStep.me team is coffee powered)? Cutting back on caffeine and trying to kick-start my morning routine with exercise instead (it's a work in progress though!)
If you could name your own planet what would you call it? Palmerstron (homage to my hometown Palmy North).
What advice do you have individuals looking to kick starting their own business? Actively seek opportunities to be exposed to new thinking and to meeting new people. You never know where new ideas might come from and where new connections might lead.
Any inspirational words for the youth of the planet? Life isn't a dress rehearsal - if there's something you want to do, then do it. No one else is going to make it happen for you.
ABout: Maya Shino is the co-founder of LawSpot and Tweets here @JiwiMaya.