Rosie’s advocacy is one that I will probably remember the most throughout this founder interview series. Using her own experiences and seeing the world in a much more insightful perspective allowed her to succeed in her initiative. It takes not only courage, but also a sense of commitment, passion, and love for the good to be able to lead Project Rockit into triumph. I am so grateful to have interviewed Rosie Thomas!
Rosie Thomas is the cofounder and coCEO of PROJECT ROCKIT, Australia’s youth-driven movement against bullying, hate and prejudice. Since its launch in 2006, the team have reached hundreds of thousands of young people through their face-to-face and online workshops. Having built the organisation in 2006 and straight out of high school, Rosie is considered one of Australia’s best and brightest emerging changemakers and social innovators.
Along with her sister Lucy, Rosie Thomas has been honoured in Washington D.C. by the Global Family Online Safety Institute with the Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cybersafety (2013) and in 2014, was named by UNICEF as among the 12 Digital Champions for Children’s Rights in the Digital Age.
In 2015, The Foundation for Young Australians recognised Lucy and Rosie Thomas as joint recipients of the Unleashed Trailblazer Award, celebrating those leading the way in innovative youth engagement practice. Rosie Thomas has also been recognised for her contribution to social enterprise named 2015 Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Australian Financial Review and Westpac’s ‘100 Women of Influence’.
Together, the duo sits on several consultative groups including Twitter’s Global Trust and Safety Council and the Australian Office of the eSafety Commissioner’s Online Safety Consultative Working Group. Rosie’s extensive experience in working with diverse youth communities has bolstered her strong sense of compassion and understanding towards fellow young people. She is an energetic and passionate facilitator and as a cybersafety activist, regularly appears in popular media as an advocate for the rights of young people. In her spare time, she mentors up and coming social entrepreneurs and sits on several advisory boards.
How did you come up with the idea for Project Rockit? What problem were you trying to solve?
PROJECT ROCKIT was founded in 2006 by my sister, Lucy, and I. Having just finished high school, we were sick and tired of seeing how labels, judgements, bullying and prejudice was ruining the lives of our peers. We saw some people thrive at school – be seen, heard and accepted. But for others? Well, some people were mocked, or laughed at or labelled or treated like they were invisible. These people stopped putting their hand up in class, learned to hide who they were and by the time they finished school, were just empty shells of the awesome kids they used to be.
Basically, we saw how bullying robbed young people of their opportunities and extinguished their potential. For my sister and I, this was so unfair and totally preventable. We looked around and saw that no one was addressing the issue of bullying in a way that really reached young people and so we decided that we could be those people who make that change. We came up with a new vision for what we wanted to see in the world: A world where kindness and respect thrive over bullying, hate and prejudice and all young people are free to realise their potential. And PROJECT ROCKIT was born.
Fast forward 11 years and now, PROJECT ROCKIT is Australia’s youth-driven movement against bullying, hate and prejudice. Since that day, we have sent teams of passionate and young presenters into schools to create real talk around the stuff we didn’t get to talk about when we were at school. How can we expect young people to stand up if they don’t know what they stand for? PROJECT ROCKIT equips students with empathy and socially credible strategies for standing up on and offline.
We’ve worked with hundreds of thousands of young people and have recently established an online curriculum that is bringing effective anti-bullying and cybersafety to the furthest corners of the country. This year, we launched PROJECT ROCKIT TV, a partnership with Google and YouTube and have also established PROJECT ROCKIT as the go-to youth cybersafety partner of Google, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It’s been a wild ride and PROJECT ROCKIT has taught me so much.
I see that you are working well with your co-founder, Lucy. How do you make your team-up a success?
My cofounder Lucy is also my older sister! I feel so lucky to have been born into my ultimate synergetic partnership – together we are truly stronger and we complement each other’s skillsets really well. It’s also incredibly important to have someone who is there to celebrate the wins with you and also there to help pick you up when you hit the ground! These failures are inevitable so you need the right team around you.
My team are amazing. We are a real quirky, mixed bag of individuals representing a whole range of diverse backgrounds. What unites us is our relentless passion and drive for creating a better world for young people. Shared values such as social justice, equality, kindness are just a few that bind us together and give us the energy and motivation to keep at it even when times are tough. For me, when it comes to forming a high performing team, it’s so important to connect people with your vision, give them ownership over their roles and provide them with the belief and support to stretch themselves further than they imagine.
As an advocate of anti-bullying, what rewards have you reaped from educating and spreading awareness to the young?
PROJECT ROCKIT has raised me. Working with hundreds of thousands of young people has taught me more than I ever could have imagined. I am always amazed but never surprised at how insightful and courageous young people are when it comes to sharing their opinions. Their curiosity to learning and openness to change has really inspired me and motivated me to build an organisation that can provide them with a platform to change the world.
These young people have taught me about pain, suffering and isolation but most of all they have taught me that there’s strength in kindness, that we all have a responsibility to stand up and that it’s never too late to be the person you can be proud of.
How have you used situations of personal chaos to strengthen your resolve as a founder?
I am certainly familiar with chaos! As a self-confessed excitement junkie, there have been times when I have bitten off more than I can chew or leapt off the cliff without a parachute… so to speak. For me, it’s been really important to identify the signs of what is exciting and what is just plain reckless. This has been a really important part of my journey as a leader.
While taking risks is a crucial part of pioneering a new way forward, when you’re leading a team, you have to make sure that the chaos is controlled with a clear strategy that everyone is aligned with. Otherwise the result is burnout, disempowerment and poor self care. When it comes to creating positive change in the world, you have to play the long game. Look after yourself and the people around you.
Are there any ethical concerns that your organisation must deal with? How do you overcome these ethical problems?
The most important aspect of the work we do with young people is psychological safety. Whether it be in our face-to-face workshops, in the digital content we create, our consulting work with government and social media platforms or our advocacy in the media, it’s the wellbeing and psychological safety of young people that is paramount. This means that from content design to presenter training to every aspect of our organisation, we ensure that young people are always protected and are never placed in a vulnerable position where they could be harmed or exploited.
If you are to give a piece of advice to young people who are coping from the effects of bullying and other forms of negativity, what would it be?
My advice to anyone feeling the weight of bullying is this: Despite what people may say, there is nothing wrong with you. Remember that the bits that make you different are the bits that make you awesome. One day, these are the things that the people closest to you will celebrate the most. I know it sucks. Like really sucks. I know it feels like you’re alone but I promise there are people out there who disagree with the way you’re being treated.
It sounds cliche but reach out to someone – a friend, that potential ally at school that people respect, or a trusted adult, and then tell them what’s going on. Sometimes it only takes one person to stand up for others to do the same. Ask someone for help. Text them if it’s too uncomfy in person. Whatever you do, don’t stop from being passionate about the things that make you You. Keep them alive. Surround yourself with people who get you and who care about you.
About Project Rockit
PROJECT ROCKIT is Australia’s youth-driven movement against bullying, hate and prejudice. For the last ten years, PROJECT ROCKIT have been sending young people into schools to run workshops that teach other young people how to stand up. Having worked with over 200,000 students, PROJECT ROCKIT has earned the reputation in schools as the student-favourite.
PROJECT ROCKIT is also the go-to youth cybersafety partner of Google, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. In 2017, the team launched their youth-designed online platform which has been hailed by industry experts as a ‘first in the fight against bullying’. When it comes to challenging cyberbullying, only 49% of young people are confident to do so. After completing PROJECT ROCKIT Online, 96% of young people felt confident enough to stand up. Shortly after, the team launched PROJECT ROCKIT TV, a partnership with Google and YouTube.