Changemaking: A flaw and an opportunity to do good better

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This recent article from Nesta sheds light on a worrying observation for those working to create social or environmental change. Despite the consistent increase in resources (human, financial, tech) invested in social and environmental issues, the underlying trends that we are trying to reverse continue to worsen. The article ends by asking whether we are willing to ‘abandon Business-As-Usual approaches’ and embrace new approaches to social innovation. In attempting to ‘do good’, ethics dictates that we must be critically assess our approaches, and aim to invest resources in the most effective manner possible.

I’ve observed a clear and worrying trend during the time I’ve split between Australia and the UK. It’s certainly not the root of the issues outlined above, but it is a clear opportunity. It is as follows:

The concept of being an agent of positive change, of ‘changemaking’ has become far too synonymous with social entrepreneurship. I see this as a fundamental flaw in our approach to generating change, and with that an excellent opportunity to do things better. I will explain.

I define ‘changemaking’ as the act of generating social or environmental change with the aim of improving upon current circumstances. Or more simply if you like, trying to make the world better. There are clearly a great many techniques one could use for achieving this, but one approach has taken on an excessive and unjustified prominence; social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurship is the act of building a new organisation with a social or environmental purpose. I have nothing against social entrepreneurs and would apply that label to myself – I have  founded two organisations myself and have had a significant hand in the establishment of two others. The title of this blog is a bit of a giveaway. I would, however, suggest that this makes me well-placed to critique.

In Australia I searched for programs that develop my ability as a changemaker. Overwhelmingly, they support or prioritise social entrepreneurs; The Foundation for Young Australians’ Young Social Pioneers program, Centre for Sustainable Leadership program and of course the School for Social Entrepreneurs. When I was invited to attend the Foundation for Young Australians’ ‘Young and Extraordinary’ event, most of the delegates were attempting to start their own initiatives. Likewise as I have searched further afield for leadership development programs or networks, it is rare to find one that doesn’t expect you to be working with an organisation that you have founded. In other words, they expect you to be a social entrepreneur.

This learning towards social entrepreneurship is not just evident in the programs that cater for them, but also in how we praise them. Founding an initiative is seen as a stamp of approval, and to some extent I felt as though I wouldn’t be perceived as credible within the changemaking community unless I did so. In Australia, many of the winners of the ‘Young Australian of the Year’ awards had founded their current organisations. Social entrepreneurship is seen as sexy and we place these people on a pedestal.

And yet…social entrepreneurship is just one piece of the complex puzzle that is changemaking. It has its place yes, but setting up a new organisation is hardly the solution to every problem we encounter. In fact, I feel it irresponsible to assume that it is, given the resources we then expect people to put in to it, and given that every positive step will have some negative side effects. There are only so many resources to go around, so splitting them between ten organisations (there are over 50 breast cancer charities in Australia) with identical missions is hardly ethical or efficient. A little competition is healthy and valuable yes, but it has gone to to absurd levels. We must weigh up our options carefully if we are serious about generating positive change, and there are other approaches we can use. Perhaps this particular social or environmental problem needs more public awareness. Perhaps it needs corporate resourcing. Perhaps it needs a different systemic approach from government. Perhaps what it definitely doesn’t need is a new organisation launched to tackle it.

So what about intrapreneurship – generating powerful change from within an organisation that already has resources waiting to be put to use? There’s collective impact, which recognises that real change is only possible when corporates, governments and nonprofits are all sat around the table. And what about politics? Whether we like it or not, government and politicians run the country (along with banks and heavyweight corporates, depending on what you read). What about campaigning and rallying people around certain issues that matter – empowering social movements? Or how about producing and publishing research that moves our understanding forward? There are other subtle ways too, like speaking or writing where we can reach many people and have a positive impact. These are the different techniques I speak of.

I’ve had to search out these other areas myself. There is no School for Social Intrapreneurs. No course for people who want to make a positive difference through politics (and my goodness could we do with one). I’ve learned about collective impact by searching out organisations who have this at their core and getting involved. I’m learning now about politics by chasing up and spending time with my local Councillors and MP. There are two barriers here:

1) We do not encourage changemakers to explore these areas.

2) We do not have the programs to cater to these interests.

These issues I feel are especially poignant for young changemakers entering the space with good intentions and uncertainty around how to channel them. Currently, they will get pushed towards social entrepreneurship as a default, which I firmly believe to be a mistake.

Ok, so I’ve mostly covered the flaws. What’s the opportunity? The opportunity of course is to channel the tremendous energy, skills and good will of people to make things better in a much more effective way. I have some suggestions for how, but I would turn to people with more experience in changemaking to critique these and generate their own. So in the context of the two issues I highlighted above…

Encouraging changemakers to explore other means of generating change

I’d like to see individuals who are using these other techniques to generate change celebrated more and given a higher profile. Intrapreneurs, those working in government, campaigners, speakers. Leaders in change who are not just social entrepreneurs. I’d like to see these other techniques given more attention at changemaking events. I’d like to see programs and organisations that cultivate changemaking build in to their program at an early stage a lot more learning and information about these techniques. To critically ask; ‘is setting up a new organisation really the best and most responsible way to tackle this issue?’

Catering to other means of generating change

Here I’d love to see existing programs for changemakers start to build in these other techniques. To give those on the program a flavour for collective impact, for politics, for intrapreneurship. In time, to see programs in place that specialise in these other techniques, just as there are so many excellent programs now that specialise in social entrepreneurship.

If we are serious about generating change in a more efficient and effective manner, then we need to move away from our flawed obsession with social entrepreneurship and take advantage of this great opportunity to do things better.

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Why is global compassion on the rise?

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This article really resonated with me. Yes, like all ‘science journalism’ its scientific credibility is somewhat dubious, but this exploration of mankind’s compassion and the wider picture of why it might be growing has had me hooked for a while.

A couple of years back I came across some research demonstrating that we’re growing more inclined to admire those who have strong compassion, empathy and kindness rather than traits of ruthlessness and manipulation that have worked well for many leaders – both past and present.. And it was Darwin who claimed that sympathy is our strongest instinct.

Science aside, you observe trends in the world. Now more than ever I hear the word ‘collaboration’ come up. This was evident both in the UK and now here in Australia. This is particularly amongst the younger generation and younger organisations, but those that are a bit older are also warming to it. Charitable, altruistic work is on the rise. I meet so many more people choosing to set up or get involved with organisations that set out to solve problems faced by people in the world that they have no obvious connection to, and devote their lives to this. That’s pretty remarkable isn’t it?

There’s no denying that our lives are becoming more global and technology means that we can connect globally, instantly and at any time. I’m able to speak to and see my friends and family over on the other side of the world instantaneously, which still astounds me.

What this also means, as the article rightly says, is that the issues we face are more global than before, and it will require more global collaboration in order to solve them. Working within our local communities is hardly likely to solve the lack of renewable energy, overpopulation or food shortages, which are all global issues on the rise. Yet all of these are big challenges of the 21st century and will all spill over to affect every single one of us in time if they are not addressed.

Unless we work together, and have compassion for those with whom all we share is our humanity, rather than nationality, religion, politics…then the great challenges of the 21st century may be too complex overwhelming. Attention must be given to similarities, not differences. Our reasons for cooperation, not conflict. Conflict within species is a part of nature, but for no other species in the planet’s history (to our knowledge) has come close to having such a profound impact in such a short space of time.

When I look at this whole picture, I can’t help but wonder whether we are indeed evolving to be more compassionate, more altruistic and more connected on a global scale. Humans have fought one another for millennia, but now we’ve reached the stage where any large-scale conflict would have potentially devastating consequences. Cooperation must be the first option. And some of the challenges we face are so vast and complex that it needs people coming together from all over the world to tackle them.

I see growing movements of people actively seeking out more fulfilling and altruistic lives, challenging our money and consumption obsessed values, prioritizing the positive impact they have in the world over the money they earn. It’s a slow trend, but it’s there, and I can’t help but wonder why. Perhaps evolution – our own fundamental drive for survival as a species – is the answer?

But hey, I’m only speculating…

The dangers of a ‘cult’ of entrepreneurship

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A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about the rising trend of entrepreneurship. On reflection, I’m not really sure what I was trying to say with that blog, apart from perhaps that entrepreneurship is good. Or cool. Or something.

Because of events over the last couple of weeks, I’ve swung round to take a different perspective on it.  One of the developments is that I’ve lost some of my attachment to the concept, and have therefore I think a slightly more objective and balanced view on the matter.

Entrepreneurship has its place and is hugely important. It’s important for economic development, although I don’t care too much about that. My interest is more in its societal value, and in that sense it drives new solutions to social problems and new ways of thinking. But the answer to every problem is not to set up a new organisation. A new enterprise is not always the answer. I do think a lot of socially minded entrepreneurs are aware of this – some definitely more than others – but I have noticed a definite trend in social entrepreneurship becoming more fashionable.

Recently I was chatting with Tom Dawkins about how we’ve observed more people aspiring to be a social entrepreneur. It is the concept they are attached to, rather than a specific cause (great article here). Many, Tom included, stumbled in to social entrepreneurship without knowing the term, but simply because it was their way of tackling a social need they had identified. Social entrepreneurship is not an end in itself, it is a means, a toolkit for getting good done.

Now I think it’s great that more people want to learn the tools to get good done and people are drawn towards it. The problem is, you don’t just need social entrepreneurs to tackle social problems and you potentially draw people away from other roles that are hugely valuable.

What about the social ‘intrapreneurs’ who are working within existing organisations to leverage greater good? The social activists raising awareness and challenging thinking/policy on areas that need change? The connectors who unite people around a cause and do greater good as a result? The innovators who see ways to link together existing organisations and programs, in a way that is more efficient than starting up a whole new one?

When I spoke with Gina May Diana, who is one of the co-founders of an awesome new enterprise called ‘OneCanGrow’ she put a Cheshire cat smile on my face when she spoke about teaching young people to become ‘social changemakers’ through their project rather than just social entrepreneurs. This is the way to do it, not just limit them to one means of creating social change.

I think it’s important to teach young people the following:

1) Awareness of the social problems out there in the world

2) That it is possible to make a difference

3) That doing so is potentially hugely rewarding

4) That you can earn a living doing so

5) The tools and mindset to create social change

And here’s where I will make a crucial distinction. I think that what is typically considered ‘entrepreneurial thinking’ has widespread value for anyone. By that, I mean creative problem-solving, commitment, accepting the possibility of failure, bringing people together.

Such thinking can help on a number of levels. But actually being a social entrepreneur; setting up new enterprises to tackle social problems, is only one way to solve these problems.

I’m going to end up with a horrible cliché!

There are many ways to skin a cat…

(yes, I did just compare a cat to a social problem)

Learning to love your ego

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A gripe I have with social entrepreneurship and the social sector more broadly is that ego often rears its head and interferes with the primary purpose of these areas; to do good. Much of the time the two are aligned; doing good meets our more philanthropic urges and can also give us the status and praise that our ego needs. But there are inevitably moments when what is best for our ego is not what is best for the greater good, and this is where you see people taking ownership, getting competitive and allowing the cause to take a back seat.

I decided a while ago that I didn’t want ego to my motive for doing the work I do – as there would inevitably be times when it bumped in to the more philanthropic motives and indeed that’s proven the case on a number of occasions. There’s no place for ego in a line of work that is dedicated to helping others right? So I made a great decision – I’m going to ignore my ego/beat it into submission until it buggers off. Yeah, because that’s really going to work.

I was faced with a big decision recently, one that really challenged my ego. And my initial reaction when faced with this decision was unquestionably ego-dominated. This was a confusing moment for me, as I hadn’t I decided that my ego wasn’t allowed to influence me? Hmm…obviously it’s not quite that simple.

And then an insight came to me. That it’s futile to try to ignore your ego. Unfortunately having an ego is a symptom of a larger condition called ‘being human’, and I’m going to put my neck on the line and say that all of us share this condition, and therefore all of us have some ego. It’s human nature. We are naturally driven to survive and procreate, so being successful and having status facilitates that. Ego is a strong adaptive mechanism for humans and is an incredibly powerful tool for achieving success and status. Every human has it. Yes, even Ghandi did (sorry Ghandi).

So rather than turning your back on that little creature in the corner of your room called ego, it’s best to look it in the eye (quiet – it’s my blog, and I’ve decided it has eyes. Yeah it’s got ears and a nose too, get over it) and say, ‘Hey, I just met you, and this is craaaaazy, but you’re my ego, and I’ll do what I choose’. Or words to a similar effect. Acknowledge its existence, its potential value in helping you to achieve your goals, but then when it comes in to conflict with your more philanthropic motives then send that ego to the corner of the room. Again, it comes down to first accepting that it exists, and then taking action based on this knowledge. You can use ego to help you, but don’t let it rule you. And don’t pretend it’s not there, as it always will be.

In the bigger picture, for the reasons I’ve stated around human nature I don’t believe pure altruism exists. Although I do recall reading a psychological debate about it that went back and forth with research for 20 years, eventually descending in to semantics and even mocking, snide remarks in the research publications (which were hilariously petty – these are supposedly adults…). Ironically, whilst debating altruism, the two main protagonists were motivated by the need to prove themselves right – their own egos. But I digress…

I believe we are influenced by many motives, which play in to the hundreds of decisions, big or small, that we each make every day. Altruism/philanthropy is one motive, ego is another and then there are more basic motives such as food, safety, sex and the more complex motives such as love, social, growth that are more associated with humans than other animals. The respective strengths of these motives varies depending on situation, context, how well they are being met etc. And there’s overlap between them and so on and oh no…this is in danger of descending in to psychological theory so I’m not going to explore this in more depth for now.

What I will say is that I’m yet to figure out how or why altruism/philanthropy fits in this complex picture of human motives. Although there is an interesting line of research-led thought that this suggests that this is the direction the human brain is evolving towards. I’ll leave that for another blog I’m writing.

I’ve come across some social entrepreneurs who I’m still waiting to really meet, as thus far I feel I’ve only conversed with their ego. Yet, these are people who dedicate their time and efforts to doing good. They’re driven by their ego, but they’ve decided to pursue the success of status that comes with creating social change, rather than just making money. That’s great, and I’m glad the social sector has them rather than the corporate sector. But I think ego as a dominant motive will only take you so far. Perhaps it will come through in small daily decisions, or culminate in one massive decision, but ego will make it harder to put your own desires aside in the favour of the ‘greater good’. It’s also fragile and needs regular feeding in order to be happy.

Ego is an incredibly powerful driving force. But I think those of us working within the social sector need to be aware of the role it plays within each of us so that when push comes to shove, and we have to choose between doing something that benefits us or that benefits the cause we’re trying to help, the hammer comes down on the latter. Every time.

I’ll end with a quote from Jack Sim, the founder of the World Toilet Organisaton:

“Ego and money make for good slaves, but poor masters.”

 

Is ego your slave, or your master?

Social entrepreneurship: Breaking down the myths

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I enjoyed reading this article. The Guardian have been pretty active over the last few years with the growth of social enterprise, so it’s little surprise to see that articles like this have found a home with them. I strongly agree with that David Floyd says about the ‘cult’ of the social entrepreneur (and it being potentially harmful), although the article loses its way a bit towards the end and unfortunately doesn’t explore the suggestions that different personalities and characters are required to initiate and sustain social change.

My agreement with what the author says about the concept of the ‘heroic social entrepreneur’ partly stems from the fact that I myself got caught up in the hype of it, and have only recently started to gain perspective.

For me, and I think many others who go down this route, the interest stems from how you could have a positive social impact on a bigger scale. I had already learned how to do so on a local community level, but spreading this wider required a different set of tools. I was already aware of the charity model, but had seen how poor organisational skills and sustainability thinking had led many of these to spend a great deal of time chasing up funding to survive, rather than having impact.

And so the term ‘social enterprise’ kept cropping up everywhere – the idea of an organisation with a social mission that if well-run is as efficient and effective as a successful corporate business. And guess what, there were plenty of organisations out there proving that this works. “Well”, I thought, “that sound ruddy marvelous!” (exact thought process may have sounded less like a 1930s Briton).

So If I’m going to set up one of these ‘social enterprise’-y things, what does that make me exactly? This wasn’t really a career path I had read about in school. And then I began to encounter the term ‘social entrepreneur’. This did not mean entrepreneurs who happen to be sociable people, but rather people building/running organisations with a social mission. There were evidently a lot of these people about, and there also seemed to be a lot of hype around them.

At times it’s presented as though these people hold the key to solving all the world’s problems. Sadly, the hype goes to the head of some of those people doing great things in the world. An easy thing to happen. I’ve not yet grown comfortable with the way that some people will lavish praise upon you when you tell them you’re setting up a not-for-profit (any tips?). And yet most of us who choose this route do so because we find it incredibly rewarding and are passionate about our work.

What turns me off is the way some ‘social entrepreneurs’ see being a social entrepreneur as an end itself. I’ve been guilty of this too at times. But it’s not; it’s a set of tools and mindset that enables you to create change, and that change is the bottom line. For some people that change is in isolated communities, for others it’s in poverty-stricken areas, for someone else it’s about youth development. For me it’s about student mental health. I chose ‘social entrepreneurship’ because it stood out to me as the best path through which I could really impact that area. It’s been very refreshing to regain perspective on that.

To go back to the first paragraph, creating and sustaining change does require a range of characters. The social entrepreneur plays a key role, especially in providing the initial drive to get an organisation off the ground. But there are other pieces of the puzzle – one person can’t do and know everything. A good accountant, an investor, advisors, techy…The development of an organisation requires the talents and efforts of a whole team, and the acclaim should be shared out equally – not just centred around one person.

What I’m also learning is that building and maintaining require quite different characters and skillsets. Some people are more suited to the former, others the latter. The visionary can help provide the initial spark to give a new project life, but may not be suited to running its day to day operations once things have calmed down.

I’ll round off by saying that I believe anybody can create change. I’ve seen hundreds of student volunteers amaze themselves by having an impact upon the mental health and wellbeing of their fellow students. Motivation and attitude are most important, you can pick up the skills as you go along.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a social entrepreneur, writer, politician. These are all just enablers. The bottom line is simple: what impact are you having?

The entrepreneurial craze: Driving a new-look modern life?

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Since I started spending more time with these somewhat eccentric, entrepreneurial types, a certain trend became very apparent. Irrespective of how well their companies are going, or what stage they’re at, they’re buzzing with life and energy. They apply the same passion and enthusiasm to other areas outside of their work, giving you the feeling that they’re incredibly engaged with their life – every day of the week. It’s infectious.

More and more people seem to be taking up this new way of life (graduate entrepreneurship in the UK is on the rise). But why? It’s high-risk, goes against nearly everything we’re taught growing up, you work crazy hours and offers seemingly little stability (who would try to start a company during a recession!?). Not a great career choice, huh?

Let’s have a look at the typical route through modern life first. It goes a little like this:

  1. Go to school, work hard and develop a good work ethic. Earn good grades to get in to a better university.
  2. Work hard at university, get a good degree, get on the career ladder in a field you want to work in.
  3. Spend the rest of your life working up the career leader to get a bigger paycheck so you can buy a bigger a house, a shinier car and have a fancier wedding.
  4. Teach your kids how to repeat.

Is it just me, or does that sound a bit dull? Not only does it sound like less fun than a Justin Bieber concert, but it also doesn’t really work anymore. My generation is struggling to complete step 2. There are far more graduates than there are jobs available, and most employers will pick experience over youthful enthusiasm.

Increasingly, I’m seeing people fruitlessly searching for jobs or getting unexpectedly laid off. This reality of the stable, settled life is being shaken up. Cracks are appearing and spreading in its foundations, slowly but inevitably. I’d argue that stability and security nowadays is more dependent on our own adaptability than it ever has been before. There are so many changes taking place, and the global financial crisis has truly shaken things up. I can’t see the 21st century becoming much more settled either, the world faces a great challenge and uncertainty.

This modern life hardly inspires passion either. I’ve always felt depressed when I’ve looked at that route, partly because I can’t bear the thought that I already know what the rest of my life looks like. I’m not the only one. Where’s the adventure? Where’s the purpose? The challenge? The surprises? You will be hard pressed to find someone who wouldn’t like more of these things in their life. It’s hard to put my finger in, but in the UK I gradually picked up on a growing feeling of dissatisfaction and frustration people had with their lives.

A friend of mine, Avis Mulhall, recently appeared in the Irish times to share her story. Particularly poignant for me was this quote from her interview: “I was earning between €120,000 and €130,000, I was in a long-term relationship, we had two houses and two cars, and I thought: ‘Is this it?’” That sounds pretty impressive for someone yet to hit 30, but Avis was far alone in experiencing that ‘Is this it?’ feeling.

It’s created a huge demand and market for these magic quick-fix solutions. Because that’s we’ve learned to look for in our hurried lives.  I see so many ads along the lines of ‘Find your life purpose in THIRTY SECONDS!’ Wow, perfect! I can squeeze that in during the X-Factor advert break AND boil the kettle. Splendid.

But it’s a little harder than that to build a life that you live with purpose and that gives you fulfillment. It takes months or even years, depending on how settled you already are. It requires a full-on change of attitude and way of thinking, not just small tweaks.

What I’ve seen in entrepreneurs, particularly those that are driven by good causes, is that they’ve managed to crack this. They’ve found a life in which they feel engaged and in the moment every day of every week. They love their work, and it makes everything else – travel, relationships, music…all taste a little sweeter. They’re a little more tuned in to all that life offers – whether it be joy or sadness. There’s no such thing as a weekend off and it’s hard to make ends meet (you manage, though), but it’s completely worth it, and you get to take complete charge of your own life. It’s awesome.

Compared to your average employee, these individuals seem so much more excited about their lives. Hardly surprising when you’re allowed to be creative, to contribute to something bigger than yourself and make the seemingly impossible a reality.

I don’t know whether this increase in entrepreneurship will continue, but more awareness of it as viable life choice will hardly do any harm. I really hope we’ll see more people rejecting the notion of spending 5 days a week for the rest of their lives doing an activity they don’t enjoy or believe in (sounds exhausting to me), and doing this to pursue aspirations of consumerism that bring little more than temporary fulfillment. Whilst I wouldn’t proclaim everyone go out, leave their jobs and try to start up a business, I do think a bit more of an entrepreneurial attitude could go a long way.

I hope we’ll see more people rejecting the status quo, the fear of judgement, of failure and chase whole-heartedly after their dream.

Because we all have one, don’t we?

“Once a man crosses the abyss that separates him from his dream, there is no going back.”

– Unknown

An expastry-what!?

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Two weeks before I was due to touch down in Sydney, a friend of mine referred to me as an ‘expatriate’. I did a sudden double-take and my eyes hovered on the word for a moment, trying to understand the implications. She was right, of course, and despite this having been truth for a few months by this point (I left the UK back in February), it still shocked me. Perhaps it was the in-limbo feel of travelling that had prevented this simple fact from dawning on me, but nonetheless here I am expatriating (in its simplest definition) my way around Australia – or a very tiny, miniscule part of it at least. I can’t quite get over how vast – and largely barren – this piece of land is.

To all those who question the value of TV and cinema as a means of educating the youth, I’m on your side in that it definitely doesn’t provide an accurate image of Australia. Not every Australian greets you with g’day, I’ve not seen a kangaroo, it does rain and the seagulls don’t all shout “MATE!” Although I wouldn’t hold that against Finding Nemo, it’s still a magnificent film.

I find myself reflecting back to my work in Cardiff on student mental health. A lot of our conversations would come round to trying to answer the question, ‘why is mental health so shockingly poor amongst students?’ A popular answer – and with good reason – was that students aren’t prepared for the shock of going to university. The living away from home, looking after your own money, not knowing anybody, not knowing the city, academic pressures…  Well, nothing quite prepares you for expatriatism either.

Like the beginning of university, it’s a period in your life packed with excitement, apprehension and unknowns. Unlike university, you’re not thrown in to an environment that is full of other people experiencing exactly the same. And of course no university is as damned expensive as Australia (except, I would have thought, those in Australia). $12 for a pack of peppers? Really? In Cardiff I could go to the cinema for that price. Twice.

For me, there’s another crucial difference to the transition in to university life. University was always the next stage of my life, and to be honest I’m not sure I even gave any thought to the possibility that there were other options at the time, never mind what they might be. But moving to Sydney was very much my decision, and the decision to move to another country to live, particularly for the reasons I had, is hardly a natural or expected next stage of life. I really, really, wanted to move here, and I am absolutely thrilled to b here.

A few other questions that have surfaced a few times during the last month. What makes a place home? How does one go about building up a life from scratch? Not straightforward questions to answer. And becoming an expat is tough. Google ‘expat mental health’, look at the first few results. It’s hardly surprising either.

It wasn’t my motive, but many people take this route so that they can begin a new life from scratch, and leave certain things behind. Your identity and way of life gets largely reset. Within that is the most awesome opportunity – who do you want to be and what do you want your life to look like? I was pretty happy with the sense of identity I had in Cardiff, but it doesn’t entirely carry over to here. I wasn’t an expat in Cardiff (moving from England to Wales really doesn’t count).

An area of my life I have realized I had taken for granted somewhat, was being so close to an amazing family and a group of friends that I find to be incredible people. Building these relationships takes a lot of time – many months, years… I’m learning that I have to be very patient to allow those kinds of friendships to grow here. It helps that I’ve been warmly received by those I have met, and that I’ve come across many fascinating individuals here in Sydney already.

Much of what I’ve written has given focus to the challenges of expat life – but there’s another side, of course. The weekend I wrote this I spent one day ‘bushwalking’ in the Blue Mountains, and another at the beach. In winter. I marvel at a city that has great energy and buzz to its centre, but whose culture is also shaped by its beautiful coastline and sandy beaches, and that on every other side of the city is stunning parkland.

In amongst all of that, there’s another half to this great challenge I’ve taken on, and that is the co-creation of a not for profit. Again, not something I’ve done before. The vision is highly exciting because of the scope of its ambition. However, it has led more than a couple of people to remark that I must be a little crazy – and they’re probably right. It’s hardly a stable, settled route through life, although the current picture of graduate employment shows no sign of offering that anytime soon. So what have I got to lose?

An increasing proportion of young people are taking a similar path, for good reason. This is in part due to the reason I’ve stated above, and in part because there’s a growing recognition that simply ‘having a job’ is perhaps not the most thrilling, or fulfilling way to live your life – and there are other options. The thought of working for a big company, helping it to make money, sitting in an office, working 9-5 and always having to answer to someone turns me off more than a great huge bowl of couscous (I don’t like couscous, by the way).

I had an awesome opportunity to work with a developing student-led mental health organisation when I graduated (Mental Wealth UK), and learned a lot through that. It was exactly the sort of opportunity I was looking for, and so is this. The approach itself is nothing revolutionary – it’s been done before and in fact, when you step back and look at it, it’s very obvious. But it works, and we know this from four years of positive results from Mental Wealth UK, and over a decade of impact from Active Minds in the USA.

Mental illness and psychological distress is a huge problem amongst university students. Huge. If you took 5 average students in a university in Australia, you would be able to diagnose one as having a mental illness, and another 3 that are experiencing serious raised psychological distress of some kind. So you have just one lucky person who you might describe as being ‘mentally healthy’. A lot of research has come out over the past few years, and it’s forcing people to sit up and take note. The issue is there. We’re confident (and we’ll find out over the next six months) that our strategy to tackle this works. The information and knowledge of how to stay mentally healthy, how to recognize the signs if you’re struggling, where to go if you need help…it’s all already out there. We’re just flipping the form of communication from staff-to-student to student-to-student. Peer to peer. Who do students talk to most of the time if something’s bothering them? Their mates. As with any good idea, you know it’s good because it seems so obvious that someone would have done it before. As yet though, this hasn’t happened in Australia, but there are signs to suggest that the student enthusiasm is there and it just needs a spark to set it off.

But this blog isn’t specifically about that, and that’s all the attention I’m willing to give to it for now. I’ve developed a real (healthy, I hope) fascination with entrepreneurship, and social entrepreneurship particularly. The people are always lively, engaging and a little bit (sometimes very) eccentric, and they create these seemingly impossible initiatives. After a while, you find yourself questioning what really is impossible, and challenging yourself to prove that it’s not. It’s thrilling, it’s challenging, it’s full of uncertainty, full of disappointment, of extreme highs and lows, opportunity and ultimately the chance to create something that is bigger than yourself. You live and breathe the work you do, and your whole life becomes an adventure – not just when the clock hits 5pm and on weekends. I had absolutely no idea that it would be the path for me, yet here we are.

I’m also curious to find out if there are any other individuals around here doing similarly. Packing up their roots back home because of an opportunity to build a company elsewhere in the world. Given the title of this blog, I’m wondering though if there’s a likelihood of attracting pastry chefs in exile. If there’s a niche out there for that, I might just wing the blog that way for a bit…

The whole blog won’t be just about expat life and entrepreneurship. As you’ll see from the blog description, my interests diverge greatly and this could go anywhere. Although I probably won’t give much attention to arthouse cinema, the cockroaches I share my kitchen with, or classical music in the 18th century. Pretty much anything else is fair game though. But told from the point of view of someone living the expat life and trying very, very hard (perspiration will, inevitably and unfortunately, occur) to set up a potentially wonderful organisation.

Splendid!