Five years & 50 Faces later…

It probably goes without saying that this blog has been incredibly special to me. Not only has it been a constant reminder of all things warm and fuzzy, it’s given me the opportunity to strengthen existing friendships and forge new connections with people on the periphery of my life.

It’s also reaffirmed my pre-existing belief that we can learn something from everyone that we meet. It’s taught me that that most people grossly underestimate their own achievements and it’s reminded me of the value of truly listening. I’ve walked away feeling even more grateful for the incredible people I’m surrounded by, humbled by how generously they’ve shared their stories and determined to learn more about everyone I cross paths with.

I had grand plans of hosting an event to bring all of these wonderful humans together but, Covid had other ideas. For now, I am chuffed to be able to share some updates and reflections from some of the special faces that featured along the way.

Finally, I want to send the biggest virtual hug to all 50 faces, to the photographers, to editor extraordinaire, Suze and to the thousands of readers over the years. My heart is very full!

44. Larry

“When we last spoke, the Growth Project London was happening with another 30 charities. 

Since then, I have stepped down as Managing Director of Priority Advisory Group, seeing the appointment of a new CEO to enable me to dedicate more time for more impact in the for purpose sector. 

The vision for the Growth Project was to embed its essence into corporate Australia. Since our interview, I have helped Sage, a software company launch their own version called Sage Foundation Grow which has become the pillar project for Sage Foundation globally. In 2021, Sage Foundation Grow happened in Australia and they are currently rolling it out in Canada. 

The Growth Project worked with disparate charities, but the tenant for Sage Foundation Grow was to bring together like minded charities to encourage collaboration. In 2021, we had seven youth organisations come together leading to the creation of the Youth Impact Hub – a hub for youth focused charities to work together to amplify their impact. 

The Growth Project, filled a gap in the market in terms of investing in charity leaders at no cost to the charity and this new venture addresses another need that everybody is calling out for- collaboration. 

We have also helped AIA, the insurance company develop AIA Impact which is going to be one of their shared value programs to help drive AIA’s impact in the community. 

Behind this trajectory, l was being pulled from pillar to post with a desire to help everybody. The Growth Project created so many opportunities and saw me walking down so many divergent paths which are now starting to converge and enable me to focus. I’m excited to be doing fewer things better.

The single biggest thing that is occupying my mind at the moment is when is enough impact? At what point does an individual stop helping? When have you helped enough? I’m keen to start exploring these questions.” 

Larry’s story from 2020 here

43. Tim

“So much has changed since our chat at the beginning of 2020. But thinking about what we had talked about, I realised that the pandemic has really exposed the media landscape in Australia to demonstrate how bridled journalists can be. It’s not necessarily the journalists dictating what is news but rather audiences demanding information, which has challenged how I view the power of the media as the fourth estate. 

As we increasingly became a work from home state, we were able to spend more time following those infection and hospitalisation rates as politicians across the country took to live broadcast press conferences. In my view these press conferences weren’t necessarily as accessible to media consumers like you and I, and journalists would ask questions and frame responses to those questions in a way that aligned with the political leanings of whatever outlet they represented. But because we could watch these questions being asked, live, from the comforts of lockdown, there was less scope for news outlets to take a soundbite and shape it to fit a certain narrative. Our politicians and public servants were suddenly able to bi-pass the news and speak directly to audiences/voters. And we lapped it up! I’ve got some great friends and colleagues from all over the world as a result of the work I do, and while they were moving on with their lives post-Covid (albeit with a much higher death rate than ours), we were still obsessing over numbers and flattened curves and QR Codes. And this was reflected back in the news coverage—all we heard about was Covid. 

There were a number of humanitarian emergencies happening around the world while we devoured Covid content— tropical cyclones battering our closest neighbours in the Pacific, a sharp increase in violence in Northern Yemen, and the sudden conflict in the Tigray region in Ethiopia. Yet headlines of these crises struggled to make their way to the front page, at least long enough to garner the sort of financial support they needed. 

Last year, I took a contract with a UN agency in Afghanistan. My first day coincided with the day Kabul fell to the Taliban, which, if you’ll remember, gained a huge amount of media attention. It was busy and stressful but also very exciting. I was briefing journalists from all over the world and helping arrange their visits to our response sites across Afghanistan. It was so rewarding to be helping people around the world understand how dire things were for Afghan people, particularly women and girls. I thought that finally we were reverting to a time where there was some interest in things that didn’t directly affect us. But then, the global interest stopped as quickly as it had begun. 

And then Russia invaded Ukraine. Again, I thought it was great to see the public outcry and responses to the heartbreaking vision of people fleeing that was broadcast around the world. But it soon became very clear to me that this extended coverage was a result of two angles, which I found troubling. 

The first was that a lot of the coverage was blatantly racist. As reporters described the Ukrainians fleeing as “Europeans with blonde hair and blue eyes”, and “prosperous middle-class people”, and even “relatively civilised and relatively European”, audiences in countries like Australia were forced to immediately make a comparison with the other refugee crises of people who didn’t necessarily look the same way that they did.”

Tim’s story from 2020 here

42. Liam

“In regards to what I have learnt and what has changed over the past couple of years since the interview catch up, I have increased more of my time into my business, NGNY, and have been able to empower the team at Indigitek to really forge ahead on taking action to progress further towards our vision of creating more STEM learning and career pathways, and ultimately contributing toward greater and/or further reaching opportunities for Indigenous self-determination.

In my journey over the past two years I have further connected with my culture and my identity and have spent more time on Country (my traditional lands) to hear the stories of my people from my elders and family. Connecting more with my identity, family and Country has provided the grounding I have needed to persevere through the tough times experienced by us all in 2020 and 2021.”

Liam’s story from 2019 here

41. Amy

“In March 2020, I returned to work at the Royal Melbourne hospital from parental leave. On the same day, the Victorian government declared a “ state of emergency” due to COVID. Things at work have not been the same since!

COVID has significantly changed the way we have delivered social work services and support to families and patients in a hospital setting. Visiting restrictions imposed by the government (although necessary) have been distressing for patients and their loved ones. There were periods when the hospital was not permitting any visitors unless a bereavement was anticipated. Consequently, people were unable to visit their loved ones after traumatic incidents – car accidents, strokes etc. I found this greatly affected individuals comprehension of what had occurred and/or the severity of injuries because they were unable to visualise their family member. Staff try to facilitate video calls as much as possible but unfortunately, it is just not the same.

In regards to bereavement, there have been strict restrictions on who can be present to say to say goodbye. Only immediate family can be present which is challenging because the definition of “family” is different to everyone. Patients who have died from COVID have not been able to have any family present and, people have had to say goodbye through the glass.  I think it’s important to note that health care workers have also found this really challenging, as we are aware this is not best practice or how we wish to support patients and families.

Whilst I personally found the Victorian lockdowns challenging at certain times, it fails to compare to the trauma and distress faced by the people who have had hospital admissions in the last two years.

Amy’s story from 2019 here

39. Rohan

“It is hard to believe how much has changed over the past couple of years. 

Previously we held a (false) belief that all founders that we supported needed to be based in Melbourne but moving everything online wasn’t nearly as challenging as we had assumed and now we have companies participating from all over the world – from Melbourne to Brisbane, Singapore to Costa Rica and more. 

I think there are probably two key things that we’ve learned through the pandemic: 1) flexibility is paramount and people don’t just want it now, they expect it and 2) nobody has had a good couple of years – everyone has had challenges to overcome we should keep that in mind”.

Rohan’s story from 2019 here

34. Erica

“After four years at One Girl, I decided it was time for a new challenge. After years working in the NGO sector, I decided to see if I could make an impact creating change in the private sector. With this in mind, I started working as a gender inclusion consultant. Over the past year, I have led projects in clean energy and climate smart agriculture, supporting SMEs, government, UN agencies and investors to increase gender inclusion and diversity across their value chain, market and workforce.

Simultaneously, I also moved to Mexico (yes, in the middle of a pandemic), in the most romantic move of my life. My new life and eco-queen partner inspired me to now launch a business in the small town where we live. Called – Pahua, the first zero-waste restaurant in Mexico, based on a circular economy and creating meaningful connection between the consumer and producer. Focusing on indigenous and women-led local producers, we hope to shake up the way we think about and ‘do’ food.

We’re opening in April and I can’t wait for this next adventure. I’m scared, but mostly damn excited about the unknown and feeling privileged to have united so many of my passions as well as unite with someone so aligned.”

Erica’s story from 2018 here.

33. Jordi

“Since the interview I’ve moved back to Melbourne and have been working on Oxfam’s projects in the Pacific travelling to Solomon Islands just before the lockdowns began in 2020.

We ended our interview talking about how globalisation has made our world smaller and more connected, and I feel that the outbreak of the pandemic has brought home the reality of our interconnectedness in ways we did not imagine. For the communities we are working with, the pandemic has led to a sharp increase in poverty. For example, in Solomon Islands many families we work with have been forced to reduce the amount of food they eat. In fact, globally close to half a billion people have been plunged into poverty by the pandemic.

Pandemics dramatically impact the course of history, changing the political landscape, changing behaviours and exposing inequalities and injustice. My hope is that it holds up a mirror to society forcing us to reflect on the direction we want to head and especially on the way we interact with each other and our environment.”

Jordi’s story from 2018 here

32. Peter

“Wow….how much has changed since that breakfast in 2018!?  I’ve had some periods in my life personally and professionally where I have experienced a lot of change and the last couple of years are right up there. 

So what have I been up to and what have I learnt along the way? In no particular order: I took up running on trails in the bush and since 2019 I have completed three trail runs of 50k or more.  Soon, I will take on the biggest challenge so far on the trails with a 100k run in the Blue Mountains.  What I have learnt from that is our greatest victories can come during our toughest times when we are closest to giving up. 

In 2019 I took up learning to become a helicopter pilot and got my licence in early 2021.  I absolutely love the freedom, perspective and feeling of piloting a helicopter.  I am still amazed they allow me to take that thing up on my own. What I have learnt from that is the best time to pursue our dreams is now. If we wait until the time is right, that time might never come.  

CT and I went through what would ultimately be an unsuccessful IVF journey and that was a brutal process where compassion was largely missing, trumped by the commercial pursuits of the providers.  What I learnt from that was 30% of couples will ultimately be successful. Two thirds will not.  It is a horrible, brutal, crushing process with life long implications for the majority who undertake it.

Hands Across the Water has experienced the most difficult time since we started having lost 75% of our income without a change in our expenses overseas.  The cost of running the homes did not change, but our ability to raise money did.  How we have survived is a mystery to me.  We are back to two of us, CT and myself and it has certainly tested my resolve like never before. What I have learnt from this experience is two things.  

1. Hands is largely irrelevant to 99% of The Australian public and our future survival requires change as it is too dependant on too few people.

2. When we think we have no more to give, when we think we can’t go on, when we think the end is near, there is always more to give and more in the tank – useful learning for Trail running as well. 

In 2018 when we caught up, I spent more nights per week, per month and over the year away from home working than at home by 3:1.  The speaking, travelling and working defined me.  From Feb 2020 I didn’t leave the country for over two years, 2018 I did 13 international trips in the year.  I couldn’t have imagined life without the speaking, the income, the travel.  I don’t have to imagine it.  I have lived the last 12 months on my farm, seldom leaving and in the main, couldn’t be happier, more content or at peace with the world.  My learning from that was we don’t necessarily need all we think we do to survive or be happy. Some of the simplest pleasures are already around us, we just haven’t noticed – insert running on the trails up here and seeing no one for hours on end but roos, wallabies and slow moving wombats.”

Peter’s story from 2018 here.

30. Marie- Louise

“Well, we should start with the best news, my boys! Two babies in two years and yes I am crazy. It has been a wild ride to say the least. Noah is two in April and Xavier is four months old. If I’m being honest – it hasn’t been easy. My first year as a mum was very challenging.

I had Noah at the start of the first lockdown and navigating parenthood and a pandemic wasn’t easy. I struggled with my new role. It had so many restrictions, demanded so much of me and kept changing all the time. My life up until that point had been so free and yet I had no idea this was the case until all of my ‘freedoms’ were taken away from me. 

Fast forward to now and our little family is doing great. My partner and I don’t stop all day every day but we we ride the rollercoaster with much more ease. I now know that eventually babies will learn to sleep. That things are constantly changing. That making time for myself is essential and that being a mum is going to be the best, most challenging role I am ever going to have to tackle.”

Marie-Louise’s story from 2017 here

26. Susan

“In 2019, I retired from ESL teaching at AMES and in September that year travelled on a journalist’s visa to Damascus, recording interviews for ‘Beloved Syria’. I interviewed some impressive women, including a war correspondent, a filmmaker, an MP, a secondary school teacher, and the great-granddaughter of a famous freedom fighter.

As for 2020 and the Melbourne Covid lockdowns, for me, that year feels like a gift: I became my mother’s full-time carer and companion and the months we spent together were characterised by simple pleasures and familial love. In early 2021, on her 97th birthday, Mum went into an aged-care home, but she remained the focus of my life until she passed away in January this year.

Now, I am 70 years old, I am going slow, but I still have big dreams, which include writing a book and curating a photo exhibition. It is too early to know where these dreams will take me. In the meantime, I am going to the local library more and watching television a lot less, and that must be good.”

Susan’s story from 2017 here

25. Kelly

“I think if I’ve learned anything over the last four or five years as its turned out, it’s that a simple life can be very rewarding and fulfilling while preparing you for moments like COVID-19 and its variants. I was already, to a certain extent interested in my immediate community and exploring Melbourne itself given I still haven’t invested in a vehicle.  COVID has taught us that we can rely on our neighbours, that we should have gotten to know them all along where we haven’t and that we’re far more resilient than we initially thought.

The challenge that remains is, how do we take what we’ve gleaned since March 2020 and use this to our advantage, bolstering our response to the environmental and climate crisis we’re headed for and simplifying our lives in such a way that we’re more content and satisfied then we ever thought possible?!”

Kelly’s story from 2017 here

23. Jenna

“Life is always full of new and sometimes unexpected adventures and since 2017 I have been gifted many lessons. Here are the ones that stand out the most for me:

  • Never waste a minute: the time we have both with one another and for ourselves to live our best life is precious, unknown and will never be exactly the same, one day to the next. 
  • Generosity creates more generosity: giving and sharing what you have creates space for others to give, not always in a linear progression, but makes space for giving back as well as paying it forward
  • Letting go of fear: is deeply liberating, unsettling and one of the wisest things I have done. 
  • Women supporting women: is how we create change in leadership and build in more equity for all women and girls. 

Like most people, since we sat down and I shared my thoughts with you in 2017, there have been many highlights and some challenging times to surpass. Along with the rest of Melbourne, I have been on a rollercoaster adjusting to life in lockdown and living with COVID. I am so fortunate to have had a job that gave me a great sense of purpose during lockdown, working in Aboriginal health and a home full of people and laughter, with three foster kids living with me for 15 months and many more visiting for short stays since. After completing the Trawalla Foundation and Melbourne Uni’s Pathways to Politics program, I successfully campaigned for Local Council and became Deputy Mayor in 2021, a role I love and feel very privileged to hold. I also experienced the loss of my father and grandmother – a love that can’t be replaced and will forever be in my heart. 

The future still looks bright despite the challenges we have all faced. I hope the lessons and positive things we learnt during lockdown, being more connected and living locally, stay with us and guide our next steps as a community. Reflecting on this incredible project, 50 faces, I am in awe of the people around me and what is being achieved every day. There is so much to celebrate, to look forward to and to enjoy.”

Jenna’s story from 2017 here

22. Troy

“The past few years have been strange, but great overall. When we spoke in Brooklyn I was on a trip to expand my space network, which laid the foundations for Moonshot. Since then we’ve run space tech programs in cities across the globe, built and launched a novel investment fund for space tech where our 60+ mentors are the investors and first believers in the ambitious startups we’re helping – investing $800k so far (today worth $10.3 million) into ten space startups, collectively worth $143 million together.

It’s been a wild ride and a massively tough grind, especially with lockdowns, as we struggled to find a sustainable business model to keep running and growing it all. But I think we’re finally there, our team is growing and so are our resources to continue to compound the success of the ecosystem we’re connecting and driving.  

I’ve moved from Melbourne to Sydney too, which has been great. Melbourne was great and will always feel like home, but I love living just a few minutes walk from the harbour. I’ve also started a new company – which is very, very exciting – but you’ll have to stay tuned for the public launch soon. It’s huge!”

Troy’s story from 2017 here

21. Emily

“I don’t think I want to believe that almost five years have passed since this interview occurred! It doesn’t quite feel like enough has happened in my life to warrant that number of years but, then again, I definitely feel like I’ve grown a lot since then.

In terms of my drumming business, the biggest challenge I’ve faced has been my own inner critic and ease of finding excuses. While I was very inspired back then, that never quite equated to the ability to step forth, driven with the skills to make it a full time pursuit. While I ran a number of workshops over the couple of years leading up to it, the pandemic was, on some level, a welcome excuse to put this project aside for a little while. I guess this is why it’s called a “comfort zone” as it can be too darn comfy. As time went on though I felt a nagging in my core that something was missing – and I had a lot of time to think having lost my work as a tour guide. In a world where we were isolated from each other, I would daydream about the beauty and power of being able to sit with people and make music- in the same room, together.

I was so lucky after about nine months of no work to get a job at a beautiful disability day service on the Mornington Peninsula where I was given a music program to run. Just like that, I was back with my drums, with people, sharing joy. I felt that spark once again and was driven to follow this dream. Once the world opened up, I was ready again to share the passion and celebrate the beauty of community. A few people asked me over the pandemic if i would consider running online drumming classes, but for me, it’s not just about teaching people to drum. It truly is about sharing the space with people, being able step outside of yourself for a short while and be in union through rhythm. In a world that is chaotic with so many mixed messages, finding that hypnotic beat and rising above it all has never been more needed and appreciated. I have been getting more and more enquiries since saying yes to the vision. I think this comes from finally, with conviction, having said yes to my self.”

Emily’s story from 2017 here

15. Nicola

“I’m sitting amongst boxes and boxes of all my things – having just moved house over the weekend. It always feels a bit like a new beginning making a home in a new space, but it’s also an opportunity to revisit old lives through all the physical items you keep, often tucked away and forgotten about. My beaten up and charred billycan, drafts of my PhD, scraps of paper with drawings of Western Arrarnta Country from my old students from Ntaria School.

It seems fitting to think about how much has changed since I last sat down and spoke to Sian  – and what an honour it was to be included in the 50 Faces project. I’ve loved reading so many of the entries and following along as the series has grown. It feels a bit cringe to read back over – but also nice to remember to try and remain humble and careful about the narrative we craft about ourselves.

Five years on, I’m so proud that I’ve completed my PhD. The experience of spending time on Western Arrarnta Country and learning from Ntaira students has totally changed my life, and how I engage as a teacher and a designer. This project has been the catalyst for my future research projects, and I’m now in such a privileged position working as a communication design lecturer at RMIT, that I have the time and space to continue working on the things that I care about and enables me to work with and learn from some amazing First Nations creatives.

Over the last few years I have been working alongside Emrhan Tjapanangka Sultan and Jeremy Wortsman to develop a First Nations led illustration agency, supported by the Jacky Winter Group. The catalyst really came from working with an amazingly talented bunch of creatives in Ntaria, but then finding culturally safe and supported pathways into the creative and commercial art industries was lacking. We hope this agency can improve the participation and representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander creatives within design and commercial art industries, and for them to lead this engagement on their own terms. I’m so excited to launch this project later in the year, and to continue collaborating with First Nations creatives and communities, design businesses and industry bodies to create a much more diverse and inclusive design landscape in Australia.”

Nicola’s story from 2017 here

12. Miranda

“Wow – hard to believe 4 years have whizzed by since our first chat. I must have been pregnant at the time. Our high-spirited, full-hearted little girl is now four! She lights us up every day.

We’ve continued to build our business and ride out the last two years through the pandemic, “pivoting” like everyone else and constantly re-shaping and evolving what we do and how we do it. I’ve brought some gorgeous Women’s Circles into my offerings which provide such a sacred and safe space for women to be heard, seen and understood and nurture themselves. It’s an honour to hold space for them all.

I’m about to launch three new coaching programs for women that will support them through their fertility journey, motherhood and in the relationship they have with both themselves and others.

I feel like 2022 is full of hope and possibility for more of the things that light us up and to grow and transform further. And maybe, just maybe I will find my butt again on a bike seat in Thailand in January 2023 doing what we love- raising some much needed money for the beautiful children in the homes we support through Hands Across The Water. The seed has been planted in my mind… now to shake off some Covid kilos and train!”

Miranda’s story from 2017 here.

9. Aleksei

“Since we last spoke, Co-Ground has been fortunate enough to adapt and grow through these very challenging times – thanks to a super dedicated team of staff, volunteers, the leadership group and supporting partners.

In addition to the international community-led programs that include water access, school infrastructure, fish farming and small business development, health and sanitation projects, Co-Ground also focused their efforts locally. The team devised an emergency food relief delivery program for people facing financial hardship, delivering over 11,000 fresh meals between August and December 2021. The business has also grown to a fleet of coffee carts and a dedicated van being able to service numerous events both large and intimate. This now includes a mobile bar service for the opportunity to grow Co-Ground’s event offering which is very exciting. Co-Ground is also launching several permanent social enterprise cafes and coffee carts in metro-Melbourne with a focus on training and employment opportunities for Indigenous and marginalised young people.

As restrictions start to ease, 2022 is shaping up to be an exciting year for the Co-Ground team. If you’re heading to ‘The Point Live’ Portsea music festival in March, be sure to look out for the Co-Ground team as they will be running the festival bar and grab a drink – as a portion of the proceeds support Co-Ground projects.”

Aleksei’s story from 2017 here

2. Lydia

“The biggest thing that has happened to me since our interview is becoming a parent. My daughter was born in June 2021. As a psychologist, I thought I might know more than average about what the transition might be like – but I was wrong. It has been a huge adventure, both humbling and transformative.

The experience of giving birth, and becoming a mum, has made me think about the power of transitions. We all go through transitions in life: the transition to adulthood (adolescence), becoming a parent, and for women, menopause.

The pandemic has been a massive transition for us all, forcing us to reshape almost every part of our lives. Transitions shake us out of what is known, shake us out of our routine, and they are usually uncomfortable. But I think transitions are also super powerful – you have to be brave enough to let go of what you know, to embrace the unknown, something new.

So, inspired by the transition of becoming a parent, and perhaps the transition of COVID, I am now starting some research work looking at transitions in women’s lives. I am exploring how we can better empower women, and men, to navigate transitions. Currently, my research focuses on the transition of menopause.”

Lydia’s story from 2016 here.

1. Will

“The last few years have been a roller coaster. MYI came to an end as we weren’t able to make the transition to the NDIS (which explicitly won’t fund anything delivered by volunteers). I’ve got a two year old daughter, and a son due in May which has reorganised everything in my life! I’m running a small psychology practice which has to fit in around being a stay-at-home dad, and I’m loving it. I’m also working my way through a PhD at Melbourne Uni, researching the individual psychological underpinnings of Social Role Valorisation, one of the major theories in disability. I’m trying to better understand the human need to be valued by others, and if that differs for people with intellectual disabilities.

During this time, I’ve learnt that it’s hard to do good, and harder to maintain indefinitely, so it’s important to appreciate what you’re able to do here and now and not just focus on the “big picture.” I’ve also learnt that organisations working with government are making a kind of ‘deal with the devil’. They give up the right to be fearlessly critical or independent in order to do whatever good they can. This inevitably corrupts them to some degree, and enables the government to maintain power and reinforce the status quo. Organisations that are trying to do good themselves aren’t immune to the alienating effect of de-individuation. Moral responsibility can only be taken by individuals- groups, incorporations, governments, the ‘system’: these kinds of agents are all effectively psychopaths, operating without a conscience.

Finally, I’ve come to realise that on the one hand it’s ok to let things end but on the other hand, very little good can happen if you don’t give it your all. But most importantly, I’ve learnt that the kind of love you can have for all of humanity is in tension with the kind of love you can have for an individual. One always exists at the expense of the other. At a certain point you have to choose between them, and there is only one right answer.”

Will’s story from 2016 here.