Inspirational Charity Founder: Oa Hackett

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It would be far too easy to label Oa Hackett as inspiring because she is a cancer survivor who used that experience to help others. Doing so would be unfair on the vast numbers of people who have done the same. To define Hackett by cancer is a cliche and one that misses the sense of why she is such an inspiration. Hackett has turned a concept, conceived in a hospital bed, into a full-blown charity, helping thousands of women and receiving hundreds of thousands of pounds of income per year. She has done this within three short years and with no prior experience of running her own business.

A defining moment in Hackett’s journey is her breast cancer diagnosis at just 28 years old and a step into a scary and unsettling world. Of surgery, chemotherapy and side-effects. Hackett was fortunate to have a strong support network of family and friends to get her through those dark days. The little treats that helped alleviate the side-effects and boost her spirits led to the idea of the charity that is littlelifts. 

Having an idea is one thing. Transforming that idea into a fully functioning charity is a different matter. Many charities act as a vehicle for raising funds to donate towards a service that already exists or to provide financial help to others. In building a charity from scratch, Hackett had settled upon an idea that would require sourcing multiple products, repackaging, storing and distributing. Furthermore, it would require the buy-in of oncology and radiotherapy teams to be willing to give out littlelifts boxes to their breast cancer patients at their initial meeting. Building this charity would not only require fundraising and significant logistical planning but sensitive handling. 

From its launch in late 2017, littlelifts has now helped almost 2,000 women and some men. From operating in a small room in Hackett’s house, littlelifts now has its own office, employs three people, has partnerships with five hospitals and an e-commerce site. 2021 promises to be even more exciting; the charity launches a national discretionary fund to help breast cancer patients beyond East Anglia.

Understanding why and how Oa Hackett built her charity, underpins why she is an inspiration.

Have a vision

She had a clear vision:

“ The loneliest point for me during my treatment was my chemotherapy planning meeting. I was terrified of the unknown. I wanted to create a way of showing women that they are not alone in this scary moment and that there are other people out there who understand and care.”

By providing women undergoing breast cancer treatments with a box of carefully selected items, Hackett hoped that this would provide them with practical and emotional support – a little lift. Her clear principle was to source high quality, ethically and, ideally, locally produced items for the boxes. Having a clear vision made it easier to engage with suppliers and get them to want to be a part of what was, at that stage, just a concept.

Know your limits

Having already worked within the Third Sector, Hackett understood the challenges of fundraising, the management of scarce resources and the importance of relationships. At an early stage, she recognised that she couldn’t do everything. From the outset, she built a team of Trustees which provided expertise in the business skills littlelifts would require; business strategy, marketing, legal and policies and finance. Hackett freed herself up to do what she does best – build relationships. She engaged with oncology, radiotherapy, breast care teams, found suppliers and businesses willing to help with the logistics. Hackett also realised that to be a success meant knowing enough. She did this by undertaking a Charity Management Course.

Listen

Being a successful charity founder and leader requires a collaborative approach. People need to believe in you. Hackett had the benefit of her story; here was a woman helping people on the same journey that she had experienced. However, Hackett also recognised that story could only take her so far. Cancer is a personal disease; the people she was trying to help and those supporting the charity all had their own stories. To be a success required her to listen. To the breast cancer patients and understand what had helped them the most. To the front line workers, marketers, finance experts, logistics teams and those keen to donate. What Hackett built, was the littlelifts community.

One measure of an inspirational individual is how they cope with adversity. Hackett had already demonstrated her strength of character by facing cancer. 2020 provided another challenge as the pandemic hit the fundraising activities of all charities. While the pandemic raged, breast cancer patients still needed to be helped. Hackett cleverly diverted energies from physical fundraising to online challenges. She engaged with the littlelifts community and used the relationships she had created to draw in donations. Littlelifts did not just survive the pandemic, it flourished.

Enjoy the journey


Setting up littlelifts has been the most stimulating and rewarding challenge I have ever undertaken. A real rollercoaster of a ride – far more ups than downs, the experience has been life-changing.  I have learned (and still learning!) so much, met so many amazing people and each day I have an opportunity to make a positive impact on the world. This is what drives me every day and acts as a reminder on the tougher days.  The challenges extend into fundraising and I’ve loved every event we have organised: hula-hooping for hours and hours, jumping from a plane and even cold water swimming. “

Oa Hackett

Ultimately, Hackett’s pride is in achieving the vision she set out in her hospital bed six years ago:

“ littlelifts has been a huge part of my cancer recovery, I’m so grateful for that, and for everything it has achieved so far. I am so proud of the dedication our amazing littlelifts community contribute towards achieving our mission to support as many people as possible with breast cancer.”

For a woman who has been a helped and inspired so many, she has a simple message to other women:

“ Always be kind to yourself and show kindness towards others.”

Ultimately, kindness can be inspiring.

https://www.littlelifts.org.uk/get-a-box/

Words by Andrew Butcher


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