PEOPLE: How Angela Wood is supporting communities with a Big Group Hug

Angela Wood started Big Group Hug as a way to redistribute pre-loved goods to vulnerable families. During the pandemic, the need for these services has skyrocketed, while the means to deliver the services have become more challenging. In this interview, Angela shares how she has established Big Group Hug as a volunteer-led organisation over the years, and how she has navigated the pandemic to help as many as she can.

  • How has the pandemic impacted Big Group Hug’s work and purpose?

The pandemic has been a stark reminder of what we’ve always known but never really had to face: no matter how comfortable we feel, many of us are only a few pay cheques away from being unable to cover our bills. It has hit our existing client base very hard – those who were already vulnerable due to financial hardship, single parents, risk of family violence, newly arrived families, those seeking asylum, families experiencing homelessness, illness, disability and intergenerational poverty.

Many people who were just scraping by have lost what little income they may have had and are dealing with extra pressures of having school-age children home 24/7. The lockdown has also meant that many of their social supports – such as grandparents who may help care for the children – are no longer able to help. Then you add to that all the people who have never had to ask for help before, and we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of requests we receive for material aid.

It’s all been a bit of a perfect storm for us, because at the same time as the requests for our services have been increasing, we’ve faced multiple challenges which have impacted our ability to operate and fulfill requests. For example, the lockdown restrictions have impacted both our ability to receive donations from our supporters and have also drastically reduced the number of volunteers that we can have in our warehouse to sort donations and process requests.

For example, this year we’ve responded to about 25% more requests compared to last year, but at times we’ve only had around 40% of our normal team working to process and fulfil them. It’s been really tough.

Back before all this happened, our main source of donations was people in the community who would come to our warehouse and donate pre-loved baby and children’s items which we would sort, clean, and fold and then re-home with a disadvantaged family that needed them. In the early days of the pandemic, we switched to contactless donation days, where people would book a slot to drive up and drop off their donations. These were very popular and would usually book out within about 12 hours, with 40 – 50 cars coming through in a morning.

But when we went into stage four restrictions, we had to cancel the donation days as well. We were running out of things like nappies and baby hardware (cots, prams, car seats etc), and had to get very resourceful to source them. You don’t want to have to turn down anyone who’s asking for help. If I can’t get a child nappies – it keeps me awake at night.

We’re very fortunate that so many local businesses and companies took our calls and came through for us with the things we needed when we were absolutely desperate. Just last week one of our volunteers even bought and donated nine brand new prams. It’s such a disheartening time to see so much suffering in our own communities, but it’s also been inspiring to see how our communities have responded to it and stepped up to help whenever we’ve asked.

  • How has the work you’re doing with children changed over the years?

When I first had the idea for Big Group Hug, it was just me calling up and asking maternal child health nurses what families needed and then sourcing pre-loved goods from my friends and networks. I was storing everything in my garage (and then my dining room, and then my hallway) and delivering the donations to the families myself. It was very humbling to go into people’s houses and realise how rough some families were living.

When Big Group Hug was formed, we formalised the process of taking and fulfilling requests. We’re just mums and dads and grandparents and carers. We don’t have any real specialty in social work or the expertise to deal with complex disadvantage, so we work through referrals from maternal health nurses, hospitals, and other social services. In most cases we never meet or have any contact with the people we help, but we don’t do it for the thank you. Whether we hear it or not, we know that what we’re doing makes a difference, and that’s enough for us.

In the beginning, I was just collecting anything I could find, and then trying to match it with the requests I got. Now we have a clear list of the kinds of items that we accept and what people can request. They can ask for as few or as many items from that list as they need. The first thing I ever provided was a single highchair. Now, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve driven up to a hospital and filled a labour suite with everything that newborn baby might need for the first year.

We’ve obviously grown over the years and now operate out of a warehouse and are assisted by almost 200 volunteers but are still small by charity standards. There are bigger organisations out there, but one of the advantages of being a smaller organisation is we can remain agile. From the start I wanted us to be community led and that helped shape Big Group Hug into what it is. I was determined we wouldn’t become bureaucratic but stay nimble so we can react quickly to changing needs and circumstances.

  • What have been the biggest drivers of change?

The economic and social impact of an extended period of lockdown are prime drivers of change for those we serve as well as for our organisation. Demand from those who have not traditionally sought material aid has risen and in particular, families who have no access to economic recovery packages are seeking help.

On the plus side, a culture of help-seeking has developed among communities that have heard of our service which has led to a rise in demand.

  • Looking at the rest of 2020 and beyond, what do you see as the biggest challenges for Big Group Hug?

We don’t get any government funding. We’re also a fully volunteer-run organisation; we don’t have the resources to pay any staff. Basically, we’re reliant on the kindness and generosity of everyday people in our community to keep the lights on and the material aid going out.

That includes the mums who donate their pre-loved baby and children’s items. The grandparents who volunteer in the warehouse. The Foundations and businesses who give us small grants. The companies who donate goods in kind. Everybody gives what they can, and in the end it’s just enough to keep us going.

It would be nice to have more reliable and robust income streams, especially to cover our major expenses such as rent for the warehouse, but we’re grateful we’re able to do as much as we do and we know the families we help are too.

Another COVID-related challenge is that economic pressure on families and businesses post lockdown may result in a decrease in economic support from mums and dads who have traditionally supported us.

  • How are you planning to overcome these challenges?

Relationships. Human connections are more important than ever, and we plan to reach out to as many families as possible to ensure no child goes without. Expanding our work is the best way to rebuild. An empty warehouse means a full cupboard and a safe, warm and comfortable child, so we hope to spread our work as far and wide as possible, building and growing relationships.

There is a way for everyone to contribute to our work – an individual who wishes to volunteer, donate, spread the word; a business who wishes to donate, participate in corporate volunteering; a community organisation wishing to partner with us to build community support for families.

One unexpected thing that came out of the pandemic for us was the Working for Victoria program. Our local council managed to secure funding for several employees who are employed by the council but have been made available to us to help out in various capacities. We only have them for six months, but we’re hoping we can use that time and their various talents to make more corporate connections and identify funding opportunities that will set us up to be more stable and secure in the long term. We’ve got this far on love and grit and generosity – some substantial financial resources would be phenomenal.

About the expert

Angela Wood is the Founder of Big Group Hug and an original board member. As a teacher and mother of three, she’s always held a strong belief that all children have the universal right to be safe, nurtured and well fed with access to essential items, housing and education.

Two things planted the seed for what was to become Big Group Hug. Firstly, Angela read an article describing a mum-to-be, 7 months pregnant and seeking asylum, with none of the essentials she needed to provide care for her baby. Secondly, she came across a perfectly good pram disposed of on the footpath. This motivated Angela to redistribute many of the pre-loved items she had used for her own children to families in her local area who were visibly struggling.

When Big Group Hug was founded in 2014, Angela would store donated items at her house and distribute them to vulnerable families herself. Now, Big Group Hug operates out of a warehouse and donations and requests for material aid are sorted and processed by a team of close to 200 volunteers.

Despite recently returning to teaching full-time, Angela remains a Co-Director of Big Group Hug and is still heavily involved in the management of the organisation.

Image description: Photo of Angela smiling at the camera in a white blouse and grey vest in the middle of a warehouse with lots of stacked boxes of clothes.


ADVICE: Bringing government and community collaboration together to build on climate action

The below is a guest post from Yasmin Grigaliunas, CEO and Co-founder of the World’s Biggest Garage Sale (WBGS).

With the strong proliferation of knowledge available to us via the internet and issues of civil and social issues becoming more transparent. Individuals and communities are more informed than ever before. And they don’t just want to ‘buy stuff’. They want businesses and brands that support causes they care about.

At the same time, government agencies are trying to figure out the best ways to navigate and develop policies that are sustainable and combat climate change. In 2019 and 2020 we have seen mass protests around the world regarding many issues, including climate change. 

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem. It is going to take governments, communities and businesses working together to create lasting change.

One strategy for creating collaborative climate solutions that engage government and community would be through community-based businesses that offer hands-on, community-based experiences, workshops and services.

These educational experiences offer community members the chance to learn new skills such as repairing products and give government agencies the opportunity to educate and understand the conversation around sustainability at the local level of their communities.

World’s Biggest Garage Sale (WBGS) is a Brisbane based start-up/scale-up, designing solutions to commercialise the circular economy through the activation of dormant goods for good. We maximise the value of goods already in the economy, through the circular principles of recycle, repurpose, reuse, and re-commerce. In doing so, we’re diverting landfill, and drawing wealth from waste which is invested back into our local communities.

We host and run Brisbane’s first circular economy retail precinct. A recommerce marketplace providing a platform for Australians to participate in circular practices through the buying and giving of dormant goods that would have otherwise risked going to landfill.

Social enterprise business models like WBGS have social and environmental impact embedded within our framework. We provide spaces for our customers to learn and engage with products in order to renew and repair.

Our community makerspace allows us to educate customers about how to repurpose, repair and reuse products to keep them out of landfill, and also gives them opportunities to develop real hands-on skills which they can take back into their homes and communities. This is all in addition to our warehouse which has high-quality products for sale!

By engaging the community on three separate but all inter-related levels we give them the resources, tools, and skills to change their consumption to a more sustainable framework and lead a responsible consumption revolution to combat climate change.   

There is an opportunity here for government agencies to get involved using WBGS or social enterprise, community-focused businesses like ours to engage with community at a grass-roots level. Together we can create new experiences that challenge existing norms around how we use and dispose of our ‘stuff’ and preserve our resources for future generations.

About the expert

Award-winning Yasmin Grigaliunas, CEO and Co-founder of the World’s Biggest Garage Sale (WBGS), is on a mission to turn Australia’s circular economy aspirations into reality while at the same time providing social good. Having been described as a “one-percenter”, one of those people with a natural capacity and passion only matched by her energy for entrepreneurship, she is living proof that we can make a positive impact on people’s lives and the future of the planet through the events and experiences we create.

It all started in 2013 when she did a spring clean and garage sale to sell the family ‘stuff’. She did a shout out to friends and family, and before she knew it, what started as a humble spring cleaning garage sale to raise money for cancer research, exploded into an annual community event in Brisbane, giving birth to WBGS!

She could see the waste just keep coming and rather than sit back and watch the problem grow, Yas – who maintains energy levels that are the envy of most – set about creating and realising socially and environmentally positive community solutions for our ever-increasing waste streams.

Fast forward a few years and Yas ditched a lucrative career to found WBGS, a Brisbane based start-up/scale-up, designing solutions to commercialise the circular economy through the activation of dormant goods for good. Currently, WBGS hosts large-scale local re-commerce events and is developing a digital platform enabling communities globally to reproduce these large-scale re-commerce events through a toolkit.

To date (not including the 2018 main event), WBGS has donated over $314K to charities, diverted over 3.3-million kgs of potential waste from landfill and contributed over $1.7-million in social value to the global economy. Yas and her organisation are living proof that you can provide positive impact for people, planet and profit for purpose.

Image description: Headshot of Yasmin wearing black-rimmed glasses and red lipstick, smiling at the camera. She has shoulder-length blonde hair and is wearing a black blazer over a black and orange branded shirt.

PEOPLE: How the First Nations Foundation is connecting Indigenous people to $24m in Superannuation

Phil Usher is a Wiradjuri man and CEO of First Nations Foundation, a national not for profit that is aiming to achieve financial prosperity for Indigenous Australians. In this interview, he shares the goals and community engagement approaches of First Nations Foundation, and the opportunities he sees ahead for the organisation.

  • What are the main goals of First Nations Foundation? How do you know when you’ve reached them?

The vision of First Nations Foundation is achieving Financial Prosperity for Indigenous Australians. Education, resources, and outreach are the three primary areas that we focus on to work toward achieving our vision. A big element of this is working with finance companies such as banks and superfunds to help them deliver information and education in a culturally appropriate way.

One example of this is We launched the site in partnership with key super funds to create something that would be able to provide information about super in a culturally friendly space. Each super fund that joined us as a sponsor receives their own dedicated web page. But rather than focusing on fees and performance like most super funds, we showcase what the fund is doing with the Aboriginal community via their own internal initiatives.

  • What are the biggest opportunities for the First Nation Foundation to improve the effectiveness of their community engagement?

Community engagement is something that is critical to success for the Foundation. We want it to be more than just an activity and really embed this into our culture. Community is 1 of our 4 strategic pillars and operates as a guide when working with financial organisations. One challenge is engaging with communities all across Australia. We are a National organisation but do have limited capacity. Whilst we aim to be inclusive of the various communities it can be a challenge getting through consultation with communities in all states.

  • What specifically is unique or important about community engagement for First Nations Foundation?

Over the past 6 years, we have connected Indigenous people to $24m in Superannuation via our outreach program The Big Super Day Out. The success of this program stems from the community partners that we have on board for each event. Not only do these organisations know about the nuances of each community, they also have a strong relationship as well. When we partner with the right organisation, we are able to leverage the relationship and provide the community with the best service based on how and when they like to receive the service.

About the expert

Phil Usher is a Wiradjuri man from Central New South Wales but grew up with the Gamilaroi people in Tamworth, a place he feels a strong culture connection to. He has a personal vision to empower people with world-class financial education. He is the CEO of First Nations Foundation, a national not for profit that is aiming to achieve financial prosperity for Indigenous Australians. Since 2014, the organisation has helped over 1600 Aboriginal people across 21 communities to be reconnected with $24m in superannuation. In 2019, the Foundation launched the world’s first online financial training designed by Aboriginal people, for Aboriginal people.

He is a regular finance commentator on ABC Breakfast TV and has been featured across a number of industry publications including Financial Planner Magazine, the Banking and Finance Magazine and Investor Daily.

Image description: Phil is smiling and sitting at a table. He wears a white collared shirt, and blue blazer.

VIEW: The role of social workers during the COVID-19 pandemic

The following is a guest post from the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) National President, Christine Craik.

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a significant impact on the lives of many people in Australia and globally. Social workers, along with other health professionals, are deeply concerned about the effects of the virus, and the economic fallout from this, on individuals, groups, families and the broader community. 

Social workers play a vital role in society, especially in times of public health crises and national emergencies. The social work profession is over 100 years old and during this long history we have been there to support the response to and recovery from world wars, pandemics, global and regional crises and recessions. 

Through it all, social workers have worked side-by-side with people affected, driven by a deep commitment to social justice and human rights.  Every day, social workers are on the frontline of the pandemic response, connecting clients with a wide range of health and social supports and services to address the devastating impacts of COVID-19.

We are in a unique position to promote disease prevention efforts, including disseminating accurate information from trusted sources, and to help address anxiety and other concerns that are arising as a result of this public health crisis. Social workers can also play an important role in supporting the community to promote mental health and in assisting people to maintain social connections. 

Our work is vital in ensuring that people receive the economic and social supports available to them. We know that the impact of this pandemic has been amplified for the most marginalised in our community.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has been a dual challenge for the community sector in which many social workers work. As the economic effects of the social restrictions have taken effect, there has been an increase in demand experienced by community sector organisations. The most stark have been the demand for emergency relief, including ensuring food security, housing security and income security, for those excluded from income support schemes. It is no exaggeration that these services have been life-saving measures for some people.

Social workers report that all the services they work in, are facing increased demand: most notably mental health, housing and family violence services. All areas of the community sector are experiencing added pressure through this increase in demand for services, in costs incurred for delivering those services and in working through the restrictions as they perform their work. For example, many organisations have had to suspend group-based services and close community ‘drop-in’ facilities, finding innovative ways to deliver these functions. Similarly, organisations who supplement their income through social enterprises such as culturally specific catering services, have been forced to close or reduce the enterprise through a combination of social restrictions and cancellation of orders.

The Australian Association of Social Workers has been advocating for social workers and the people we work with on multiple fronts to ensure access to services, including the expansion of telehealth and government supports.

In the context of increasing uncertainty and heightened stress, social workers’ fundamental commitment to human rights and protecting the most vulnerable will continue to be of critical importance throughout this period.

Social workers have an appreciation for the inherent value and worth of every human being and the importance of social connectedness and human relationships. This is what makes us unique as a professional community.

We are guided by the core values of service to community. Social workers have much to contribute to how we collectively deal with COVID-19, with particular consideration for how the experience may amplify issues such as family violence, mental health and homelessness. 

Across every field, social workers maintain a dual focus on improving human wellbeing and identifying and addressing any external issues (known as systemic or structural issues) that detract from wellbeing, such as inequality, injustice and discrimination. Social work takes a strong value position on systemic discrimination.  

Social workers recognise that while COVID-19 affects all members of society, as we have seen domestically and internationally, the impacts are far worse for people from marginalised and disadvantaged groups.

Indeed, the responses to COVID-19 has demonstrated the extent of the inequality underlying many societies. In the Australian context, the initial period of crisis was characterised by a fear, anxiety and general sense of panic about the coming events.

The uncertainty as to the severity of the pandemic manifested itself in many ways, most notably the mass buying and hoarding events that best reflect the collective sense of fear that gripped Australia. This event highlighted the unequal nature of crisis response given so many Australians did not have the means to buy food and key resources weeks in advance. Social workers recognise that COVID-19 is inherently not just a health problem but also a social one.

Social workers question, challenge and fight to ensure that those most vulnerable around us are well supported. We learn from history, and the fears and misinformation of previous pandemics to challenge stigma and discrimination.

We also recognise that the pandemic also provides an opportunity to review what kind of society we want to be, and as a crisis it is a pivotal opportunity to create long-term and sustainable change.

The AASW has advocated for long-term policy actions, including the creation of a social safety net that supports people to move out of poverty, instead of entrenching it, mental health reform that is person centred and human-rights based, and action on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals.

About the expert

Christine has worked as a social worker in family support, housing, community health and hospitals with a focus on domestic violence, sexual abuse and refugees for almost three decades. Christine holds a Master’s Degree in Social Policy and Management and is currently completing her PhD in the area of domestic and family violence. Christine was National Vice President of the AASW from 2011- 2017. She has chaired many Committees, including the Governance review of 2015-16. Christine currently lectures full time in the undergraduate and post graduate Social Work Degrees at RMIT University, is an active member of many community groups, including Chair of Project Respect, working with women trafficked into the sex industry. Christine was elected National President in November 2017.

Image description: Headshot of Christina smiling and looking at the camera. She has white wavy hair with a blue streak, wears glasses, a black blazer and a red blouse with a pendant necklace.

Headshot of Costa Vasili

ADVICE: CALD engagement requires diverse leadership

With a quarter of Australians born overseas, almost half with at least one parent born overseas, and nearly 20% speaking a language other than English at home, it’s clear Australia is a multicultural country. However, culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) Australians have been underrepresented across various industries, and miscommunicated to during times of nationwide change including the current pandemic.

In this interview, Costa Vasili, founder of EthnoLink Language Services, shares his journey building the business over the last ten years, his observations of CALD engagement during this time, and his advice for business and political leaders looking to effectively communicate with people of CALD backgrounds.

  • Almost 10 years since founding EthnoLink Language Services, what have been the biggest challenges over this time?

The biggest challenge I have faced over the past ten years has been the need to constantly learn, grow and evolve personally, in order to be the leader that the company has needed me to be.

I was only twenty years of age when I founded EthnoLink in 2011. I am a different person now compared to who I was then. Starting a company at that age can be tough, particularly when operating in a business-to-business environment where youthfulness can be seen as a weakness rather than a strength.

But as our organisation has grown, I have had to grow personally with it. Today, we have nearly twenty full-time staff and work with over three hundred translators across Australia. I’ve needed to develop many skills along this journey in order to continue to be the leader that EthnoLink has needed me to be.

  • How has this impacted the way you will approach the next 10 years?

Personal and professional development is at the core of my life. One of our company’s values is “Better Every Day” which is a reference to our philosophy of continuous improvement. I firmly believe that if you’re not moving forward, you’re going backwards. Even amidst this global pandemic, I’ve learnt much. I am confident that taking this philosophy into the future will ensure that our company can continue to adapt and innovate in order to stay relevant and on top of our game.

  • What role does translation play in overall CALD engagement?

Translation is only one part of a well-developed CALD engagement strategy. Community translation is an enabler. It enables an organisation to communicate with people who do not speak English well. It enables that organisation to get across an idea or message that the organisation is trying to get across — not some distortion of that message.

Importantly, the process of translation is not responsible for the development of source material. We can work with organisations to help them craft their source words, but the process of translation is responsible for conveying that message faithfully. Similarly, the process of translation is not responsible for the dissemination of that material to the community members who need to access that information. Again, we work with organisations to ‘fill this gap’ in CALD engagement, but it’s not the role of translation. Translation sits in the middle of a CALD engagement strategy — it’s vital, but it relies on the whole strategy working well together.

  • What are the biggest challenges you’re seeing business and political leaders facing when it comes to CALD engagement in 2020? Why?

Certainly the number one challenge that business and political leaders face when it comes to CALD engagement is a lack of understanding. Business and political leaders don’t fully understand the diverse needs of people from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds. In turn, they struggle to truly engage because they simply don’t understand the concept well enough.

Good CALD engagement is not a ‘one size fits all approach’. Each individual cultural group has different thoughts, customs, values and drivers. As such, leaders need to seek to understand the needs of people, rather than a group called “CALD” which is simply a bureaucratic term. One of the simplest ways that business and political leaders can address this issue is by promoting diversity at a leadership level. If leaders surround themselves with people from diverse backgrounds, it will create a culture that permeates through the entire organisation.

About the expert

Costa Vasili is the founder and CEO of EthnoLink Language Services which has grown over the past decade to become one of Australia’s largest translation companies servicing the Government and Not-for-profit sector. Costa was born in Melbourne, Australia to a Greek Cypriot family. His father, George, migrated to Australia at the age of thirteen with limited English. The stories Costa heard growing up, coupled with his upbringing as a second generation Australian, spurred him to start EthnoLink to help improve communication between organisations and the Australia’s diverse community.

Image description: Close-up headshot of Costa Vasili, slightly angled, facing the camera, wearing a suit jacket.

PEOPLE: Learning from and celebrating landscapes with regenerative farming

Regenerative agriculture addresses the urgent need to regenerate the health and resilience of soils and landscapes to reverse the decline of bio-systems throughout Australia and better survive the impact of climatic extremes, including helping Australian farmers bounce back from bushfires and drought.

In this interview, Juanita Breen outlines how she turned a crazy dream of running a regenerative farm into a reality with Echo Valley Farms. Together with her husband and kids, Juanita operates Echo Valley Farms under what they call the “4 Goods” – good for the animals, good for the environment, good for the farmer, good for you.

  • What originally sparked the idea for Echo Valley Farms? How have your ambitions for the farm evolved over time?

My husband Randal attended a lecture at Gatton with Joel Salatin from Polyface Farm in the US, and was inspired by the idea of being on-farm full time, earning a wage while regenerating the environment. Having grown up on a wholesale commercial nursery, I was happy to pursue it too.

As we’ve continued on our farming journey, I’ve found my own fit and passions within the farm and all that we do. The incredible connections that are created in nature between, soil, plant, animal and life and death, are so easily mimicked and replicated in our own communities. There’s so much we can learn and celebrate from our landscape. Farming, and nature as a whole, is such an unpredictable thing, and our idea of what we will do, and what systems and enterprises we’ll have has definitely evolved through our journey.

I never imagined we would be farming pastured pigs, or using online distribution or yield stream inputs.      

  • Why does your farm rely on regenerative methods?

It was a natural fit to choose regenerative farming, as it held so many correlations to community development. With a strengths-based approach in social and community practice, it seemed like a no-brainer to focus on the strengths of our environment and build on those – just like regenerative farming.

I don’t think regenerative farming can be defined by one set of practices. There is such a broad number of methods and approaches and each farm will use a variety of these to heal and regenerate their own landscape – there’s a lot of diversity, just as in a healthy community.

  • What does this involve for your farm? How difficult are these methods to implement?

Some of the regenerative methods we utilize on our farm – which prior to us had been conventionally farmed for over 100 years – are all around building soil health and re-establishing life back into the soil. We are working towards improving the health and carbon levels in our soil by combining a diverse range of crops, animal impact (allowing our cattle and poultry to break up hardened ground and tread nutrients into it) and no-till planting methods.

We are also experimenting with composting and yield stream waste products (e.g. damaged fruit and vegetables, brewers grain and other products that otherwise would have been thrown out) being turned into nutrition both for our landscape and our animals (who then add it to our landscape again as manure), holistic grazing methods with our cattle, and replanting our environment with trees in our 100 year plan. 

  • What changes have you experienced among your customer base since going online due to COVID-19?  

We had to rapidly adapt to online distribution as we could see the evolving challenges that COVID-19 posed in our previous system, which centred on weekly markets. We’ve been incredibly fortunate to have the majority of our customer base follow us to our online system. They’re now happy and familiar with it, and most seem to prefer it.

We’ve also experienced a growth in our sales, and diversity in our customer base. We’re selling to more individuals across Brisbane and our local district, and have more of a balance between our products – where previously we were more heavily reliant on our egg sales for viability, we now sell an even number of all our products.

The other wonderful thing to happen, despite the pandemic, is the community collaborations that have happened as a result. We’re now working closely with other farmers in our region, adding their produce to our online store, and increasing their own viability.

About the expert

Juanita Breen is co-owner and co-farmer of Echo Valley Farms in the Goomburra Valley, South East Queensland. As a first generation female farmer, her background in community development and community services has brought a unique approach to farming, engaging with nature, and the many hats she wears as a mother, marketer, business owner, bookkeeper and A-grade egg packer. In full time production for 6 years now, Echo Valley Farms feeds 47 families through their Community Supported Agriculture program, 7 restaurants/cafes and food distributors, and countless other regular customers each week with food generated on the 300 acre multi-species regenerative farm.   

Image description: Photo of a Caucasian woman behind a market stall. She is smiling and looking down as she passes change to a customer. She is wearing a green jumper and her hair is pulled to the side. Parts of a chalkboard with product prices is in the foreground.

ADVICE: Don’t be scared to initiate the conversations – Renee Thomson

Renee Thomson, a proud Wiradjuri woman and Co-Founder of Western Sydney Aboriginal Youth Leadership Network, believes strongly in the powerful impact effective community engagement can make, particularly in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. In this interview, she outlines what constructive change looks like and how she believes we can get there.

  • What does ‘positive and sustainable’ change for Aboriginal people look like to you?

Positive and Sustainable change for Aboriginal people to me, is the:

  • Acknowledgement and acceptance that Aboriginal people are the original inhabitants of this land;
  • Whole of Australia embracing Aboriginal people;
  • True history of Aboriginal Australia prior to colonisation is acknowledged and accepted;

Australia’s acceptance of Aboriginal customs and cultural practices that sustained our people, land, water, plants and wildlife prior to colonisation needs to be embraced to fix our country and help in creating a culturally rich, harmonious country for us all to thrive in.

Change is Aboriginal people having a voice.

Positive and sustainable change for Aboriginal people is my people not leading the statistics for incarceration, health complications, decreased life expectancies, disproportionate child protection cases, suicide deaths, homelessness and unemployment in this country. In fact, it is my people having the ultimate power to determine their own destinies, lives and aspirations for themselves, their children and their grand-children.

It will be a time where we, as First Peoples aren’t continuously facing the ongoing inter-generational traumas, racism, prejudices and socioeconomic disadvantages across the country.

Once we get there, we as a country will create a culturally rich, unified, harmonious country for all to thrive in.

Ultimately, positive and sustainable change is Aboriginal people not having to justify our existence, and having the ability to excel like everyone else in this country with our culture and history being celebrated, not hidden or overseen.

  • What can Australian government organisations, corporates, business leaders, and individuals do to contribute to this change?

As human beings, we all have the power to contribute to positive and sustainable change. Regardless of whether you work within government, a corporate institution, you’re a business leader or an individual within this country.

We all have the power to work together to initiate change to the life of Aboriginal Australia.

I invite and encourage all individuals to conduct their own research into the history of this country. This will give individuals the opportunity to understand the impacts of colonisation and the everlasting inter-generational traumas which continue to effect Aboriginal people across the country of all ages, genders and socio-economic status.

By gaining your own clarity and a further understanding of Aboriginal culture, you will be open to shifting paradigms and challenging the current status quo surrounding the First Peoples of this country.

There are great resources online which are currently available to assist in furthering your knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal culture and history, also many individuals and organisations who will yarn with you to provide further insight.

Reach out to your Local Aboriginal Land Council and local Aboriginal organisations for guidance – just don’t be scared to initiate the conversations.

  • What makes you passionate about driving this change?

I am passionate about driving this change because I want all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to know that they belong, they are valued, they are loved and they play a pivotal role in our society.

We are the oldest, living, surviving culture in the world with over 60,000 years of resilience, strength and perseverance pumping through our veins and this is something we must never forget.

We are standing on the shoulders of giants, warriors, trailblazers and leaders who walked this earth long before our time, who fought for the opportunities we are presented with today, and I believe that we must continue their work.

I want my people to flourish in all aspects of their lives and know that they are capable of anything they put their mind too, especially our youth.

Our youth need to heal, feel loved and know they belong. By instilling self-belief, confidence and self-determination within our people, that is when the collective change will come.

We must not forget that it was only 50 years ago that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (My Mother, Aunties, Uncles, Grandparents and Great-grand parents) were considered flora and fauna (plants and animals).

They were not considered human beings and not counted in the Australian census, until the 1967 Referendum.

For far too long the systemic regimes which this country operate on have been failing and dehumanising Aboriginal people and continue to disempower us, on all levels. We as individuals must hold the power we possess within our hearts, minds and souls and continue to strive towards systemic, effective change.

One of my key motives and why I drive for this and many more changes, is because I long for the day when I drive down Luxford Rd (Mt Druitt), and I will not see an Aboriginal person being harassed/strip-searched and racially vilified by the Police, just for being Aboriginal. This is a daily occurrence in Western Sydney and across the country.

Regardless of the individual’s age, whether they’re holding their babies in their arms or their children are walking beside them, the Police will continue harass them.

It has to stop!

People don’t realise the ongoing impacts this behaviour and mentality has on the progression and self-determination within Aboriginal people at all stages of life. Whether this happens to us directly, or an Aboriginal person we may not know – it has the same effect on us mentally and spiritually.

Ultimately, I am passionate about driving change as I believe it is time for our people to take back our power and create long lasting, effective change now and for future generations.

  • What is the role of community engagement in enabling constructive societal change?

Community engagement is pivotal.

It is vital that communities are involved in all stages of any projects that may impact their Community – the planning, the implementation and the evaluation stages.

The role of community engagement in enabling constructive societal change is key. It will determine the success or failure of any community project.

When communities are not involved from the inception of a project, it is less likely to be adopted by the community. This happens at an increasing and alarming rate within Aboriginal communities, as institutions make assumptions, generalisations and judgements on a community, without understanding the history, values and current circumstances.

Through meaningful community engagement, institutions, companies and government agencies will gain a better understanding of the communities’ concerns, aspirations and values, which in return lead to the effective delivery of programs, legislations and policies achieving better outcomes for that community.

By upholding trust, transparency and honesty within communities through effective community engagement, it enhances the community’s approval, resulting in an improved uptake of services as they are more tailored to the unique aspirations of each community.

Community engagement can help shape and envision a community’s future, bringing wider societal change and global impacts through implementing services that benefit individuals and families in future endeavours and prospects.

  • What have been your biggest learnings from your career and experiences so far when it comes to community engagement?

The biggest learnings from my career and experiences within Community Engagement is understanding the importance of meaningful community engagement and the impact community engagement has on the success or failure of a service or program.

It has become increasingly evident that a service will either prosper or deteriorate depending on the amount of time and resources put into the effort of community engagement. Positive, effective relations between an organisation and individuals will usually lead to a successful process.

I’ve learnt to never set unrealistic expectations for any individuals or community members when delivering a service. I was once told, to avoid disappointing community you must always under promise and over deliver.

I learnt really quickly that community members are more likely to gain your trust through what you do not what you say. Many individuals have been let down by services who fail to show up when they said they would or haven’t provided the ongoing support their service is funded to provide.

Community engagement isn’t just the oral communication between an organisation, an individual or community. It is about being present, empowering individuals to make informed decisions and believing in the individuals/community you are working with.

When working in a community setting, especially within marginalised communities, you must be prepared to work longer than what is stated within your contract or your standard 9-5 hours.

I’ve learnt that if people aren’t willing to go above and beyond for community, do not apply to work within a community.

  • For those considering a career in community engagement with indigenous communities, what is your advice?

My advice through my lived experiences for those considering a career in Community Engagement within Aboriginal communities is quite different for those who are Aboriginal and those who are Non-Aboriginal.

Obviously those who are Aboriginal and are connected to their family and community will have a deep, thorough understanding of how to work with mob through their lived experiences. It is essentially working with family and upholding our values of kinship, respect and inclusion in all aspects when working with mob.

For Non-Aboriginal people whose roles may require them to work with Aboriginal communities through community engagement, my advice for you is to:

  • Speak to an Aboriginal person you know to have an open, robust conversation about your understanding of Aboriginal culture;
  • Request to participate in meaningful Aboriginal cultural awareness training prior to commencing your role to give you some context of our culture (note – this does not make you culturally aware or an expert in Aboriginal culture, rather just gives you a glimpse into the oldest, living culture in the world);
  • Respect Elders and leaders within in the community and involve them in important decision-making processes;
  • If it is possible, many community members would prefer men to speak to men and for women to speak to women, especially in circumstances where you are not known by the person or community;
  • Conduct your own research on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, so you are aware of the inter-generational traumas and ongoing societal impacts which continue to effect Aboriginal people of all ages, genders and socio-economic status’s;
  • Never assume, always ask (even if you may think it is a silly question, this technique will assist you more than you think);
  • Connect with your Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC), local Aboriginal community organisations and Aboriginal elders groups to create meaningful, effective relationships;
  • Embrace your privilege and always be open to learning and shaking your unconscious biases;
  • Don’t be scared, worried or anxious when working with mob because we are the most welcoming, respectful, warm-hearted people you will ever meet.

I’m always happy to further discuss this topic and assist in any way possible, or be that person who you may want to reach out to.  

  • Why did you decide to create the Western Sydney Aboriginal Youth Leadership Network? What are the key goals for this organisation?

The Western Sydney Aboriginal Youth Leadership Network was created to be a culturally safe, inclusive space for the Aboriginal youth of Western Sydney and aspire to have a voice within government processes, strengthen partnerships between organisations and stakeholders and ultimately create social change.

William Trewlynn and myself (Co-Founders) noticed the lack of participation of young people in Aboriginal Organisations or the decision making on policies which affect us.

With that voice, young Aboriginal people can provide a youth perspective in helping create age appropriate change within their communities and throughout the world, if provided with optimal guidance, support and opportunities.

We believe that well-designed engagement with young Aboriginal people can lead to enhanced community involvement, increased self-empowerment and confidence, increased cultural connection and reduced contact with the justice system.

Prior to COVID-19 we were meeting once a month (the first Thursday of each month) at Kimberwalli in Mt Druitt, which unfortunately we’ve had to cease until further advised.

Together, at our meetings we discuss the current societal issues, policies and regulations that impact us as Aboriginal people and our ability to create prosperity for future generations. During our meetings we also strategise how we can overcome these issues collaboratively.

We have established a social media presence on Facebook, which is a public group open to any Aboriginal person under the age of 35 from Western Sydney. We share all meeting notifications, employment opportunities and community announcements through our page.

The goal is to ensure that the voices of our young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are at the table on conversations that impact them. We want to ensure that young voices are captured, articulated and heard on subjects which impact us.

We want to be spoken with, not spoken for.

  • What are you most excited about for 2020?

I’m most excited for the Youth Leadership Network to establish ourselves as an incorporated body of young people who are driving the change for our community and future generations.

I know that there is change on the horizon, and I am so excited to watch it unfold in 2020.

About the expert

Renee Thomson is a proud Wiradjuri woman with cultural and ancestral ties to Erambie, Cowra, Central Western NSW. She was born and raised in Mt Druitt, Western Sydney where she continues to work and live within her community.

She is devoted to increasing the economic prosperity and independence of Aboriginal communities and families across health, education, policy and reform and justice sectors.
Renee’s life experiences and ongoing involvement with community, has led her work in grass-roots and peak body initiatives and institutions across local, state and international platforms.

As the Sydney-Newcastle Youth Representative of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council Youth Council, Renee was selected to represent First Nations people at the United Nations, Expert Mechanisms on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Geneva, 2019.

Renee firmly believes that the secret to success is to listen and work with community, to create tangible and positive change for all. With those goals in mind she developed the Western Sydney Aboriginal Youth Leadership Network.

PEOPLE: “It was up to me to find my own community” – How Kera started Fibromyalgia Aotearoa NZ

Kera Sherwood-O’Regan is passionate about making social change movements accessible and equitable for everyone. After being diagnosed with fibromyalgia and realising that the majority of information available wasn’t relevant to her or others in her community going through this experience, she took the responsibility upon herself to build and support a community with relevant and accurate information.

Growing up with a strong support network and Maori community, Kera believes strongly in the power of role models and community engagement. In this interview, Kera shares why and how she started Fibromyalgia Aotearoa NZ, and her views and experiences with ableism.

  • Why did you originally start Fibromyalgia Aotearoa NZ?

I started Fibromyalgia Aotearoa NZ because at the time I was diagnosed there just wasn’t any support here. Most people, including health professionals, hadn’t heard of it, and it was taking most people many years to get diagnosed. As a result there was hardly any information available, and where it did exist it was predominantly from the United States.

As I started to navigate the health system here and my own experience of Fibromyalgia I realised that a lot of that information just wasn’t relevant in a New Zealand context, and if anything it was contributing to a lot of people’s fears, and I would say internalised ableism, around the condition.

So it was really important to me that there was good support for people going through Fibromyalgia in Aotearoa, and I felt that if there wasn’t that support provided formally elsewhere, then it was up to me to find my own community and to support others who were also navigating this journey.

I wanted to make sure that there was a place for people to go when they first got that really long, hard to spell word from their doctors, and that it would be a place where people could support each other and realise that it is possible to be well with Fibromyalgia – even if that looks quite different to the lives we had before.

  • How has the direction of the organisation changed over time, including during COVID-19? 

Initially it started out online – building a website, then Facebook groups and Zoom meet ups. The demand just kept growing, and as we started to reach more people it became possible to meet up in person, so I started facilitating support groups in West Auckland, and then added a Central Auckland group, and have been on the look out for potential facilitators in other regions as well.

To be honest, it’s been difficult during COVID-19 but for a lot of reasons that are different from other organisations. I had already facilitated Zoom sessions, so I wasn’t too worried about moving to digital in a technical sense, but rather making sure that everyone in our community had access to the right information and support. Many people with Fibromyalgia are also in the high risk category for COVID-19, and we tend to have a lot of co-morbidities – or other conditions alongside Fibromyalgia.

So for example, I had pneumonia and pleurisy recently, so as well as having some challenges with Fibro, I also have to be particularly careful because I know if I caught the virus I would be likely to have a worse outcome than people without other conditions.

So we ran a Collective Care Zoom Hui with others from the disability community which was really good to see what services existed, and to make sure our members would be aware of services that might be able to help them – like priority online shopping delivery.

We’ve also increased the frequency of meetings – so having them online via Zoom each week. But the truth is that it’s been very difficult during this period – there is so much going on, and it’s hard when you’re not a big NGO with paid staff, but people just supporting voluntarily, and when we all have health needs ourselves as well.

  • How have your personal experiences of Ableism impacted how you run and manage Fibromyalgia Aotearoa NZ today?

I think they’ve massively impacted my approach. When I was first diagnosed and first started FMNZ I didn’t really have a good understanding of ableism, disability rights, or the disability sector. It hadn’t even occurred to me that I was disabled, or that that was a label I could claim for myself.

Although I didn’t really understand it, I did definitely feel that there was a general approach to chronic illnesses and Fibromyalgia in particular that didn’t sit right with me. I didn’t like the way our people were treated, or the language that was used, or the way we talked about ourselves and our community. It all felt very deficits-focused. And that’s important to a degree – it’s important to be real about the challenges we face, and not pretend like getting Fibromyalgia is like winning the Lotto. It’s not. But there was always just this sense for me that our community deserved so much better, and that there were changes that could be made.

As I learnt more about disability rights and ableism I began to recognise that a lot of the things I struggled with, and what a lot of our community was struggling with, actually came down to internalised ableism. It also came down to ableism from the wider community – and especially from the medical community.

So this understanding of ableism and disability rights really impacts everything in my approach to FMNZ now – it impacts the messages and framing I use when talking about issues; the way I communicate to new members who are grappling with a recent diagnosis; the way I want us to collaborate with the wider disability community; and also hugely the way I engage with the medical sectors as well.

The medical profession has been horrendous to people with disabilities, and people with Fibromyalgia and it’s really not good enough. That’s a big push for me at the moment.

  • Have you seen Ableism in the community during COVID-19? 

Content Warning: Ableism, Eugenics

Unfortunately, yes, to a massive extent. We’ve seen this in the way disabled people and people who are at high risk are framed as being appropriate casualties in this pandemic – for example a lot of messaging in New Zealand has been for the general public not to panic because “only elderly and people with pre-existing conditions die from it”.

We’ve seen it with people dying overseas, and with ideas in the United States and elsewhere that disabled people who rely on ventilators should give up their life-supporting equipment because somehow saving the life of an abled person is seen as more valuable than saving the life of a disabled person.

We’ve seen a lot of pontification on whether our community should be a sacrifice in triage, and whether people should bother saving our lives, because there is this assumption that our lives are terrible. This includes a lot of the medical profession who should know better, including a GP Practice who sent letters to at risk patients asking them to sign Do Not Resuscitate Orders so they could prioritise care for the otherwise healthy.

Then there’s this whole eco-ableist narrative about how “humans are the virus” and “earth is healing itself” which completely disregards the human cost of this pandemic, that that cost is disproportionately borne by disabled, indigenous, rural, communities of colour etc. and which also completely shifts the real causes of climate change from corporations who could change their practices today if they wanted to – and puts the blame on those who have contributed least.

It’s unfortunate that I really could go on and on, there’s just been so much ableism come to the surface over the last few months.

  • In your view, what can governments, communities, businesses and individuals be doing to stamp out discrimination against people with disabilities during and after COVID-19? 

Fundamentally for all those sectors I think it comes down to listening to our community first and foremost. There is this perception that we’re some voiceless monolith, which is completely untrue. We’re out here having these conversations, often on social media, blogs, and other publicly accessible forums.

So people can actually hear what we’re thinking about, they just have to put the work in to recognise that their practices have been excluding us, and make a concrete approach of seeking out disabled voices to listen to – and a broad range at that.

Also make an intentional approach to not only listen to the disabled voices who are the most palatable or seem to be the least confrontational. If you care about our community you need to be listening to the most marginalised and those facing intersections of structural oppression – and you need to be prepared to sit with the discomfort that might bring. So listen without jumping to action, and listen for what we need. 

On a governmental level, I’d like to see governments actively listening to the disabled community – so that could be governmental advisory panels that are backed up with resources and powers to make decisions about our communities; funding disabled organisations to respond; utilising rights-based messaging in all of their communications; and fundamentally resourcing our most at risk communities to be safe. No one should be having to go without kai (food) so they can afford PPE; or having to be sick with no access to healthcare because they can’t afford to get tested.

There’s a long list, but I think it starts with actually viewing our community as experts on ourselves and our own experiences, and taking our lead on what our community actually needs.

About the expert

Kera Sherwood-O’Regan (Kāi Tahu, Te Waipounamu) is an indigenous multidisciplinary storyteller and activist based in Aotearoa New Zealand. She runs social impact creative agency, Activate Agency, to co-create community-led stories and projects for social change. Kera’s work and activism centers structurally oppressed communities in social change, and crosses the intersections of indigenous & disability rights, hauora (health), and climate change. She is also the Founder of Fibromyalgia Aotearoa NZ, and in her spare time facilitates support groups for people living with chronic pain. Kera is a member of and collaborates with many NGOs on issues of climate and disability justice.

Photo description: Photo of Kera Sherwood-O’Regan, an Indigenous Māori woman with light olive skin and long brown hair, sitting in her living room. She is wearing a white collared jumpsuit, vintage style tortoiseshell glasses, Haus of Dizzy love heart earrings, and red lipstick. She wears a Māori pounamu greenstone pendant around her neck, and she is smiling slightly at the camera. There is a green houseplant and wooden furniture in the background.

Photo credit: Jason Boberg

PEOPLE: How The Rainbow Babes are supporting, mentoring and being visible for the rainbow community

Kellie and Nicolette are The Rainbow Babes – a powerful same-sex couple due to be married in 2020 and currently undergoing IVF. While Kellie has a high-profile career in aviation marketing and Nicolette is a well known voice for diversity in healthcare, these profiles haven’t been built without challenges. Not least of which occured in the last few months, as their highly revered and influential Instagram account was hacked by an anti-LGBT hacker.

But The Rainbow Babes believe strongly in the power of representation, speaking up, and supporting your community. So these challenges haven’t deterred them. In fact, they quickly started a new Instagram account, have continued to speak out on issues important to them, and are determined to be visible role models for others.

  • Also known as The Rainbow Babes, as a couple, you’re outspoken about being a professional same-sex couple. Why is it important to you to proactively promote the ‘rainbow’ side of your relationship?


Well firstly, who doesn’t love a bit of rainbow in their life! I think whatever we do we like to bring a bit of colour and personality to it, so the rainbow label was something that always came quite naturally to us both.

But most importantly, with any minority group, visibility and representation is so important. It’s that old adage, you can’t be what you can’t see! We honestly wouldn’t be where we are without the strong and inspiring LGBTQI+ role models, trail blazers and boss ladies who came before us, normalising same-sex love, paving the way for women, diversity,  gender equality and showing us just what we could achieve in our lives and careers.

But there’s still a long way to go! And if we can pay it forward and provide that visibility or mentorship or support to other young professionals, then that would be pretty amazing. Long live the rainbow!


From the perspective of @TheRainbowPharmacist I think it’s important to see diversity (and someone visibly queer) in healthcare. Pharmacy is inherently conservative and leadership roles are driven mostly by men, despite 70% of pharmacists being female. Having a platform to be visible, and open, with an opinion and a personality is important! It’s an opportunity to echo what is interesting and topical for our community and support other people with common goals and interests.

2. Nicolette, you’re also known as The Rainbow Pramacist and are passionate about diversity and tackling discrimination in the healthcare industry.

i) How have your personal experiences impacted how you address and discuss these issues today?

Nicolette: I think my experience as not only a healthcare consumer, but a member of the rainbow community, has uncovered some insecurities in the healthcare profession in regard to skills, knowledge and education to adequately speak to and fulfil the needs of the LGBTQI+ community. For me as a pharmacist I found the LGBTQI+ education, and particularly around transgender members of our community, that treatment and management was really lacking.

Hearing awful stories from friends of mine, such as activist Johnny Valkyrie, on the treatment of transgender patients really opened my eyes to the ignorance and discrimination that can happen in healthcare. But there are so many colours in the healthcare rainbow, and that’s why I started the The Rainbow Pharmacist. Not just to bring a new perspective to my peers, but to give a voice to those that sometimes don’t have one.

On a personal level, the other thing that both Kel and I have discovered lately is how discrimination isn’t just found in the healthcare profession, but ingrained in legislation too. We recently started our IVF journey, and Kel has always been quite vocal about her long history with endometriosis. But despite her individual medical history, same sex couples undergoing IVF treatment are by default diagnosed as “socially infertile” rather than “medically infertile”. What this means is that under a diagnosis of social infertility you are not able to access medicare rebates and unable to access private health coverage for reproductive services. And let me tell you, IVF is not cheap!

ii) What sparked your passion for LGBTQI+ health? How has that passion evolved over time?

Nicolette: The inequality in health outcomes for those in the LGBTQI+ community has always deeply concerned me. Look at national statistics on mental health or pretty much any chronic condition, and LGBTQI+ seem to be an at risk population. And when I started to scratch beneath the surface I started to see why, and it didn’t sit well with me. So I had to something about it!

Unfortunately we still have discrimination that occurs from individual healthcare professionals denying healthcare services. Access to care can be challenging particularly in rural and regional areas. We also have things like the way Medicare funding works that sometimes isn’t geared towards the health and wellbeing of the rainbow community, e.g. the Government removing a type of testosterone injection off of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) for gender affirming treatment for transgender men.

It’s a complex environment for our rainbow family, and I might not have the answers, but l think education, awareness and representation is a good start! And also rainbow is so much more interesting!

  • Kellie, as a marketer in the aviation industry – an industry currently under enormous pressure due to COVID-19 – how are you planning ahead and how have your personal experiences impacted the way you’re approaching these tough times?

Kellie: How the world has changed in a mere few months! It’s crazy to think up until 8 weeks ago I was travelling interstate several times a week. With the whole aviation industry in pause I think the shift in focus has definitely been to human interaction. People are hurting right now and in these uncertain times they want honest, authentic, real and human communication right now.

As consumers, Nic and I have both been personally impacted by the pandemic too, and understand this more than ever. Our May 2020 wedding and European honeymoon plans may have been forced into postponement, but we also had a very real brush with COVID-19 when my brother (and our IVF sperm donor) became one of the first Queenslanders to test positive, after returning from a work trip to Aspen, Colorado in early March. Thank goodness he was one of the lucky ones who had a mild case! It’s still unknown what this will mean for our IVF journey, but in times like these you’ve just got to take stock of what you’ve got and go with the flow.

  • Kellie, how do you see the marketing industry evolving in 2020, considering the dramatic changes to how everyone is interacting with brands before, during and presumably after quarantine?

Kellie: I think priorities will shift as more people move to the “new normal” of remote working and some form of ongoing social distancing. The fundamental needs of consumers, both physical and psychological, are changing in this new environment, and as marketers we need to adapt to that change.

Cyber security for instance is a huge issue as more people find themselves online for longer and subsequently vulnerable, so consumers will need brands and corporations to come to the party, make them feel safe, and assure them that their data and privacy are secure. Cyber crime is actually rife right now and we speak from experience! Even @TheRainbowBabes experienced a security breach recently, with our page hijacked and deleted by an anti-LGBT hacker.

We’ve had to start fresh with @TheRainbowBabe until we can claim our original handle again. So be sure to send us a “follow” and make sure you switch on two-factor authentication people, you won’t regret it.

About the experts

The Rainbow Babes chronical the adventures of Nicolette & Kellie – a professional same-sex couple and their two adorable pups Finnley & Rodrigo.

Nicolette (also known as The Rainbow Pharmacist) is a clinical pharmacist, key opinion leader and media personality within the healthcare industry. Kellie is a marketing professional that travels extensively in her high flying role in the aviation industry. With a love of the ocean, surfing and the active Burleigh beach lifestyle, both are passionate about outdoor adventure, travel, fine food and beverages, and living a healthy and balanced lifestyle.

Their pooches Finnley (an adorable pomeranian with a personality that makes up for his small stature) and Rodrigo (a chilled out cavoodle) complete their small rainbow family – which they hope to expand on later in the year when they start their IVF journey.

Having recently announced their engagement on a surf trip to Rainbow Beach, The Rainbow Babes are currently planning their dream wedding which will take place in May 2021.

VIEW: Striking the balance between engagement and discomfort, to generate resilience

During COVID-19, communities are being reminded of the value of connection and engagement. In this interview, Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew, who has literally written the book on engagement, shares how engagement can lead to resilience, and her views on how societies around the world are now engaging due to the pandemic.

  • You’ve done a TED Talk, written a book and completed a PhD on engagement. At the surface level, it seems quite obvious that engagement and connecting to communities is important, and yet there are many deeper issues worth exploring on these topics. What drove you to study and explore these issues in such depth? 

Initially when I started my PhD program, I was interested in Asset Based Community Development. I was intrigued with the idea of viewing marginalized communities with a lens that was strength-based versus from a deficit point of view. I’ve always seen in even the most challenged areas that assets do exist. 

My advisor suggested that I examine social capital, a term I had never heard of before. She realized that I was really intrigued with relationships and how they are instrumental in the process of change.

Growing up, I witnessed my dad build relationships that launched his business. As an African American male in the deep south in the 80s, he had many hurdles he faced to develop a business that was supported by a diverse community. I also remember seeing my aunt and uncle in a bowling league. As a kid, I didn’t know they were exchanging social capital but they were helping one another with information about jobs, people to know, etc. 

All of my life, I saw relationships as not just transactional but transformative. I didn’t have the terminology for it but over and over again, I saw that relationships either opened doors or the lack of them prevented people from access and availability to opportunities.

  • You’ve spoken about the link between engagement and resilience. How has that link evolved over time and how does it shift according to the experiences we’re experiencing at an individual and society-wide level? 

I think resilience exists on an individual and a collective level. When we have support systems, it is easier to persevere because we have access to resources. We are seeing this play out in our current climate. 

In the US, individuals who have access to private medical care as a result of insurance have in many instances, an advocate who will see them and fight for them because there is a relationship. The doctor knows them. 

For those who do not have that resource and visit urgent care facilities or emergency rooms, they may not have the same outcomes. They could become just a number especially with the amount of cases our very strained medical workers are experiencing daily.   

We are also seeing communities step up and protect the most vulnerable like senior citizens. Despite the possible health risks presented, individuals are caring for others to ensure that they are safe.

Engagement has changed over time simply because of the introduction of technology. We have more opportunities to engage but we are now seeing Zoom burnout because people need face to face interactions. We are wired for connection. I can’t imagine this happening 30 years ago. The inability to connect like we can today through Facetime and social media would have been even more of a problem.  I think our current crisis will really demonstrate the need for relationships as we move forward. We need each other more than I think we realize. 

  • During COVID-19, what has surprised you most about the way communities are and aren’t coming together, and how does this relate to the research you’ve conducted or come across? 

I really haven’t been surprised. In moments of crisis, you see various ends of the spectrum as it relates to responses.

I have noticed that for some, it is the focus on self and how things benefit me/mine. For instance, individuals who are willing to go to beaches or parties because they are bored but are not thinking about the greater good. There are those who then focus on others. They are helping out in their communities and making themselves available. These are not exclusive, either. They can exist at the same time. 

I think I am elated because in my community work, I witness daily individuals who are collaborating, sharing resources and making a difference especially in areas that are plagued with poverty. These communities are already challenged and to see the sharing of resources to make sure that those impacted by COVID-19 have access to resources has been inspiring to me.  I’m inspired to know personally about churches feeding the homeless or schools offering meals to youth. There are so many amazing stories of individuals and organizations who are committed in this time to the greater good.

Disasters have a way of making people focus on the important things. As it relates to my research, I saw that when people are in close proximity to a situation, they experience perception transformation. I think as we see the challenges of healthcare and other essential workers, our views are changing drastically about the dangers they face. When we know someone personally with the virus, it has a way of changing the way we think.  I’ve had several friends that have recovered from the illness and I know others who have died from it. Having those close, intimate experiences have impacted my thinking significantly. 

  • How have your personal experiences impacted your approach to resilience today? 

Our stories and experiences play a significant role in who we are. They shape us and mold our perspectives. My journey hasn’t been easy but I have always been one who pushes through. I get tired and there are times I have wanted to throw the towel in and quit. 

I’ve learned there is nothing wrong with taking a break. There is nothing wrong with addressing how you feel. I think so many of us bottle up our feelings and it ultimately impacts us on so many levels.

Reflection has been a big part of my approach to resilience. I spend a lot of time thinking and processing my day. I remind myself of how I’ve dealt with challenges in the past and it allows me to remember that I can also get through what I’m going through at the time. Being grateful has played a huge role in my resilience.  

  • You’ve spoken about the importance of running to spaces of difference and places of discomfort. What’s your advice to others wanting to build their resilience in this way, but struggling with that level of discomfort or fear of the unknown? 

It is all about balance. If you are fighting all day long and you have no time for recovery, at some point, your wounds will overcome you and the infection and inflammation will be severe. The same thing applies for our day to day lives. If you are constantly in places of discomfort without opportunities to heal, process, reflect, and rejuvenate, it can be overwhelming. 

Relationships are important even in this space. Having individuals that can pour into you through the discomfort is important. I am all for being stretched but I also know it is critical to  be supported as well. I often remind those around me that we live in a society that always focuses on either/or. There are times it is both/and. You can feel discomfort, deal with the tension and still have spaces of refuge and peace in your life. Balance is key as much as possible.

About the expert 

Froswa’ Booker-Drew, Ph.D. is a Network Weaver who believes relationships are the key to our personal, professional and organizational growth. She has been quoted in Forbes, Ozy, Bustle, Huffington Post and other media outlets, due to an extensive background in leadership, nonprofit management, partnership development, training and education. She is currently Vice President of Community Affairs for the State Fair of Texas responsible for grantmaking, educational programming and community initiatives. Formerly the National Community Engagement Director for World Vision, she served as a catalyst, partnership broker, and builder of the capacity of local partners in multiple locations across the US to improve and sustain the well-being of children and their families.  She is also co-founder for HERitage Giving Circle and the owner of Soulstice Consultancy.

Dr. Booker-Drew was a part of the documentary, Friendly Captivity, a film that follows a cast of 7 women from Dallas to India. She is the recipient of several honors including 2019 Dallas Business Journal’s Women in Business honoree, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc. Global Big Heart 2014, semi-finalist for the SMU TED Talks in 2012, 2012 Outstanding African American Alumni Award from the University of Texas at Arlington, 2009 Woman of the Year Award by Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. and was awarded Diversity Ambassador for the American Red Cross.

Froswa’ graduated with a PhD from Antioch University in Leadership and Change with a focus on social capital, diverse women and relational leadership. She attended the Jean Baker Miller Institute at Wellesley for training in Relational Cultural Theory and has completed facilitator training on Immunity to Change based on the work of Kegan and Lahey of Harvard. She has also completed training through UNICEF on Equity Based Evaluations. Booker-Drew is currently an adjunct professor at Tulane University and has been an adjunct professor at the University of North Texas at Dallas, the University of Texas at Arlington, Capital Seminary and Graduate School as well as a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Antioch University.  She is the author of 3 workbooks for women, Fly Away, Ready for a Revolution: 30 Days to Jolt Your Life and Rules of Engagement: Making Connections Last. Froswa’ was a workshop presenter at the United Nations in 2013 on the Access to Power. She is a contributor for several publications globally, including as an advice columnist for professional women in Business Woman Media, a global platform based in Australia.

PEOPLE: Why Jaynaya trains others to “take my role in the future”

While indigenous people make up 2.8 per cent of the Australian population, more than a third are experiencing discrimination or harassment in the workplace. In schools, while 5 per cent of students are indigenous, only 1 per cent of teachers identify as indigenous, leading to a lack of role models and indigenous mentors for the next generation.

Jaynaya Winmar founded Blakbone Sistahood in 2019 to support, empower and lead indigenous women. In this interview, she shares the story and drive behind Blakbone Sistahood, what she hopes to achieve with the business and community, and the importance of community engagement.

  • What is Blakbone Sistahood?

Blakbone Sistahood is a specialised consultation business. We facilitate engagement opportunities for Indigenous Business with an emphasis on professional women within business. This can be through a number of different avenues such as facilitated networking events, brokered one on one consultations, specialised event management services and business engagement workshops.

  • Why is this important?

I started the company as a result of not having the time or opportunities to network or attend workshops that were accessible or tailored to professional Indigenous women. I saw the need to give space to other women finding the same issues as myself with accessibility and servicing these specific needs in a comfortable and safe environment.

  • What are your key goals and objectives?

Blakbone Sistahood has been set up to create a space where Indigenous women in business are given a voice, but more importantly they are given valuable support to grow their business. This can be through introductions to other like-minded women within similar industries or facilitated events to assist with navigating the social procurement policy framework.

  • Why is community engagement important?

I specifically selected the name Blakbone Sistahood because strong women have been the backbone of my personal and professional development. I have been raised by a strong Indigenous woman and supported by a strong Indigenous grandmother who helped to raise me. I was educated from an early age to respect others and to behave with integrity in whatever I have done. In social and business circles I have a close network of female friends and family that make my backbone straighten with strength and conviction. It is with this support I was able to have the courage to start my own business and feel supported every step of the way.

  • What specifically is unique or important about indigenous community engagement?

This network of women and men that support and engage with my business do so because they are able to see and engage with other Indigenous businesses. We can see success in many different formats within the business sector. We are now confidently sitting in boardrooms, engaging and contributing to the growth of the Australian economic trade growth both nationally and internationally.

  • What passions drive you with managing Blakbone Sistahood?

Having a natural passion for people and an ability to make connections to people and business give me a sense of pride. Seeing businesses that can develop a strong mutually beneficial partnership excites me. This means that Indigenous women can see other women succeeding in male dominated environments and not getting stuck at the glass ceiling.

  • What is your advice to indigenous and non-indigenous people about engagement with indigenous communities?

Like all business this needs to be done with respect and a mutually beneficial arrangement. If you are engaging with Indigenous communities, they need to be valued.

  • What are corporate, governments, and Australians overall getting right and wrong about indigenous community engagement?

This is a great space to be in right now and I am loving linking with other amazing businesses in this space and people that are like minded assisting with this process. We are far from getting it fully right with the supported Indigenous Economic growth sector. But we are supporting the conversation of how this can be part of the everyday process of procurement engagements and other such engagements. We need to be including all of the community on this journey and not just one business constantly or a famous name for promotional purposes. We have a large cross section of Indigenous businesses and leaders now who are now being heard and supported. I lead by training those that work with me or for me with the thought in mind that I am training them to take my role in the future. We need to be creating a strong workforce that are able to confidently not just follow our paths, but to see the way and make their own path of personal and professional growth.

About the expert

Proud Noongar/Balladong woman from Quairading in the wheatbelt region of Western Australia.

Jaynaya has a strong background across the Employment and Recruitment sectors through partnerships throughout the Education and Employment across regional and remote areas within Western Australia and Victoria. Having previously worked within the recruitment industry specialising in disadvantaged cohorts across wider Australia under the employment services framework Jaynaya has been able to assist in identifying the gaps in engagement deliveries and having the ability to effectively articulate throughout the partnerships on how to actively develop these.

With this extensive experience Jaynaya has been consulting on Reconciliation Action Plan development and implementation across corporate national and international companies or sporting clubs and peak bodies within the sporting industry through all plan levels for Reflect through to Elevate status. As an extension on this Jaynaya also has consulted with the development of strategic Indigenous Procurement Policies and Indigenous Engagement Plans. This consul Jaynaya has been utilising these skills and natural abilities to strengthen and share this knowledge of the business bonds between Indigenous Businesses and the wider business landscape.

This has been key in being able to assist with the engagement of State and Federal government Social Procurement Frameworks and the National Procurement Strategies and having the ability to translate the transferable skills of each stakeholder.

Recently Jaynaya has started her own business and is operating on the model of being able to network effectively with key stakeholders and connecting them with each other in a respectful and beneficial way for all parties.