Executive Director’s Report (expanded version) Presented at: Project Australia’s Annual General Meeting, Thursday, September 26th, 2007 By Donnie Maclurcan It has been an amazing 12 months since nearly 100 young people met last December in small groups around Australia to discuss the trajectory of this country’s future, what they wanted to do about changing it and how they envisaged Project Australia (PA) might play a role in that change. This report seeks to outline four areas relating to PA’s development and progress forward. It commences by introducing the background to PA’s establishment in light of a number of perceived needs. It then looks at some of PA’s early developments and key decisions that have been made. It then moves to a brief overview of achievements, before concluding by ‘looking forward’ and outlining some of the expectations held for PA’s future. The background and perceived need for Project Australia Project Australia arose largely as a result of a perceived trend towards greater individualism in this country. My interactions with younger people around Australia highlighted the existence of a common vision that was being weakened by a ‘social disconnect’. This was translating into the pursuit of disparate efforts by people who would most logically be linked in their work. These projects and efforts seemed to build around fundamental problems facing Australia. In the introductory paper I posted to potential participants for our inaugural national night of discussions, I listed a number of fundamental concerns, described in the following manner: “…why in a country with top class scientists, an abundance of resources and land, plenty of sunshine and opportunities to engage in sport, more than one million individuals participating in Bridge Walks for Reconciliation, mandates to promote multiculturalism, and one of the world's largest gay and lesbian festivals, do we have: • • • • • • • • •
The highest level of greenhouse gas emissions in the industrialized world; The majority of the over 18 population are overweight or obese; One of the highest global levels of youth suicide for males aged 15-24; Life expectancy for indigenous Australian males and females is 21 and 19 years respectively below the national average, respectively; The poorest 20% of people owning less than 1% of the countries wealth; One hundred thousand ‘homeless’ individuals (36% under the age of 18); Laws allowing individuals who have not been charged or found guilty of any criminal offence to be placed under house arrest for 12 months; Indefinite, mandatory detention for people arriving by boat, seeing asylum; and Eighty-five percent of gay males or lesbians experiencing abuse, harassment or violence in their lifetimes.”
The early discussions with people Australia-wide, as well as extensive research into efforts underway, led to a belief that governments and big business have certain limitations, and that communities must ‘get on with the job’. The belief was that, to respond, Australia needed: 1.
Fresh perspectives and hope, particularly driven by young people;
2. A combination of online and face-to-face means of ‘connecting’ that result in real action; and 3. A simple, coordinated way to discover and support the great work underway, as well as an easy, efficient way to start new projects. Rather than another ‘umbrella’ organization or peak body, there appeared more of a need for a network that could act as the ‘glue’, drawing together much of the great work underway and providing a space and support for new projects to develop. Such a network was seen as needing to be secular and not linked to any political party. Early developments and key decisions Around 100 people attended our initial national night of discussion in December 2006. Considering the crucial ‘organic’ nature of PA as a network, three proposals were put to these groups, asking them where they would like PA to progress and what they would like it to become. The response gave us a grassroots mandate to proceed. Usually start-ups start small. Project Australia quickly progressed to a formal, voluntary staff of 43, with no budget and no business plan. We were grateful for early funding from Ivan Wheen and James Smith. An Executive and team were assembled in seven, naturally evolving divisions: Web, Administration, Marketing and Communications, Write-ups, Meet-ups, Match-ups and International Programs. The following 12 areas were selected as a basis for PA’s work, based on early participant feedback:
Environment and Sustainability Health and Well-being Indigenous Issues Human Rights and Social Justice Culture and Creativity Education and Critical Thinking Employment and Oppportunity Community and Social Services Democracy and Civil Society Media and Social Enquiry Youth Issues and Empowerment Technology and Society
Rather than a single word used to describe each topic, a second word (or words) was chosen as a statement; to partly reinforce PA’s vision for a brighter Australian future in the 12 selected areas. Ensuring the bottom-up nature of this project, State and Territory Steering Groups (younger participants) and a National Advisory group (older participants) were established. These groups, driven particularly by the following members of the Steering Groups and Executive: Julia Fetherston, Jonathon Gadir, James Orchiston, Kelly Betts, Miriam Lyons, James Smith, Tim Longhurst, Ellie Bell, Astrid Berghouse and Matt Phillips, helped crystallize PA’s core activities and vision. Thus, as things currently stand, PA is a nationwide network that connects people with common interests to relevant projects in their communities. The following three, core services were agreed upon: Project Write-ups: where people can read and discuss the latest views on projects and issues around the country. Project Meet-ups: where people can meet others in local spaces to network, share project experiences or start something new. Project Match-ups: where people can post and find projects in their area of interest or local community. Achievements Over the past 12 months our achievements have been modest and, at times, hard to gauge. We have managed to build a strong level of human resources and a distributed network of people from all around Australia. Although driven by younger people, Project Australia has also managed to branch out to include older people in our deliberations and work. We have over 800 individuals on our supporter database. We also have over 800 individual members of our Facebook group – a largely different group of people to our supporter database. Our writers have produced 54 write-ups that have provoked some initial discussion. Somewhere between 100 and 180 people have attended our meet-ups, with at least one meeting occurring in each State and Territory. Approximately 20 projects have emerged from these meet-ups, with some consensus about their merit that allows us to confidently post them to our website for greater publicity. Following a visit to Kenya in January 2007 where I discovered a similar social disconnect around the country, as well as similar needs, Project Kenya was established under the Executive Direction of Jeremiah Odhiambo. The Project has a core team of around 12 voluntary staff and has its office in Nakuru with a professional, part-time staff member.
Project Kenya (PK) has a 15-page manifesto and a 12-page constitution and is planning a national youth congress (open to European guests) in early 2008. In some respects it would appear PK is already ahead of PA! Project Kenya is autonomous from PA and will understandably explore some different as well as some common issues and themes. However, PA will provide web and other support for PK, where appropriate. Looking forward and Project Australia’s expectations Following the tireless efforts of our solicitor and accountant we are in the process of finalizing a Charitable Trust deed. Greater details will be explained in the Accountant’s report, but this will essentially allow us to operate as a not-for-profit business, ensure greater accountability and lay a platform for any future moves to incorporate. We are also open to exploring mutually beneficial partnerships. On this note, I am happy to announce we have, just last night, confirmed a formal pro-bono partnership with The Topia Project, a new generation marketing agency that designs and implements marketing strategies with a focus on digital channels, to help develop our branding, website and online/offline marketing strategy. The CEO of Topia, Nyree Corby, has asked me to include the following comments in my address: “Topia are incredibly excited to be aligned ethically and strategically with Project Australia. The very essence of the Project Australia structure and ethos is a direct fit with Topia's belief in community and the digital world. Topia has a strong focus on community and believe in the power of creating a two-way dialogue with the end customer, in a world where traditional advertising doesn't work anymore. Topia strives to create customer communications that are relevant, contextual and enhance the end-customer’s interaction and experience with that brand. The landscape through which they do this, is primarily digital, but with often with offline experiential support. As such, Project Australia is a natural fit and we see enormous opportunities to do great things together in the future.” In addition to our new partnership, we are currently in discussions with the Sydney Mechanic’s School of Arts, and hope to occupy premises here in the coming six months. Furthermore, our Executive has agreed that PA should remain a voluntary network but that we seeking funding to cover administrative costs. On that note, I would like to thank our Chair, Professor Larissa Behrendt, for her recent financial support. Over the coming months we will develop a strategic plan and look to cement PA’s role and position within the non-government organization sector. We feel that the post election climate, irrespective of the outcome, provides PA with a useful opportunity to galvanise support and we look forward to developing our supporter base and operations into 2008.
With respect to our services, we are currently in the process of developing a ‘project template’ that will allow the easy upload of a project’s name, synopsis, details for how people can get active as well as the facility for our staff and users to rank and provide comments for each project. We are exploring options to enhance our Write-ups, allowing writers to post projects in response to each blog in order to provide hope and direction for action. Our next Meet-up is scheduled for December 1 and we are seeking to build our numbers, refine our outcomes and work on our marketing and operations strategy to ensure the night is a fun way for people to meet. We are currently focusing our attention on the development of the Match-ups section of our website. It is envisaged that, in the near future, this section will be driven by usergenerated content and that we will have developed the capability to match people with projects in their areas of interest and local communities. We also envisage the ability to match projects with other projects posted on our site, in order to encourage greater discussion and efficiency amongst similar efforts Australia-wide. We are also exploring the possibility for twelve public funds to support the work of the projects emerging from our Meet-ups as well as those most supported by our users. Finally, with respect to our website, we are seeking to create a customized site that will ensure users, when visiting the PA site, are presented with the most relevant Write-ups, Meet-ups and Match-ups, based on the profile they submit.