Filipa Carreira has been interested in sexual education for a long time. Fifteen years it turns out. After giving her very first sex-ed class at the young age of 15, she fell in love with teaching the subject and knew she had found her niche. For nearly a decade Carreira has taught hundreds of sex-ed workshops to children aged nine to eighteen, in addition to running a menstrual hygiene project in Mozambique called Wamina (which has distributed 50,000 re-usable pads to date). But then COVID-19 hit, Carreira was stuck in lockdown in Lisbon, Portugal and had to find new ways to teach her sex-ed classes, so Awkward The Talk was launched. Her company offers virtual sex-ed classes to both children as well as parents and teachers, with the aim to help educate or help educators figure out the right way to have, what can be, an awkward conversation in a safe, respectful way.
Carreira’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
What was your reason for starting your business?
I taught my first sex-ed class when I was 15 years old; I was part of a pilot program that was testing the effectiveness of peer to peer sexual education. After an intense couple of weeks of training, I was in front of a class, the students were just a year younger than me and I loved it! Little did I know that 15 years later I would be in that same music room giving sex-ed workshops to children aged 12 to 18.
In 2015, I pioneered a menstrual hygiene project that today has distributed reusable menstrual pads to over 50,000 girls and women. For the past 7 years, I have facilitated over a hundred sex-ed workshops for children 9 to 18 years old and capacitated teachers with the tools and confidence to continue to provide students with the needed sex-ed. Although I found my work fulfilling and of extreme value to my community, I always came away thinking that if I had had these conversations sooner with the kids I would have helped them more. I felt that if kids were exposed to the basics of sex-ed from an earlier age they would have better relationships with themselves and others.
When I talked with parents they were happy that I was talking to their children about these sensitive topics, they recognized the importance of giving kids sex-ed but they didn’t feel they were able to do it themselves. Many told me they didn’t know where to begin, they were waiting for kids to bring up the topic; some felt too awkward, ashamed; others had been victims of abuse themselves and couldn’t bring themselves around to talking about sexuality or the body. That is when I decided to get a postgraduate degree in Sexual Education and Wellness so that I could create content to help parents, gain the confidence, tools, and knowledge to give their children adequate and mindful sexual education that is based on facts and delivered with love, respect, and empathy. And that is how Awkward began!
How do you define success?
I use to think success was measured through professional metrics like money, followers, engagement, recognition. Today I feel like success is less about attaining a goal and more about maintaining a balance, it is a constant negotiation between several facets of my life that I find important. These include having time for myself to do nothing, having time to enjoy my friends and family, spending time in nature and travelling, and having a business that is geographically independent and that is profitable while creating a positive impact in my community and beyond.
Tell us about your biggest success to date
In 2015, I pioneered a menstrual hygiene project in Mozambique called Wamina that today has distributed reusable menstrual pads to over 50,000 girls and women. For the past 7 years, I have facilitated over a hundred sex-ed workshops for children 9 to 18 years old and capacitated teachers with the tools and confidence to continue to provide students with the needed sex-ed. Although I found my work fulfilling and of extreme value to my community, I always came away thinking that if I had had these conversations sooner with the kids I would have helped them more. I felt that if kids were exposed to the basics of sex-ed from an earlier age they would have better relationships with themselves and others. I am proud to count as my clients several UN agencies, Pathfinder, Plan International, Care, and several private sector actors that enact their corporate social responsibility through Wamina.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
My top challenge is to be consistently motivated even when I work alone. First, I have found that having an overall general goal, as well as clear short term goals, prevent me from becoming overwhelmed. Breaking down the big goal into small and doable actions is key. That way I feel a sense of progress and movement that generates momentum that helps carry you through slumps. Second, the community is very important as a source of motivation and accountability. I would have not achieved half of what I have without my interns. These were passionate young people who believed in my vision and worked tirelessly to help me turn it into reality. Having people that I am responsible for made me get out of bed the days I didn’t want to and I know that if they were not at the office waiting for me I would probably give myself a day off. Because I did not always have a positive experience as an intern, it is very important to me that my interns find their time with me a worthwhile investment towards their future goals.
As a solopreneur, I have often felt lonely in my journey but I have also found that the cure for this feeling is a phone call or a Facebook message away. It is scary to be vulnerable and to reach out to people who are also busy with their own lives but the reward can be life-changing. So I would suggest that if you cannot find at least one person in your current group of friends that you can call when you are feeling stuck and like you are failing that you reach out to communities of entrepreneurs, network with the aim of creating meaningful connections instead of focusing on those who can help you make a sale.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
I relocated from Mozambique to Portugal about 8 months before going into lockdown. I was not able to return to Mozambique to carry out the sex-ed I had booked for 2020. The NGO that hired me as a sexual and reproductive health consultant changed focus due to COVID-19 and I had to pivot my business. I did a postgrad in Sexual Education and Health at the Dublin City University and created my own Mindful Sex Ed for Parents Masterclass and online course.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Just keep going, it only needs to make sense to you.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
I call a friend, listen to some motivational talks, and on the really drak days I listen to an Allan Watts lecture.
Who is your most important role model?
My grandfather who devoted his life to work and to give our family a better life but always had time for a chat at breakfast or at the end of the day.