John help build a successful start-up from scratch and supported two other startups, and apart from advising on strategy as Chief Information Officer, he has also been involved in many social projects, these are just examples (makes me wonder what am I doing with my life?):
These are just examples of his work:
1. Why have you started to run social projects? What motivates and inspires you?
When we migrated to Australia in the early 70’s, we came with nothing, well, two small carry bags. Although I was too young to remember, my parents tell me the support group we had was tremendous. My father had a job the very next day, accommodation, furniture, food and some clothing was all arranged. You can imagine this made the transition from one country and culture to another much easier.
Over the years my parents have in-tern helped other migrants to adjust and settle in Australia. No doubt the actions of those people inspired my parents which in turn influenced me.
In addition, I have been thankful to marry an extremely giving person. I think I’m naturally selfish, but her acts of generosity towards others has over the years soaked into my bones.
2. Among many projects you have been involved in, is an orphanage in Cambodia – could you please share what lead you to connect to this particular venture?
Three things inspired me to connect and support this project.
1. Simply because I felt there was a need for a solution to a problem.
I guess this one caught my eye and tugged on my heart strings!
2. Involving young people from Australia to inspire their lives, let them experience how the 3rd world lives.
Out of the fifteen who went, two young boys stand out in my memory. Unable to find work after finishing high school, they lost motivation spending most of the days watching TV and playing video games. But after returning from Cambodia, they enrolled in university, graduated, and now have professional careers. They both point to this trip as the turning point in their lives. These boys are now involved in social projects of their own.
3. Reseting my altruistic perspective after a period of materialistic apathy.
I had taken a break from service projects after the birth of our first son. What I didn't anticipate, was how quickly disconnected and somewhat apathetic I had become towards everything except our family. I felt a reset was needed and the Cambodia project was the button.
3. What were the challenges of working a project abroad?
Local law and culture takes some time to get your head around. Bribes and paying a little extra to officials may be necessary. Once you get it, its SLOW steam ahead!
Most of the locals in 3rd world countries come across as lazy and indifferent to “your” way of thinking. You have to accept the slow pace they live and work by. Their drive is not to build and develop, it is simply to survive. You are not a priority, their family is.
Quality of materials is another challenge. As an example, the same brick supplier may deliver a good solid batch of bricks one day, but a batch that crumbles in your hands the next. This can be frustrating especially if the project has a dead-line.
The dynamics of the team is another challenge. One bad apple on the team can ruin the experience for every one else. Its hard enough being in a foreign country with strange customs, food no one likes, water you cant drink, heat, humidity and sometime lots of bugs. Oh, and did I mention toilets?
4. How the local community responded to your work, are you still in touch with them?
Its not just about the work. its about building relationships, and you cant help but build long lasting relationships with this philosophy. People who just go and do ‘the work’ really miss out. Its the personal connections that define the project.
Months or years after a project is over, I especially enjoy reading reports on the progress of the kids at the orphanage, work life, marriage etc. All in all, every project can result in great memories, new friends, some tropical diseases and emotional, long goodbyes.
5. What are your thoughts on sustainability of the social projects, especially when run in foreign countries?
As long as there is a strong support base that has an investment in the project, and no objections from the locals, the project should be sustainable. Obviously a hundred other things can go wrong, but these are the basics.
The Cambodia project, as an example, is still up and running with the group expanding to other third world countries as the money and support continue.
6. You have also run a community youth club in Australia – how did it start and what exactly does it provide?
Im not sure how it happened, but in my early 20’s I felt a need to do something for the young kids in our community. There was this burning passion to work with this 10-18 age group, probably because I had some challenges growing up, but had luckily come through with only a few scars.
It was a community youth club that reached to about 40-50 youth and had about 15 staff. Programs included life coaching and life skills, leadership coaching, relationship building, community involvement and environment survival skills. We had several camps each year and joined other clubs and groups with a similar approach. We ran special courses for kids to learn a skill, both outdoor and indoor. Think scouts but with a strong emphasis on life skills, relationships, the environment, and a strong spiritual element.
7. What helped you most when developing this youth club – volunteers, donations, … ?
It was run out of a local Seventh-Day-Adventist church which has traditionally a strong youth program world wide. Volunteer support, legals, insurance, fundraising was appreciated from an established base. It was a powerful testament to how many parents from the church supported the group and trusted us “young 20 something leaders” to take their precious children on trips, some during the dead of winter… If only they knew! We started with eight kids and ended up with about fifty. Although it was hard work with long hours, the memories and great times we had are engrained forever.
8. What in your view can we do to help social entrepreneurs or how can we encourage people around us to become one?
Passion is one thing, the know how, is another… You need both!
Where do you go if you’re passionate about a social issue but have no idea what you're doing.
How do you run a team, understand local laws, customs, etc.. and the big question.. money!
So I imagine a place that people in the community that have an interest in social entrepreneurship can go to, get the information, training, and finally support in the various endeavours. This can be a local church, council or government body, an already establish community centre, or a dedicated organisation to social entrepreneurship! Without a support base, your climbing a very difficult, although not impossible, mountain. However, if people know they'll get support, more will want to get involved.
9. What are your plans for 2014 in terms of social projects?
Apart from the usual small projects I'm already involved with, this year is a transition year for our family and somewhat of a break after almost 25 years of community work. I’ll be concentrating on writing and studying and hopefully move to a new career. But who knows what’s around the corner.
10. Is there anything you would like to add?
It’s been shown that as people become wealthier, they become naturally apathetic and disconnected to the poor. They feel they are entitled to their privileged financial position and as a result can become arrogant, proud, abrupt, insensitive, deceptive, unethical and are more likely to break the law. However, when these same people are given a clear picture of what ‘they’ can do to help a local project.. many of them come through. If we can find that individual ‘reset’ button, then many more people will support social projects and social entrepreneurs, they may even become one.