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The Changemakers Festival is over for 2013. After 155 events in every state and territory attended by more than 5,000 people, and after personally attending 14 of those events, it’s time to step back and appreciate what just happened.

We are so grateful for the participation of so many organisations and individuals around the country. Events were hosted by corporations, universities, social enterprises, non-profits, community groups and individuals. They ranged from pitch competitions to participatory workshops, film screenings to panels, major conferences to yoga and mindfulness courses. Deloitte hosted social enterprise pitch nights in all 11 of their offices around Australia, the most of any organisation. Hub Sydney hosted 12 events, the most of any venue.

Online events included Google+ Hangouts, twitter chats and webinars. Progress conference brought together 600 changemakers in Melbourne’s Town Hall and the Transitions Film Festival premiered a program of social change films in Adelaide. #4Good Brekky meetups happened in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Byron Bay early in the morning and the Green Drinks meetups happened in Sydney and Brisbane in the evenings. Opening Night events were held in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Alice Springs with 500 people turning up.
We estimate 5,000 people attended a Changemakers Festival event in total. Thank you all for turning up and being part of this conversation. Your voice is important.

Thank you also to our sponsors who backed us in this first year as a national distributed festival and allowed us to make it happen. Organisational sponsor The Australian Centre for Social Innovation has been an incredible home for the Changemakers Festival. Principal sponsor Deloitte threw themselves into the Festival. Supporting Sponsors were the Macquarie Foundation, ING Direct, Good Design, The Government of South Australia, The Steve Lawrence Innovation Fund, IN Daily and StartSomeGood. Thank you all for your vision and your support.

On a personal level thank you to TACSI for embracing this idea and inviting me to help make it real. Thank you to the amazingly talented team I worked with, who all did so much with such limited time and resources. Carolyn, Elise, Ryan, Christian and Natasha, it’s been such a pleasure to work with and get you to know you all better.

I was lucky enough to get to 13 great events during the ten days, 7 in Sydney, 5 in Melbourne and 1 online. They included Yoga for Change and the #4Good Brekky meet-up early a couple of morning, Deloitte-hosted social enterprise pitch events in Sydney and Melbourne, the FWD and Progress conferences and Unleashed Summit at the Opera House. I presented the youth-led organisation of the year at the Unleashed Awards which was a great honour. And to wrap the whole thing up StartSomeGood and Think|Act|Change threw the closing night party at Button Bar. Despite my fears that the awful weather would kill our attendance heaps of great people came out and it was a lot of fun. As had been the trend all week I met interesting, passionate, inspiring people.

It has genuinely been one of the great weeks of my life. I met so many great people and heard so many great ideas and stories. And this is what it’s all about. It’s about coming together and sharing our unique perspectives. It’s about learning from one another and supporting one another to make a difference.

This is just the beginning. I’m super-excited to build on this platform and take the festival to a completely new level in 2014. I hope you’ll be part of it!

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Bubble - zzub nik on flickr
I’ll never forgot the republic referendum held in Australia in 1999.

The polls had looked bad in the weeks leading up to the vote, with the combination of those genuinely in favour of us continuing to be a constitutional monarchy and those unwilling to vote in favour of the specific republican model on offer holding a modest but firm majority but I never lost my optimism. It just seemed too ridiculous that we’d turn down the chance to take the final step of legal independence from Britain. Yes, it’s symbolic, but that’s precisely why it was an important step. And as the day arrived the polls were tightening right on cue.

The day of the vote was sunny in Sydney and I had a great time handing out how to vote cards for the Yes campaign. At the time I lived in an electorate that generally voted conservative, being older and wealthier than the average, but it felt clear that the majority were voting the way I wanted that day. The energy from those taking out how to vote cards was very positive and they clearly outnumbered those taking the cards from the No campaigners. We’ve got this! I thought.

I was at a party when the results came in. It was relatively early in the evening when the outcome became clear. It wasn’t even that close. We’d lost, 55 to 45, and didn’t carry a single state.

I was stunned. Mortified. Outraged. I couldn’t understand how this could have happened. Almost everyone I knew was voting Yes. My family, my friends. Even in the moderately conservative seat of North Sydney the vote had clearly favoured us. How had we lost? How could the rest of Australia have made this appalling error? The emotional hit was worse than anything I’ve experienced after an election. I was confused, angry and sad.

And I wasn’t the only one. The mood of the party went sour quickly. Someone admitted to voting No and was set upon (verbally) by a couple of people. More arguments broke out. I wasn’t even in the mood to drown my sorrows or ramble philosophically and so left.
It turns out that North Sydney was something like the second highest Yes vote in NSW. And my friends and family were nowhere near representative of the feelings of the population overall. I was living inside a bubble, and was disorientated when it burst.

I was reminded of all of this today when I read “Hashtag Feminism” in The Monthly, a review of a recently released collection of feminist writings from the Destroy the Joint organisers called Destroying the Joint: Why Women have to Change the World. The author notes a disjunction between the feeling expressed in the writings that Destroy the Joint had been an establishment-shaking, world-changing movement of real social significance and that fact that she herself had never heard of them before, and nor had anyone she knows.

This is what most of politics is like most of the time. We all exist within our bubbles. There is no neutral ground upon which to stand and assess “mainstream opinion.” Those who claim to speak on its behalf rarely resemble the masses they pretend to be one of.

The reviewer of the Destroy the Joint book felt that “many of the contributions to this book highlight, for me, the insularity of hashtag activism: social media as echo chamber.”

But life is an echo chamber. We live in a particular place, surrounded by other people who live in that place. We interact with others in a particular industry or cultural community. We seek out those who share our interests and values. And, yes, social media reflects these general barriers to infinite understanding which exist in human societies.

As is so often the case the new thing being discussed, in this instance social media, is being pointed to as a reason for our insularity when in fact it merely reflects it. It takes effort to seek out and understand the viewpoints of those unlike us. Few of us do it enough. It’s easier to consume content I mostly agree with or about things I am already interested in.

However  in identifying this shortcoming of social media, and of the Destroy the Joint movement, but really of humans in general, it’s easy to miss the real story here. We’ve always been insulated from the full spectrum of human experience and opinion but before social media our isolation could very well be an entirely individual experience. In so many domains people previously believed that they were “the only ones,” whether it was gay kids in the country or women frustrated with the general level of misogyny in our society or someone obsessed with blues in the suburbs.

Now for whatever it is is you’re into there’s others like you forming communities online. And yes, deep engagement with a community is perspective-skewing, but so too is watching the commercial TV news each night (you might think, for example, that we are suffering from a crime wave or a weak economy).

For those who have become involved in feminist activism as a result of Destroy the Joint I have no doubt the experience has been genuinely world-changing, discovering a community of others who feel strongly about the same issues as them and are prepared to do something about it would be incredible empowering and exciting. Have they won the battle against misogyny in the last nine months? Of course not. But they are active and involved and speaking up and changing lives and inspiring active citizenship and that’s actually pretty awesome.

This is how it works in a democracy. We find others who care about the things we do and we work together to convince others and affect the changes we feel are needed in our community. And social media has given us a powerful new set of tools to do this convincing and connecting, to learn from and to share our experiences and to support and sustain each other in the long-term effort to create a better future.

Image by zzub nik on Flickr made available on a creative commons license.

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Sydney Harbour, the day after we got home.

1,449 days since heading out there I am back again, just ten days short of an even four years away.

It was 1,399 days, or just a day less than 200 weeks, from my arrival in the US to my departure from San Francisco last Sunday. I landed in New York in June 2008 after a near-36 hour day traveling from Bangkok before catching the train to Washington DC, the first of many times I would travel that corridor past the broken factories and over the inlets of the East Coast.

I arrived knowing only a handful of people, unsure of what I would do next or where exactly I would end up. I had only a few weeks to figure things out and secure a job offer which would lead to a visa before K caught up with me, just a few weeks to justify the decision to leave so much behind in Australia and strike out to live my dream of working in the US.

We spent two years in Washington DC, meeting incredible people and having many side adventures and wonderful experiences. I went through significant adaptation pains at Ashoka, learning to work inside a large established non-profit after ten years as an entrepreneur while teaching an old organization new tricks, but relished the opportunity I had as the first social media director of such an influential and groundbreaking organization, pushing myself, constantly learning new things, working with amazing colleagues and experimenting with emerging forms of media and communications. I am really proud of all that was accomplished during that time, including launching and growing Ashoka’s Twitter account to over 600,000 followers, publishing three ebooks, crowdsourcing a promotional video and generally introducing Ashoka’s many departments and country offices to the power and potential social media and how it could help achieve the mission of creating an everyone a changemaker world.

After two years in DC it felt like time to keep moving. We considered New York but decided San Francisco was more our kinda town, a decision we never doubted once we got there. Over two years in the Bay I worked with a number of non-profits to connect their missions with social technologies before launching social good crowdfunding start-up StartSomeGood with my friend Alex Budak who I met at Ashoka, which I’ll be continuing to work on from Australia.

We loved San Francisco: the people, the culture, the environment. San Francisco combines the most ambitious people on earth with the most relaxed in a unique, harmonious ying/yang. We got out into the countryside at every opportunity, exploring the hills of Marin and the wineries of the Russian River, staying in Paso Robles, Yosemite and Big Basin Redwoods Forest, driving Highway 1 and hiking Mt Tam. We made and deepened some great friendships, meeting some incredible entrepreneurs, creatives, visionaries and festivalists. We adored our part of the city, the Mission District, which reminded us so much of Newtown, where we had lived in Sydney.

And now, somewhat astonishingly, this chapter is over and I’m left trying to make sense of it all.

Over the past four years I got married and got my scuba diving license, jumped out of a plane and learned to drive a car, founded a Burning Man theme camp and visited 11 countries, worked for someone else for the first time in eight years and founded a new company, drove across America and bought my first road bike, was granted four different visas and denied re-entry once. I visited 20 American states and wish I’d made it to more (namely: Utah, South Dakota and Louisiana). K made it to 30 over the course of selling her families wine.

We had, to sum it up, a really good time. But not without its challenges and set-backs, its moments of frustration, fear and doubt. Such is the rich tapestry of life.

Homecoming is always an emotionally-complicated experience. I’m excited to explore Sydney and can’t wait to spend time with my old friends, while at the same time being sad to leave San Francisco and missing my friends back there. Everything is so familiar but at the same time different. I’m obviously older and I hope I’m a little wiser as a result of all these experiences. The relationships I formed will stay with me and I’m so grateful for them. The ideas I’ve been exposed to and inspiration I have gained will inform whatever happens next. Now I want to contribute to the burgeoning social innovation scene in Sydney and while continuing to grow a global community of social entrepreneurs on StartSomeGood.

K and I brought something else back with us as well, our first child-to-be, due in August. We never contemplated for a moment taking this next step in our relationships and our lives anywhere other than Sydney, with universal healthcare and our families and friends here to support us.

And so on to the next stage. While this particular chapter is over the adventure continues always. Onwards and upwards!

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Somehow my trip home for a couple of weddings has turned into a mini national speaking tour thanks to the support of The Australian Centre for Social Innovation. It’s a lot of running around but a fantastic opportunity to spread the word about crowdfunding and StartSomeGood, catch up with old friends and meet many new changemakers. I’m excited and grateful for the interest and enthusiasm.

I hope I might get to see many of you at one of these happenings:

Sydney: Monday, April 11 –  6PM, at the Vibewire Enterprise Hub.  Hosted by The School for Social Entrepreneurs and Vibewire in celebration of Vibewire’s 10th birthday. This one’s really special for me, hard to believe it was over a decade ago that a few friends and I naively incorporated Vibewire and embarked on a great adventure.  RSVP here.

Melbourne: Wednesday, April 13 –  6:30PM at The Hub Melbourne.  Hosted by The School for Social Entrepreneurs and The Australian Centre for Social Innovation: “Crowdfunding for Good: A panel discussion with StartSomeGood, Pozible and the Awesome Foundation.”  RSVP here although the event has sold out. It’s free tickets though and you know how those things go: some people won’t show up. So if you’re keen I would still rock up and try to get in. I’m also meeting friends for drinks and pizza afterwards at a pub nearby, message me if you want the details.

Adelaide: Thursday, April 14 – Adelaide, 5:15PM at.  Hosted by The Australian Centre for Social Innovation: “Adelaide Social Entrepreneurship Meetup with StartSomeGood.”  RSVP here.

All events have a social change/entrepreneurship/crowdfunding focus but the Vibewire birthday event will be the most wide-ranging, a chance for me to reflect on what we did and didn’t accomplish during my time at Vibewire, to share some of what I’ve learned in fifteen years of organizing and outline what I see as the big challenges in need of champions now.

In Melbourne I’m very excited to appear alongside founders of two organizations I greatly admire: Pozible (Australian creative crowdfunding innovator) and the Awesome Foundation Melbourne (a member of the wonderful and growing Awesome Foundation movement). Looking really forward to hearing their stories and perspectives and to together exploring the opportunities and challenges of creating new funding mechanisms for innovators.

My only regret is I didn’t manage to fit Brisbane into the schedule. Next time Brisvegans!

Monday, April 11 – Sydney, 6PM.  Hosted by School for Social Entreprneurs.  ”SSE Fellows and Vibewire 10th Birthday Celebration.”  More details here. 

Wednesday, April 13 – Melbourne, 6:30PM.  Hosted by The Australian Centre for Social Innovation: “Crowdfunding for Good: A panel discussion with StartSomeGood, Pozible and the Awesome Foundation.”  More details here.

Thursday, April 14 – Adelaide, 5:15PM.  Hosted by The Australian Centre for SOcial Innovation: “Adelaide Social Entrepreneurship Meetup with StartSomeGood.”  More details here.

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Today is Blog Action Day. This year’s theme is water.

Australia is the place which is being hit hardest, first, by climate change. It is the canary in the coal mine. Parts of Southern Australia have been in drought for 12 years, a drought without historical equivalent. At what point do we stop calling it a drought and just accept that the climate has simply changed? Tim Flannery has predicted that Perth, Western Australia, my home town (ish – Fremantle really), could “become the world’s first ghost metropolis, its population forced to abandon the city due to lack of water.”

As a result of this however, awareness of water conservation is growing and becoming second-nature in most of Australia. For a number of years now in Melbourne each suburb is assigned certain days of the week they can water their garden. If you want to water it on other days you must use water you have collected in the house. Visiting friends in Melbourne now it’s common for them to ask us to collect our shower water in buckets, to use on the garden later. People wash their cars over the lawn. Gardens are being re-planted with drought-resistant native plants.

Dual-flush toilets are ubiquitous in Australia (seriously Americans, what’s the deal with the lack of dual-flush toilets here? They were invented in 1980 and use 67% less water) and waterless urinals are being installed in many office buildings. People make a conscious effort to use less water and there’s a growing acceptance that soon we will be recycling sewage into drinking water.

And this how it should be. Australia is a nation build atop the oldest, driest, most fragile continent on earth. Both waves of human migration to Australia altered the land indelibly. In the second wave starting in 1788 Australia was settled by a people who feared this alien landscape and fought to dominate it, to make it as close to home as possible. For 222 years we have cut down the forests, farmed the plains, irrigated the deserts, bred hard-hoofed animals, so ill-suited to the Australian environment, by the millions and reveled in our status as the world’s greatest exporter of carbon.

Australia’s first people’s found a balance with the world they re-made, a balance that preserved through 60,000 years and covered some of the harshest and most difficult to inhabit places on earth. This is the world’s oldest culture, a culture that has adapted to the unique environments of Australian, learned to read and understand its patterns, utilize its flora and fauna, adapt to its demands.

We are a people who do not adapt, we force the earth to change to suit our tastes. But we are reaching the limits of this ignorance as the world shifts in dangerous and unpredictable ways and we find the most basic resource needed for our survival, water, threatened. Australia’s changing climate is forcing us to adapt to our continent, to figure out how to make do with the resources we have and protect the habitat we have left. If we are to survive on this incredible continent we have a lot of catching up to do and so much to learn.

It begins with water.

Photo by BouncedPhoton on flickr.

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