VIEW: Why Australia needs an online Code of Conduct

The below is a guest post from Sarah Liberty, CEO and Founder of JustSociale.

In 2012, the UNHCR declared that our online human rights are no different to our offline human rights. Yet, almost ten years on, many Australians are still unaware that they have online human rights. And, in the rapidly evolving realm of the Internet and social media, navigating our online human rights – and knowing how to protect them – can be especially challenging. 

I should know because I’ve experienced it.

When my email and social media accounts were hacked, and I was digitally surveilled by an abusive former partner – a breach of Australian law – I wasn’t sure what to do, or where to turn to for support. 

When I tried to file a complaint with my local police station, it took weeks of persistence to obtain an ADVO, and even when I was successful, the police didn’t alert me to the fact that what my partner had done was illegal.

My case is not the exception. As a 2018 poll among women aged 18-55 commissioned by Amnesty found, one third of respondents had encountered some form of online harassment or abuse.

Inspired by my personal experience, and after gaining academic and professional expertise as an NGO and Communications leader in London, New York, Paris, Jogjakarta and Sydney, I established JustSociale as Australia’s first federally ACNC-accredited NGO dedicated to promoting awareness of human rights online.

We are a defiantly optimistic collective of social entrepreneurs, creatives, civil society actors, technology platforms, media outlets, activists, private businesses and members of diverse communities who are passionate about making the Internet universally accessible and inclusive, so that we can all use it to connect with each other, and the global community – safely.

Ultimately, our aim is to foster a culture of trust, transparency and responsibility for everyone operating in the digital domain, and to promote good digital citizenship. Much of our day-to-day lives now happen online, and Australians are prolific users of the Internet and social media: 71 percent of the population has active social media accounts. A recent survey even found that in the morning, “more than half of the adult population wake up and check their social media feed as the very first activity of the day!” However, as the eSafety Commissioner notes, 67% of Australian adults have also had a negative experience online (in the 12 months to August 2019), ranging from repeated unwanted messages or online contact (such as pornography or violent content), to scams, viruses, hate speech, abuse and threats.

This is unacceptable to me. It is why JustSociale is developing Australia’s first Online Code of Conduct –  to provide collective solutions that are shaped by the Australian public, and agreed upon by digital stakeholders – not forced upon them top down by securitising the digital realm, as the government is attempting to do. Our Code provides a set of guidelines that signatories can voluntarily adopt to demonstrate to the public, clients or their beneficiaries that they take online human rights seriously. 

As the recent Tinder and Bumble exposes highlighted – whereby investigations found a pattern of sex offenders blocking their victims after a rape to delete any trace of their prior communication – the onus has far too long been on individuals rather than the platforms themselves to report and put a stop to negative or harmful online behaviour. However, rather than strong-arming or blaming tech platforms, and promoting a culture of fear or shooting the digital messenger, I believe now is the time to build long-term solutions and practices that ensure all actors take the route of responsibility, trust and transparency. JustSociale is here to work with tech platforms, the government and all stakeholders with an interest in Internet governance to educate Australians of their online rights and responsibilities as digital citizens in order to self empower people, and to foster societal change.  

Despite the Internet’s extensive penetration in Australia, digital and cultural exclusion remain significant challenges. 2.5 million people – or just over 10% of our population – are still not online – either because of cost, location or digital literacy. The voices of diverse communities are also censored by algorithms on social media.

JustSociale’s national Alliance and Online Code of Conduct, however, will change this. We stand with diverse communities so they can claim their online rights and access the Internet equally, safely and confidently. As a report from the Human Rights Council of the United Nations General Assembly best put it, access to the internet is a basic human right, integral to allowing individuals to “exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression.”

For more about JustSociale, visit www.justsociale.org


About the expert

Sarah Liberty is the Founder and CEO of JustSociale. A social entrepreneur, public speaker, radio presenter, podcaster and human rights advocate.Her career has spanned executive roles in the media and in international NGOs in London, New York, Jogjakarta, Sydney and Paris. Sarah recently completed her Master of International Relations: Human Rights, at Sciences Po University, Paris, and hosts a weekly international #FeministFriday Podcast available on all major podcast platforms reaching 42 countries. Sarah is an Ambassador for UN Women’s #GenerationEquality campaign and is regularly approached by the media to comment on human rights, social entrepreneurship, international relations, technology and social media news.


Image description: Headshot of Sarah in a black collared shirt, with short reddish brown hair. There are pink flowers in the background.

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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: Why Julie Cini founded SMA Australia

Biogen, in collaboration with Spinal Muscular Atrophy Australia and Paralympian Dylan Alcott OAM, have recently launched the inaugural ‘Trailblazer Challenge’, aimed at bringing much needed support and solutions to the everyday challenges faced by adults living with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). In this interview, Julie Cini, CEO of Spinal Muscular Atrophy Australia, outlines why she started SMA Australia and the impact the Trailblazer Challenge will have on the SMA community.

  • Can you tell me a little about yourself and how SMA Australia was created?

I started SMA Australia 6 weeks after the death of my first daughter Montanna to SMA type 1. There was no one to talk to when I went through her diagnosis and I didn’t want other parents to experience the same feeling of helplessness. Subsequently my partner was killed in a car accident when I was 13 weeks pregnant, and as SMA is genetic my 2nd daughter Zarlee was also born with Type 1 SMA and died 12 months later on Christmas Day 2007.

I lost the whole three of them in 2.5 years. I want people to see what I have done out if it though and the last 15 years has been spent supporting families through diagnosis, improving access to treatment and advocating for SMA to be added to the Newborn screening bloodspot panel to name a few.

I am passionate about what I do and love to help others. I’m a mentor now not only to those living with SMA but those supporting others with a rare condition. I’m lucky that my reach is now global and I’m excited about the SMA landscape and new generation SMA.

  • What is Spinal Muscular Atrophy?

Spinal muscular atrophy is an inherited condition that is caused when nerve cells that service the muscles don’t work properly, causing muscle weakness and wasting. In its most severe forms, SMA can cause paralysis and difficulty with the most basic functions of life such as eating, getting dressed and mobility. There is no known cure for SMA and many adults with SMA live with the fear of functional decline and further loss of independence.

  • Is it a common disease?

SMA is a rare genetic condition  that effects one in 10,000 babies. SMA is also carried in 1 in 40 people – these people carry a copy of the altered gene that causes the condition although they don’t have the condition themselves. The faulty gene is passed on from both  parents and each time they have a pregnancy they have a 1 in 4 chance of having a child with SMA.

  • What is the Trailblazer Challenge?

The trailblazer Challenge is a first of its kind initiative with Biogen, SMA Australia and Paralympian Dylan Alcott OAM – designed to identify what day to day challenges face our SMA community and how we can solve these challenges for them.

  • Why is this challenge so important for people living with SMA?

This challenge is so important because we need to provide better support for people living with SMA – their quality of life can be very poor and so this campaign is seeking to raise awareness about what those challenges are and then importantly, take the next steps in a virtual hackathon to solve those challenges and deliver meaningful solutions for people living with SMA.

  • What challenges do they face on a daily basis?

The challenges facing our SMA community are so diverse and far reaching – showering, getting in and out of the car, getting something off a high shelf, going to the supermarket. All of these actions we take for granted, are extremely difficult and near impossible for someone living with SMA.

  • What are you asking people to do?

If you are living with SMA, or have a family member of friend living with SMA – send us your challenge! Simply record the challenge you are facing on video and email it through to trailblazerchallenge@senateshj.com.au

  • Where can people go for more information?

I encourage everyone to jump on our website or Facebook page to learn more about the challenge. Visit smaaustralia.org.au or search “SMA Australia” on Facebook.


About the expert

Julie Cini, founded Spinal Muscular Atrophy Association of Australia after losing both of children to SMA in 2005 and 2007. In her life, Julie has faced incredible heartbreak including the tragic loss of her partner who was hit by a car in 2006, and her strength and determination has been channelled into ensuring those with SMA have the support, and resources they need to live their best possible lives.

Julie strongly believes in creating a future that encourages empowerment, resilience and compassions and by sharing her experiences, she hopes to encourage others to make that difference. Julie continues to leave legacies and in 2018 she successfully campaigned with the SMA community to have new treatments and a pre-genetic screening program made available for patients. Most recently in 2019, she successfully advocating for a new born screening heel test to be available for all babies at risk.


Image description: Headshot of Julie with short, brown and wavy hair, wearing a patterned blouse and necklace.

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.

PEOPLE: Connecting consumers with sustainable product to transform local food systems – Emma-Kate Rose

Intensive farming has detrimental impacts on Australia’s land and ecological communities. With farming now covering 58% of Australia and accounting for 59% of water extracted, researchers are encouraging more sustainable and regenerative forms of farming and produce development, which is proven to not only be better for the environment but also for profitability.

In this interview, Emma-Kate Rose from Food Connect, shares why she and her partner are dedicated to connecting consumers with ecological agriculture and ethical farmers.

  • How do you define an ‘ethical’ farmer? 

We define the relationship as ethical, not the farmer themselves. This means we are transparent in our business practices and they are transparent in their growing practices.

  • Why does Food Connect work exclusively with regenerative farmers? 

Apart from getting people connected to their growers, we are really big on sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. We can reduce the emissions of our food system by localising the supply chain, but we have an even bigger impact when we source our food from growers who look after their soils.

Regenerative farmers use holistic farming methods that encourage growth of microbial activity in the soil, and tend not to disturb the soil by not ploughing or tilling and growing cover crops between seasons – this creates the right conditions for soils to draw carbon from the atmosphere. Another benefit of this form of growing, is that the soil also sequesters water, reducing the need to irrigate crops.

  • Your own SROI report highlights the social value of investing in Food Connect, with the 2011 report highlighting a $1:$16.83 impact. What’s most important to you in how this social impact is delivering financial results for your community? 

The main dividend in this evaluation is the reduction of diet related disease and the consequent burden on our health system – so it’s a saving for the government / tax payers when the preventative health benefits of eating more vegetables, fruit and wholefoods are encouraged. The other saving is the reduction in rural suicide rates because farmers are meaningfully engaging with people who care about them – especially during the tough times like drought and floods. For consumers, there’s a sense of belonging which is encouraged through our network of City Cousins across SEQ – although that’s harder to quantify in dollars.  

  • Has Food Connect had to shift its business model or way of doing business during the pandemic? 

Yes, we’ve had to ramp up operations to deliver quadruple normal volumes, which meant employing more staff. We also assisted our restaurant and cafe clients to pivot their service offering to providing shopfront fruit and veg sales, and their own small scale box systems for locals.

  • What are you most excited about with Food Connect for the next 3 years?

We’re in the process of a strategic planning exercise with the Yunus Centre for Social Business at Griffith University which will help us deepen our impact and relationships with customers and farmers, and to measure the environmental impacts of a localised food system. We also get a lot of requests from communities requesting assistance and insights into how we organised our community to co-own our warehouse and set it up as a community-owned regional food hub, so Rob is working on a replication model for communities to access and implement across regional Australia.


About the expert

Emma-Kate Rose is a mother, community advocate and social entrepreneur from Brisbane, Australia.

She currently leads Food Connect, a social enterprise which connects consumers with local, sustainable produce, and has led the way in transforming the local food system using principles of ecological agriculture and engaging ethically with family farms and local communities since 2005. In 2018, Food Connect led an equity crowdfunding campaign to raise over $2 million to buy its own warehouse along with 500 careholders, providing the infrastructure to create a stable market for their farmers, and create a home for other ethical food entrepreneurs.

Emma-Kate is also one of four Fellows of the Yunus Centre for Social Business at Griffith University and Chair of Queensland Social Enterprise Council, helping secure philanthropic and government funding to scale impact across Queensland.


Image description: Emma is standing in front of a table of natural plants, nuts and flowers. She wears a colourful top decorated with large butterflies. She is smiling and looking slightly to the side. She is in a warehouse/shed, with haystacks and a fold-up chair in the background.

PEOPLE: Mel Wojtas’ mission to grant everyone’s human right to live free from violence

Mel Wojtas is known for many things – her endeavour to tackle domestic violence by founding the Hive Village Project, her commitment to raising awareness of human rights issues as an ambassador for UN Women’s Generation Equality, and for being a compelling speaker with purple hair.

Mel’s extraordinary life and career have become intertwined in many ways, as she uses her lived experiences to guide how she is now studying, working, and planning to rid society of domestic violence.

In this interview, she details her journey so far, the twists and turns along the way, and shares actions and resources for anyone and everyone reading this article.

  • You started Hive Village Project back in 2016 to build long-term, turn-key, self-contained homes for domestic violence survivors and their pets. How has the problem you’re trying to solve evolved since then, and how have your ambitions with Hive Village Project consequently changed over time?

A lot has changed over the last four years, mainly as I’ve gained a deeper understanding of the landscape of the barriers that survivors face when starting over. Through tertiary study, I’ve learnt the systemic challenges and service gaps, along with the dire need for holistic solutions, such as Hive Village from peers, frontline workers and specialist service providers.

The vision has since adapted to include all genders, not just the initial plan for women and children. My original plan to create a state-wide solution has evolved into a national one. I have adapted to survivor feedback on making the villages permanent, rather than transitional so the properties will be bigger than first anticipated.

The need has sadly increased, rather than decreased over time, with government blatantly ignoring advice and recommendations from specialist services and peak bodies. Funding recently announced barely scratches the surface and the competitive tendering process for established services is problematic, as services try to secure the same funding.

  • As a founder and start-up owner, what have been your biggest challenges with starting, building and scaling Hive Village Project?

Acknowledging that my journey doesn’t equate to the only experience that survivors live through was the starting point to the whole project. Since the initial concept (scribbled on a notepad in my parent’s lounge room one night) I’ve made decisions to align with this overarching purpose ever since.

For me, time and patience had been the most significant learning curve. I wanted to do it right away and build within a year but had no idea what I was doing or even how to achieve that. I began attending domestic violence and housing events to see ‘who’s who’ in the sector. I visited a regional shipping container home provider to see their sites in full scale and had the initial concept of utilising shipping containers for the project.

My background had been corporate administration, so housing and human services were so foreign to me, apart from some volunteering over the years in Homelessness and Community Services. Making the unorthodox decision not to return to an office and instead be supported by welfare as I returned to study full-time, as a single mum of two has ruffled a few feathers. That’s been the most significant sacrifice towards my mission – I believe in it to my core and decide to brush off any judgement I receive for doing so. Instead, I’ve been upskilling, educating myself, networking, volunteering and launched a Speaking business to continue my advocacy.

Another beast I had to conquer was imposter syndrome. As a survivor, I felt like I had no business in the sector full of ‘experts’ and would internalise this as a failure before I’d even begun. That was my own ‘noise’ (ongoing impact of trauma and doubting myself) and no reflection on anyone I had met – I needed to work on my internal voice. I was procrastinating by fear of success and hesitant to seek help from others – until I met some kickass businesswomen who were in similar places in their start-ups.

On top of the usual challenges like lack of business management knowledge or access to finance, I’ve had to grapple with some pretty complex grief over the last few years. Admittingly, Hive Village has been on the back burner – after losing my Uncle and Grandfather to Cancer and my Father to suicide. I’m now back at University to continue my Bachelor in Social Science so I can be qualified to run my organisation. I feel this is vital before applying for grants and solidifying the business structure.

  • How did you know you had to start something on your own, rather than join an existing organisation to tackle this issue?

There are many established and invaluable domestic and family violence crisis services for women, and there is never enough to meet the growing need for refuge. There are even fewer services available for people in the LGBTIQ community and almost none for people with disabilities or men.

A victim-survivor would be able to stay in a specialist homelessness service for up to three months, in a large house with other families in each room (or a motel) and usually no overnight support staff. A survivor would then either be placed into transitional housing if they are lucky, or have to navigate the private rental or public housing processes. As you can imagine, this would be daunting, and both paths can continue a sense of instability as neither are permanent solutions. Some may return to their abuser, due to ongoing fear and control, risks of homelessness, threats to harm if they don’t come home, living costs, children and others could end up homeless.

This ‘post-crisis’ phase is where I knew I could make an impact. It is my mission to stop the cycle of housing insecurity and homelessness by providing permanent housing for people starting over after domestic and family abuse/violence in regional Australia.

To my knowledge, there isn’t another organisation in Australia currently that has the same vision: building villages in regional areas with integrated support services, for human and animal survivors. Fully-furnished, universally designed for accessibility, LGBTIQ friendly, pet-friendly, self-contained and person-centred. (Founded and co-designed by survivors for other survivors). Each village will partner with established DFV services so we can work closely with the expertise of the regions we build in, to ensure the residents are exceptionally supported.

  • What’s your advice to others considering starting their own family services organisation?

You can’t support others if you are still not facing or working on your own ‘stuff’. Regular professional support (therapy, Psychology, counselling, professional supervision) is the best place to start to ethically and adequately help others.

No matter how wild or unachievable your concept may seem – it’s always worth exploring. My mindset has been the biggest game-changer for me, linking in with supportive peer networks to build each other up and stay accountable. I couldn’t have done this without first working through my past.

Education isn’t ‘just a piece of paper’, it shows dedication to the cause, best practice and an understanding of the sector. It also helps when applying for future funding and networking along the way. Colleges like TAFE teach Community Services certificates from Cert 3 – Diploma level as a starting point to get a feel for the industry. I highly recommend this as a starting point, along with volunteer work in the industry to see whether you like it in practice.

  • You recently became an ambassador for #GenerationEquality. What does this initiative mean to you and what’s your role in enabling its success?

I’m proud to be part of a global campaign for gender equality, convened by UN Women. It’s an honour to be named an influencer in Australia for human rights and anti-violence.

Whenever a man feels a woman is not his equal, they will treat them accordingly – with disrespect. That solidifies why gender inequality is the root cause of violence towards women.

I’m passionate about gender equality and hope to see the tides turn towards a fairer world for all – one where women can feel safe at home. Despite enormous strides towards liberation, not a single country has achieved gender equality. If that shocks you – please share the campaign with your networks, children and discuss with your friends.

UN Women states ‘In 2020, it will be 25 years since the Beijing Platform for Action set out how to remove the systemic barriers that hold women back from equal participation in all areas of life, whether in public or in private. Despite some progress, real change has been agonisingly slow for the majority of women and girls in the world. Today, not a single country can claim to have achieved gender equality.’

  • How can individuals, businesses and governments practically support domestic violence survivors? What’s the low-hanging fruit they could be actioning today?

It is a human right for every person to live free from violence. Starting over after domestic and family abuse shouldn’t be the ‘luck of the draw’ or based on privilege.

I had family nearby and was in my birth country with citizenship rights and access to our welfare system. I speak English as a first language, and I’m a non-Indigenous Australian. As a non-Indigenous woman, I didn’t face the same distrust from services, systemic racism, generational trauma or the constant threat of child removal that Indigenous
women face every day in this country. I could never begin to fathom the challenges faced and resilience shown by Indigenous women across Australia. We can all learn a lot from the strength and knowledge of Indigenous Australians, especially community and connection.

On a government level – follow the advice of First Nations people, women’s safety experts, survivor-advocates and specialist services recommendations and more importantly, fund them appropriately and secure the funding long-term as a Federal priority. Ensure that lived expertise (survivors) are in every room where policy reform happens – especially Indigenous, disabled, LGBTIQ and marginalised voices.

Businesses should all undertake annual, face to face trauma-informed training from professional survivor-advocates, many of whom are Consultants. Having clear and current Domestic and family abuse/violence policies and procedures should be standard for any type of work across all industries, big and small. Employers, staff and customers will all have varying experiences with trauma. There is not an industry or community in Australia that isn’t impacted by domestic and family abuse.

Companies can partner with, donate to or sponsor domestic and family violence organisations in their local area. Organise working bee’s, donation drives, volunteer days or fundraisers. Contact your local service to see what would be most beneficial.

As a community, we can all educate ourselves on domestic and family abuse, know the signs and challenges and report any behaviour as many times as you see/hear/know about it (can remain anonymous) – it could save a life.

Services Australia: www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/subjects/family-and-domestic-violence/

Emergencies: Always ring 000 if you know someone is in immediate danger.

Non-life-threatening incidents: Report to Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or www.crimestoppers.com.au

Support for young people: Kidsline is available 24/7 . Call 1800 55 1800 for children aged 5 – 25 or visit www.kidshelpline.com.au

Help for victim-survivors and their loved ones: 24/7 counselling and support is available at 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800respect.org.au

Suicide callback service: Call 1300 659 467 or visit www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au/


About the expert

Mel Wojtas (Voytas) is a Lived Expertise Consultant, Media Advocate and Speaker, based out of Sydney, recently becoming an Ambassador for Generation Equality to continue her advocacy in human rights. ​

Mel is also the Founder & CEO of a multi-award-winning Start-up, Hive Village Project. A housing solution that will provide intersectional, permanent housing with integrated support services for human and animal survivors of Domestic & Family Abuse, in regional Australia. 

​Her life to date has equipped her with invaluable knowledge on topics such as domestic and family abuse/violence, sexual violence, mental health and complex trauma. Mel has lived expertise and insight into Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs) and generational mental health, losing a parent to suicide and how she thrives after adversity.

​Mel was selected to represent the inaugural ‘Voices for Change’ Project in NSW as a Survivor-Advocate in the media. Additionally, representing both Domestic Violence NSW & ACON as an ‘LGBTIQ Voices for Change’ NSW Advocate, spreading awareness of domestic and family abuse within the LGBTIQ community. Within both projects, survivor-advocates have been lobbying for changes at all levels from primary prevention and societal attitudes to improving current systems, service gaps and government policy. 

​Since 2017, Mel has been studying Community Services at TAFE NSW and a Bachelor of Social Science at the University of Newcastle (Australia) before receiving a full scholarship into the Women’s Business School Ignite 2019. Mel regularly attends DFV training and conferences to stay informed of current resources and best practice.

Gaining growing recognition from the industry, Mel placed 2nd in the Social Change Hero category for the national ROAR Success Awards and 2nd in the Women’s Business School Excellence category for the national AusMumpreneur Awards 2019. Throughout 2019, Mel received nominations for a Women’s Agenda Leadership Award, an LGBTI Honour Award and Finalist in AusMumpreneur People’s Choice Award.

​For continued professional and personal development, Mel is a member of Australian Community Workers Association (ACWA), Australian & New Zealand Mental Health Association (ANZMA), Women’s Network Australia (WNA), Future WomenDomestic Violence NSW (DVNSW) and Women’s Safety NSW.

Media contact: hello@melwojtas.com or www.melwojtas.com

PEOPLE: Why Manita believes success is when we stop using the words ‘social impact’

Manita Ray has worked in social impact and sustainability for almost 20 years, and believes it is one of the most rewarding career paths someone can take. Her roles have included CEO of YGAP (renowned for its global campaign, Polished Man), National Manager at Pollinate Energy, and Director and Chairperson at Asha Global Development Organisation.

In this interview, she shares why she has committed to a career in social impact, her experiences with burnout, advice to those considering a social impact career, and her approach to leadership.

  • What drove you to build a career in social impact, and how has that drive changed over time? 

My family are from India and came from poverty so I saw poverty and injustice from the day I was born. We went back often to visit our family so I grew up seeing very clearly how different my life outside of India was compared to those who are exactly like me, but continue to experience poverty. Having a really deep lived experience in this also showed me the power of entrepreneurship, social impact and innovative thinking – because when systems and structures fail to protect communities, they must survive and are natural entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is survival there. 

What drives me is my lived experience and knowing that I wanted to leave the world in a better place. 

What drives me is the adversity that I have personally faced and see so many around me face and knowing that I have the power to change this.

What drives me every day is knowing that I can make a difference and I cannot look at my family and what they and so many others have gone through and continue to go through and know that I did not do everything in my power to change it.

After I had children, this drive increased 1000 fold – I had to keep going as their future depended on it.

Once I became a CEO, it was an incredible privilege to be able to act even more boldly and lead a team towards significant impact – this was yet another driver. 

  • What have been the biggest highlights and lowlights of your career so far?

It is difficult to think of the biggest highlights because honestly, even through tough times, I have learned and gained so much from each of my roles. There are many. But three key ones are:

  1. Impact – without a doubt, being able to enable change, see impact, see the faces of those we serve and enable systematic change (even if it is slow sometimes!) gives faith that this work is making a difference and will continue to do so well beyond my role
  2. People are caring more – it has been so great to see the growing volume of both younger and older generations caring about impact  more. I remember when I was singled out as the ‘tree-hugging hippie’ but now working and striving for impact is no longer laughed at but seen as damn good business. 
  3. What next – I’m super excited to map out the next stage of my career in the gender, climate and investment space in Australia. There is so much we have the potential to do here and I cannot wait to climb up this big scary mountain. 

Low lights – without a doubt one thing that I remember and has been the biggest lesson is burnout. When you work in the impact space, you devote your life to it. I found it impossible to switch off because I knew the work that we had to do to serve those who needed it the most. But burnout does not help anyone and not only does important work stop when you burn out, but it affects your health, your family and everyone important to you. I’m very aware about this now and while still susceptible – I have wonderful family, friends and mentors to call me out and vice versa. 

  • What’s your advice to anyone considering a career in social impact in 2020? 

Do it. Dive in head first and don’t look back. 

  • What are the biggest challenges you foresee for professionals in the social impact space this year?

We have a lot of work to do. There is radical uncertainty in both our short and long-term future. We simply do not know what challenges lie ahead and their complexities. Nature is far stronger and more powerful than humans and we cannot rely one traditional, man-made thinking  – we need to innovate boldly as future challenges will not be prevented or solved with conventional thinking.

However this should not scare us. This should drive us to work harder together. To lead with integrity. And just as important – work together across the globe because as we see with climate change and the current pandemic, every issue and impact is connected.

  • What is your advice for other professionals of diverse backgrounds when looking to build their career in social impact? 

Again – DO IT. Start small or big but do something.

Every professional and every industry can (and will one day) drive, enable and achieve social impact. Success will be when social impact is everywhere – in every system, process and product – and we actually stop using the words ‘social impact’ because social impact is good business.

  • How have your own personal experiences impacted the way you work and lead? 

In such a mammoth way. I throw myself into what I do and as mentioned, I have learned, and continue to learn every single day how to work and lead. I learn through all the good and most importantly all the pain. 

A lot of how I lead is based on two key principles:

  • Am I leading to create the greatest impact?
  • Am I leading to support my team to become leaders?

I have had some incredible managers and CEOs. To this day I still remember  how they led and showed me how to lead with integrity and humility despite whatever was thrown at them.

I have also worked with and had some awful managers  – and to them I am SO thankful because they have given me what I might say are the best lessons: what not to do as a leader!


About the expert

Manita Ray (MBA &; B. Eng): The immediate past CEO of ygap, with over 22 years experience across the private and not-for-profit sector. At ygap she was responsible for raising over $3M of annual operating and investment capital, leading a global team of 29 across multiple countries. She led ygap’s work as a lead implementation partner for DFAT’s InnovationXChange’s Frontier Incubators Program to design and deliver capacity building for over 30 intermediaries across APAC, including supporting impact investors in implementing a gender lens across their investments, leading the design and implementation of the Gender and Power curriculum for over 30 intermediaries and market actors across APAC, and was the lead designer, developer and advisor for the ‘Gender Lens Incubation and Acceleration Toolkit’ (GLIA) for intermediaries across SEA.