Guiding the way Elizabeth Nicholson speaks with Renée Bianchi, barrister at 13th Floor St James Hall Chambers about her work with Girl Guides Australia and Girl Guides NSW, ACT & NT

Elizabeth Nicholson

Elizabeth Nicholson speaks with Renée Bianchi, barrister at 13th Floor St James Hall Chambers about her work with Girl Guides Australia and Girl Guides NSW, ACT & NT

Elizabeth Nicholson (EN): Can you please tell me a little bit about Girl Guides?

Renée Bianchi (RB): Girl Guides Australia is our national body, which is broken up into different state organisations. I’m a member of Girl Guides NSW, ACT & NT, which is a member of Girl Guides Australia. And, in turn, Girl Guides Australia is a member of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, a worldwide association of about 140 countries around the world. Our mission statement is to empower girls and young women to discover their potential as leaders of their world. It’s about giving girls and young women experiences and opportunities to develop leadership skills and helping them to find issues that they are passionate about and develop skills to advocate for those things. Our members start from the age of 5, and even with our youngest members, Guiding is a girl-led experience. They tell us what they would like to do at their weekly meetings, and we base the program around that. So, from the age of 5, we are giving them a voice so that they can develop their skills. And that will look different as they progress through the youth program. Girl Guides is about developing girls and young women to be leaders. That might be leaders of their local community, or leaders on a state or national level. We have even had some amazing young women speak at the UN about climate change and women’s rights.

Activities for World Thinking Day with members of Girlguiding UK in London

EN: How did you first come to be involved with Girl Guides?

RB: When I was 7, I saw a group of Girl Guides marching in a parade and I said to my parents ‘That looks like fun!’ Mum and Dad found the nearest unit for me to join, and I haven’t looked back. Once I turned 18 and became an adult member, I began looking at opportunities that I could do within Guiding. I was working as a leader, which involved working with fundraisers and grants and parents enquiring about membership, maintenance of the local hall where we had the guide meeting. As my life has changed and I’ve studied at university or commenced full-time work, my roles with Girl Guides have also changed. I have been on the Board of Girl Guides NSW, ACT & NT. I was also the national coordinator for the Olave Program (for members aged 18 – 30 years). I have sat on various committees within the Association as well, and been involved in development of programs and organising jamborees. My roles have been many and varied since I turned 18!

EN: Can you tell us a little about what your current volunteer work with Girl Guides involves?

RB: At the moment I’ve just had my second child, so I’m not as involved as I have been previously. But the great thing about the organisation is that I have been able to find different roles at different times of my life. With young children and my work as a barrister, I volunteer my time on various committees rather than weekly meetings. My current roles are, at the national level, as Honorary Legal Advisor for Girl Guides Australia. I am also the State Co-ordinator for an arm of our worldwide organisation, the Olave Baden-Powell Society, which is a global network of members providing financial support to the activities of the worldwide association. That role is about recruitment and retention of members, and looking at things like PR and marketing and social media –things I don’t generally do as a barrister! However, now that my eldest daughter is 5 years old, we are also looking at her joining our local Guiding unit which will provide me with an opportunity to be involved again on a more local level. That’s the good thing about Guiding, as you go through life, there are different types of opportunities to be involved.

Delivering training to women in Mexico in Spanish
Taking some of the youngest members to a day at Parliament House

EN: Do you find it difficult to balance your work with Girl Guides with your work as a barrister?

RB: It can be at times. I have previously held leadership positions within the Association that have been very time intensive. When I first started at the Bar, I was holding a senior leadership position in my state organisation and that was like having a second job. But the great thing about Girl Guides is that the roles are so many and varied that there is flexibility. There are long or short projects, there are ebbs and flows in the work of the committees. There are some busy periods still, but I’ve been able to fit in my volunteer commitments around my work as a barrister.

EN: What are some of the personal benefits that you have gained from your volunteer roles with Girl Guides?

RB: One of the big things for me is that I get to take a step away from life as a barrister. When I’m at a camp on a weekend or doing an activity with our girls and young women aged 5 – 17 years old, it’s absolutely amazing to see how they look at the world, and how they articulate their views on things. That’s just not what I do day to day in the areas of law that I practise. So that’s been one of the benefits for me. I’ve also found a benefit in my volunteer roles in that they upskill me in other areas – such as social media and marketing. Of course, there are also the benefits of building an international network and travelling internationally. For example, I represented Australia at a leadership seminar in Mexico, as one of 25 women chosen from around the world.

EN: How can NSW barristers get involved with Girl Guides?

RB: There are a number of ways for barristers to get involved. You do not need to be a member in order to be involved with our various committees and our state and national boards. Barristers have many skills to offer. At a local level, barristers can get involved by visiting a local unit meeting to talk about their work and share skills. Local units also need assistance with how they run. The best way to find out about volunteering is through the Girl Guides NSW, ACT & NT website. There is also the ability for barristers to make donations, as it is a not for-profit organisation, which will assist the Association to further its mission statement. And of course, women barristers can become a member of Girl Guides and if time allows, become a volunteer leader.

Renée making her promise for the first time to become a brownie at 7 years of age

EN: What general advice would you give barristers who would like to serve in a volunteer capacity?

RB: It is really about finding an organisation that aligns with your values. For me, I’m involved with Girl Guides, but also Australian Women Lawyers, the Women Lawyers Association of New South Wales, and the B. Miles Women’s Foundation. You can see when you look at the organisations that I’m involved in, I’m very much about empowering women. While as a 7-yearold that’s not what I was looking at when I began Guiding, the reason I’ve stayed involved is that the mission and the values of Guiding align with mine. If you do want to volunteer your time, I think it’s really important to ask ‘Is it [a cause] I’m passionate about? Does it [the organisation] align with my values?’ BN

Annual Regatta for young women aged 14-30 years
Zoo sleepout – annual sleepout at Taronga Zoo

Any NSW barrister that is interested in donating or being involved with Girl Guides can visit

Elizabeth Nicholson

Find A Barrister: