What does your business do?
STREAT is a social enterprise that brings about social change through market-focussed business activities. We provide homeless and disadvantaged young people with the life skills, training and work experience they required to take a step closer to achieving some of their personal goals. We’ve been really busy over the last six years, and have built a bunch of Melbourne-based cafes, catering and coffee roasting businesses.
What scares you most about money?
The greed it creates in people. I was raised by parents who worked extraordinarily hard to pull themselves out of poverty, yet always gave 10% of their pre-tax income to charity. To this day, even in retirement they continue to live frugally, preferring to give generously to others rather than living with extra comforts. This is a rare trait and more often it seems people's greed and materialism increase with their monetary wealth. So I hope I never see the money I earn as just mine, but continue to understand that it also brings with it a responsibility to improve the lives of others.
What has been your best investment?
Definitely my investment of time to build STREAT, the social enterprise I co-founded with my partner Kate. After a decade of working at the CSIRO I gave up my well paid job and jumped headlong into the field of social enterprise. Kate continued to work full-time and support us both while I worked unpaid for years building the organisation. At the time it took a lot of courage, and it felt like we were jumping off a cliff, but I know we'd make the same decision again in a heartbeat.
Apart from money and assets, what other things in life contribute to wealth?
One of the seminal books I read just prior to starting STREAT was "Development as Freedom" by the Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen. In the book he makes the very strong argument that we shouldn't just concentrate on creating economic freedom for people, but also the removal of all sources of "unfreedom" –poverty, tyranny, social deprivations, political oppression, lack of protection etc. This rings true for me and it's what I've devoted my life to doing for young people. Wealth is about being surrounded by people you love, and who love you. It's having social inclusion and opportunities, including having an ability to catch up if you started behind. It's choosing who you can love and marry. It's being safe and having political freedom. It's living with health and wellbeing. It's having a diverse community where everyone is valued for who they are and has the support and opportunities to reach their potential. It's having opportunities to creatively express yourself, to explore and discover, to have time for fun, play and giving back. It's having a planet that's healthy for this generation and all every generation to come after us. It's about freedom.
What advice would you give your younger self about money?
Every cent that you spend is either doing good or bad in the world. Find out as much as you can about the product or service you're about to buy, and know if it's making the world a better or worse place. And once you're armed with this precious information, make every single cent create goodness – whether it's your $4 coffee, the bank you choose for your home loan, or the ethical way you invest your money. For the way you use your money is a direct reflection of who you are, what you value, and how you want your world to be. Every financial transaction you make is at the ballot box of your values. Every single coin and note that comes out of your wallet is the vote you're casting for what the world should become.
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