All posts by Deborah Marinaro

Deborah is an arts writer and singer based in Melbourne. Among the many hats she wears these days, her top picks are theatre reviewer for the Melbourne Observer and creator & manager of the Liberation Arts Network. The network was realised as the perfect culmination of her passion for the Arts and for positive change. The act of starting the network is small, but the vision for its worth is big.

True Philanthropy: Govind Pillai’s journey of social change through art

Govind Pillai is an accomplished classical Indian dancer living in Melbourne. One of only few male performers of Bharathanatyam in Australia, Govind is noted by reviewers as keenly adept at his chosen style and is well regarded by his peers and students. His presence in the arts is growing fast. He performs at various local and international festivals and events, recently worked with internationally acclaimed contemporary dancer/choreographer Annalousie Paul, and currently sits on the board of The National Theatre (St Kilda).

Yet Govind’s reputation reaches beyond dancer and teacher to one who uses art for cultural integration, social wellbeing, and philanthropy. He has built a not-for-profit dance company, called Karma Dance Inc., which promotes social harmony to a wide audience and donates performance profits to charity. Now, he is also developing an affiliated teaching academy and in-school program so he can share these philosophies with the next generation.

“When I started [dancing] I didn’t really have ambitions and hopes. It was just something I loved doing and wanted to keep doing.”

Govind began dancing when he was about seven years old. Curiosity had sprung from watching his older sister learning in class as he waited with his mother for her to finish. Though Govind was drawn to “quite masculine qualities” in the dance, being a boy meant he was overlooked for dance study. He would remedy this by asking his sister to secretly ‘play’ at teaching him, until eventually their game, and Govind’s joy in dancing, were discovered. Only then was he accompanied to his own classes.

Learning as an adolescent became more difficult. The family had moved from Papua New Guinea, a place rich with differing cultures, to Dunedin in New Zealand, where suddenly Govind’s dancing was far less accepted by his peers. Lacking in self-confidence, he stopped for a while.

It wasn’t until he was at university in Sydney, Australia that he became more confident and self-aware – and realised his life was missing something he described as fundamental. He returned to his beloved art form, training at the Samskriti School of Dance. From then on Govind would give dance his complete and wholehearted commitment.

The dedication demonstrated in perfecting his craft is illustrated well by the story of his Arangetram, a solo debut or ‘graduation’ he presented in 2009. Within months of committing to perform this most demanding event, Govind had to move to Melbourne for the corporate work he continues full-time today. He managed, however, to maintain regular weekly practice with his guru in Sydney.

“I would catch a train from Melbourne to Sydney every Friday night after work, an overnight one, and I’d rehearse Saturdays and Sundays full time. Then on Sunday night I’d catch a train, overnight. Then I’d quickly have a shower and go straight to work,” he recalled.

“I never at the time thought of the burden, I just thought, ‘oh well, got to keep training.’ ”

Such determination and exertion has secured Govind opportunities to perform at festivals and events as varied and as distant as the Woodford Folk Festival in Queensland, choreographer Annalouise Paul’s contemporary production Mother Tongue at Bangarra Dance Theatre, Sydney, and the Melaka Art and Performance Festival in Malaysia.

Coming to the close of an almost endlessly busy year, Govind is finally able to sit down and have a chat with us. He is polite and gentle, a real contrast to his commanding presence and strength on stage. He has an eagerness that, though restrained, is infectious, and after a while in conversation he relaxes and reveals an intelligence and passion that is deep and serious.

“I always felt there were two things I wanted from dancing: I always wanted to dance for myself, but I wanted more to bring it into the mainstream so people are able to absorb it’s wisdom and antiquity and drive social change.”

For Govind, forging social change is as simple as nurturing an appreciation through education. Karma Dance productions offer a unique perspective of ancient Indian dance and culture via the integration of video narration and performance. Explaining the stories and traditions behind the dance routines seen, the presentation takes audiences on an immersive and informative journey.

Further to this educative component is Karma Dance’s more direct action of beneficence in which net proceeds raised are donated to charity. So far, the group have consistently helped migrant and refugee women’s support group, Shakti.

Govind_ganesh image
To date, Karma Dance have acquired local and international attention in events where multiculturalism is the focus, but Govind wants to see them included in a wider public discourse.

“We want to take things to more mainstream venues. We’re still performing in schools, university venues, in community halls. We cannot access the best performance spaces because of the nature [of our art], because we’re not doing ballet, doing popular arts, and we’re not-for-profit so we’re not considered professional.”

“If we can get into the mainstream and to some regular venues we can start being recognised as able to comment on policy.”

Integration with the mainstream is a regular theme in our conversation. Reflecting on why this would be, Govind makes a connection between this preoccupation and his youth.

“I think that came from the experience of moving from a very multicultural childhood to a fairly mono-cultural place like Dunedin,” he said.

“There was a very communal culture in the streets [of PNG] so we grew up with neighbours and friends as siblings. It was like a big extended family. We went to a school which had children from 90 different countries…It was ok to be an Indian dancer ‘cause that was kind of normal to have your own culture.”

“Moving to New Zealand was a big contrast. I was the first brown person in the school and it was all very different. Their culture was very different. People were far more individualistic.”

It was for this individualist ideology that Govind and sister Sandhya decided, just one year after his debut, to create a show that introduced the beauty of classical Indian culture and its dance to a wider New Zealand audience. Enlisting their parents as administrative organisers, the dancers plunged into putting together an event that would ultimately set Govind on his current trajectory.

The pair decided they would use the opportunity of this performance to raise community awareness and much needed funds for a cause close to their hearts: Shakti Community Council’s Second Chance Program, helping migrant and refugee women overcome disadvantage and domestic violence and gain independence.

“It wasn’t a grand plan or anything. We said, ‘let’s do a fundraiser for them,’ and from there, that was the inspiring moment…People just came [to volunteer]. People who we didn’t know, who had skills, suddenly turned up, and before you knew it we had ambitiously hired a hall with about 800 seats thinking we’d sell about a quarter – it sold out.”

With that performance, they raised over $8000 for Shakti. Such success made them realise there really was a need for events that connected and empowered communities, and Govind was moved to “establish something whose purpose was to do that”. He flew back home to Melbourne, founded Karma Dance Inc. and, continuing to work with Sandhya and their family, took Shakti to Sydney, Hobart, and Melbourne.

“Karma Dance was entirely inspired by those ambitions [of] wanting the art to give something back, integration into mainstream Australia, and allowing Australians broadly, wherever they come from, to draw from each others culture.”

To achieve these ambitions, Govind has evolved Karma Dance beyond a performance company. He established a dance education program that takes his teachings straight into Australian schools, solidifying infiltration into mainstream Australia. The group offer workshops of varying lengths and provide education and immersion into Indian culture in a way that may otherwise not be encountered by the wider student population.

Since their commencement two years ago, more than 20 schools across New South Wales and Victoria have adopted the programs for increasingly longer visits. What began as half hour demonstrations has progressed in some locations to day-long training sessions where, at the end of the day, the children perform what they have learnt.

Additionally, Govind now shares his philosophies with an ever-growing sum of future performers through the Karma Dance teaching academy. These students attend weekly night-time Bharathanatyam lessons in an ordinary classroom in Epping in Melbourne’s north. Last October, the students had their first opportunity to partake in a presentation of their skills.

MAATHAA-5 little ones
With both the school kids and his regular students, Govind finds a different approach from the traditional is needed in passing on the folklore, and a developing empathy, to children of a multicultural country.

“The way we teach is not the way our teachers were taught in India. We’ve had to think about how to teach classical Indian dance to kids growing up in Australia because we can’t do it the same way.”

So far, the girls that have joined the regular dance classes are girls and women of Indian nationality, ranging from 3 years to adulthood. Most are at school age, which Govind takes as a framework for his teachings, aware of their particular struggles and concerns.

“The girls that come at that age are often Indian girls who are trying to integrate into Western schools and what not, and have a family culture that’s very different to the prevailing culture. I want a lot of that reconciliation that comes through the dance education to rub off on them.”

“I definitely want the girls to come out of this process feeling embedded, feeling proud of who they are, how they look, what that means to other people when they see them, and that’s all part of dance.”

Looking back, with invitations to perform at more and more events, a fast uptake of the school education program, and increasing numbers of students, Govind feels Karma Dance is beginning to achieve “broader recognition”.

“I think that recognition is permission to do more,” he said.

“Most people I talk to say we really need more diverse art forms out there. We really need art to bring social change and audiences together.”

Govind’s way of using art to unite and enrich lives seems to come very easily to him. Acting on gut feeling and with pure passion, his approach is to keep a ‘play it by ear’ attitude, remaining flexible and open to opportunities rather than plotting out a rigid plan.

“I still don’t have a big vision or anything. One step at a time.”

“I think it’s ok not to have a plan when you’re starting out. If you’ve got an idea you’re really passionate about, and you can make (shows short distance between thumb and forefinger) that much difference, that would be amazing. It doesn’t have to go anywhere, it’s just got to do its thing for a period.”

Photo credits:
Cover photo by Adrian van Raay
Govind performing by Fotoholics
Govind’s students in Maathaa by Sanjeev Singh

Art exhibits men’s support of gender equality

Last night, Project FeMANism launched an inspiring public art exhibition of works that display men’s support of equality for all sexes. The all-male contributing artists explore what gender parity means to them as the project asks what role do men play in its advocacy?

In a trendy new restaurant/bar in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, a selection of art works has been gathered to illicit a new perspective on a familiar topic: the fight for equal rights from a man’s point of view. The artists contributing their work to this exhibition, chosen specifically for their male perspective, were asked what gender equality really means to men.

Addressing the packed crowd at last night’s opening, acting CEO of No To Violence Rodney Vlais said, “One of the great things about art is its ability to make things that are invisible more visible.” The art of the Works in Progress exhibition is making visible the importance of men’s engagement in the movement towards gender equality.

The exhibition organisers, Project FeMANism, stress that while the fight for equality is often considered a woman’s issue, it is in fact a human rights issue and therefore everyone should be involved in creating the necessary change.

“People are finally saying, ‘Where are men in this conversation?’ and ‘Men really need to be taking a stand in this journey,’” said Project FeMANism’s Elissa Hill.

Hill said this had been greatly helped by Emma Watson’s recent speech to the UN, for the launch of the He For She campaign, in which she extended a warm invitation to men to become ‘feminists’ too. In her address, Watson said, “How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?”

The Works in Progress collection is a mix of mediums from painting and drawing, to printing and projection. Displayed along the walls of the spacious restaurant, audiences can leisurely navigate the works and read the artists thoughts that accompany them. The artists include Albie Colvin, Callum Jackson, Losop, Chad Swanson and Nathan Hill, with Tony Sowersby donating his portrait of Julia Gillard and satirical book The Political Landscape for the fundraising raffle grand prize on opening night.

The work will be on display for two weeks at the Northern Git restaurant and bar in Thornbury. Some pieces are available for sale, with 10% of the proceeds going to the Family Violence Response Centre.

Coffee calendar hits stores to help homeless

Congratulations to Melbourne photographer Sanjeev Singh and the team behind the beautifully crafted Coffee Capital 2015 calendar, in stores now, raising funds to bring Australian youths out of homelessness.

Earlier this year, we met with Sanjeev to talk about his collaboration with social enterprise STREAT. From a desire to make a difference through his art, Sanjeev approached STREAT CEO Rebecca Scott with the concept of donating his time and photographic skills for the creation of a calendar the group could fundraise with.

The result is an exquisite product: a desktop “coaster” calendar that features Sanjeev’s astonishing photography, excellent design by Ed Coghlan of Third Cache, and comes beautifully packaged in a coffee bag with a personalised letter from Sanjeev and Rebecca.

photo 2

The Coffee Capital 2015 calendar, named so for its celebration of the rich coffee culture in Melbourne, is available from 13 locations across Melbourne, including boutique local goods and souvenir store Melbournalia on Bourke St, Coffee Head coffee shop in Camberwell, the Sun Bookshop in Yarraville, and even a cafe in Inverloch!

The central idea and inspiration for the Coffee Capital calendar and brand is to fundraise for STREAT’s growing programs and physical space. $5 from every calendar sale ($19.95) is assisting the development of STREAT’s new training facility in Collingwood.

The team are also in the final production phase for a children’s alphabet book featuring the street art of Melbourne, so watch this space for more news!

To find more Coffee Capital calendar locations, visit

Communities Sing With One BIG Voice

“There’s a taboo about speaking or singing in public. We think that people will judge us or make fun of us. Yet we were all given a voice to tune in and to express ourselves.” Tania de Jong AM, Tedx Melbourne talk: How Singing Together Changes the Brain

Soprano and social entrepreneur, Tania de Jong, has been spreading the word about the health and social benefits of singing in groups for some years now. Backed by science, she has undertaken to change people’s perceptions of singing and to unleash voices she finds have often been ‘silenced’.

In an interview with The Institute For Creative Health, Tania explained in brief the physiological responses our brain has to singing and how this is important to human wellbeing.

“Neuroscience proves people who sing in groups are happier, healthier, smarter and more creative,” she said.

“Every time you sing you fire up your brain’s right temporal lobe and release endorphins, which heighten states of pleasure, bliss, bonds and love.”

To encourage this in others, and to remove the chains of being told ‘you can’t sing’, Tania has devised and implemented national music programs that reach individuals of all ages from diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds. One such program, the With One Voice choirs, are presenting a series of big events this October that will gather large groups together to sing along to happy and popular tunes.

With One Voice Brisbane are performing in Musgrave Park on 11 October, and the choirs of Melbourne are coming together for a huge concert at Melbourne Town Hall on October 12 to raise funds that will help keep the choirs going. Members of the public in Victoria will have the opportunity of joining in with choirs and taking part in a singing workshop at The BIG Community sing, happening at Federation Square this Saturday.

The With One Voice choirs gather weekly to sing together, build friendships, and live happier, healthier lives. Currently, choirs exist across Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane and are expanding, with new groups starting up in Holland and a pilot program launching in Arizona.

The group also take part in a Wish List program, where participants can share their wishes and grant them for each other. A number of pending and granted wishes can be viewed on the Creativity Australia website. This shows how valuable the With One Voice choirs are for connecting people and providing a community mentality that overrides our increasingly individualistic existences.

Photo credit: Eclipse Magazine

BIG Community sing @Fed Square (Main Stage) from 1:30pm- 3pm, 4 Oct
FREE event
With One Voice Choirs and the public singing together
The best of Sing For Spring videos will be played
Will feature a video of Tania’s TEDx Talk How singing together changes the brain

With One Voice Brisbane @Musgrave Park, Sth Bris 11 Oct, 11- 11:30am
FREE event
Presenting songs and stories

One BIG Voice Concert @ Melb Town Hall from 3-5:30pm, 12 Oct
Tickets must be purchased
Over 400 voices from a multitude of nationalities, faiths, ages,
Best of Sing For Spring videos will be shown

Putting it simply: ‘We Are World Change’

One of the most rewarding aspects of our work at Liberation Arts Network is learning about the fantastic people making a difference in the world and seeing the varying ways in which they do this. When we heard about the prize-winning animation ‘We Are World Change’ this week, we discovered a very young change maker making very strong waves.

Last Sunday, the Joy House Film Festival, proud advocate of diversity and platform for emerging filmmakers, announced Josh Lorschy the winner of their Bendigo Bank Youth Award for his animation ‘We Are World Change’. The short film talks directly to those “privileged enough to have shoes on our feet, clothes on our back, food to eat, and a roof over our head” and asks what they will do for those not so lucky. It is powerful in its simplicity and matter-of-factness. And most compelling is the film’s arrowhead message: within each individual is the ability to create change.

‘We Are World Change’ is not the first animation with which 14-year-old Josh has delivered the public a sharp message. In September last year, Josh posted a short animation on You Tube detailing sad facts and statistics relating to a lack of rights for girls around the world. In the descriptor for ‘International Day of the Girl’, Josh wrote:

“I put this animation together to raise awareness for the issue, and provide viewers with ways to help the cause.”

“The best thing you can do is spread the word. Use your social media connections to share these links, so everyone knows about the problem…”

The following month, Josh posted a second animation also supporting girls’ rights to education and promoting the Girl Rising campaign, titled ‘Be The Voice’.

As a young Australian, Josh was in a unique position. He had been asked to be a Girl Rising Ambassador after attending the United Nations Youth Assembly in New York, 12 July 2013. There, Josh had listened to Malala Yousafzai give her first speech after being shot in the head for advocating girls’ rights to education less than a year earlier. The assembly gathered on that day in honour of her 16th birthday.

Of this experience, Josh wrote:

“[W]hen Malala stood up to make her speech, the entire room fell silent. The world’s attention was captured when she began to speak…”

Showing a keen emotional intelligence, Josh explained that:

“At the heart of her message to the world was this: ‘One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world’.”

With the help of his family, including twin brother Ben and young cousins, Georgie, Jessica and Sophie, Josh has been creating change in just this way. The Lorschy and Conn families have raised thousands of dollars for charity Room To Read, who implement programs, build libraries, and publish books in local languages to improve children’s literacy and gender equality in education in developing countries. It was Josh’s instrumentality in raising these funds and speaking at schools that earned him an invitation to the 2013 UN Assembly as Youth Ambassador.

Josh has a mature understanding of the complexities involved in providing aid to developing communities. In an interview with children’s author and Room To Read Writer Ambassador Tristan Bancks, Josh praised Room To Read’s ethical and pragmatic approach for creating change.

“Room to Read has a depth to their programs that goes beyond just donating books or building schools,” he said.

“They recognise that world change requires more than just dumping resources on the less fortunate. This extends into their teacher training programs, girls scholarships, social outreach workers and publishing books in local languages.”

Currently, Josh and his family are working towards Room to Read’s World Change Challenge which aims to raise $20 000 by 31 October. Students, schools and businesses nationwide are invited to create their own fundraising challenges or to donate. For the class or group that raises the most money, Random House Australia will fly Tristan Bancks to their school to give a free author talk or writing workshop. Second prize is $250 worth of books from Random House.

Josh’s message is simple: “YOU can make a difference. It doesn’t matter how big or small of a difference you make, because every step counts.”

Caroline’s Little Stars sing of hope and community

Meet Caroline. She runs Caroline’s Little Stars, a fun and relaxed music group for babies, toddlers and youngsters that gather in a small eastern Melbourne suburb. But the group does more than sing songs. Through music, Caroline and her little stars reach out right across Australia and overseas to touch the lives of other, less fortunate children by holding monthly fundraising classes.

Caroline Morpeth is a primary school teacher who taught in schools for 12 years until her first daughter came along. Trained also in Secondary music, the mother-of-two began Caroline’s Little Stars in 2008, when her eldest was about two years old.

“I’d been taking our girls to music classes and kept thinking ‘I could do this, I’d love it!’”

Caroline became friends with the teachers at these classes, and they began helping her collect songs and ideas to start her own group. Like all new businesses, her clients at first were her friends, who would gather with their children at Caroline’s house.

“It worked so well because I wanted to work but was a little reluctant to put the girls in care, so they came to my class…which meant they were having music classes as well.”

By the end of the year, Caroline would hire a space elsewhere to accommodate her growing class. She chose a room at St Faith’s Anglican Church in Glen Iris, Victoria, where she still teaches now.

It was at the start of Term 1 in 2013 that Caroline kicked off her monthly charity classes. At the start of the year, the dates are decided for the monthly Friday event, offering two morning sessions. At the end of the year, all proceeds from those days are dispersed among charities dedicated to aid for children.

“I absolutely love teaching the classes and thought it was a practical, convenient way of raising money for disadvantaged children.”

“I know there are lots of wonderful musicians and other artists out there who do really great things for people less fortunate, using their music in a positive way. It is really such a fabulous avenue for creating happiness and helping out in the community.”

Last year, Caroline’s Little Stars raised $3250, donated to three projects: a health program run by Anglican Board of Mission in Papua New Guinea, Anglican Overseas Aid’s Gifts of Light program, and an Anglicare project that supports children in crises, at that time aiding tsunami affected families in the Philippines.

St Faith’s also plays an important part in Caroline’s endeavour, supplying the hall to her for free on her charity days.

Just like the littlies attending the classes, Caroline’s Little Stars continues to grow. Last July, two new days were added, including Wednesdays at Ashburton Community Centre. While the charity classes remain popular, this year there are usually some spots available. The remaining dates for 2014 are October 10, November 14 and December 5.

“I’d love to continue running these classes for as long as I can. It’s such an enjoyable thing to do and so satisfying to know that I’m helping disadvantaged children at the same time as sharing the joys of music with little people.”

“I’m having fun teaching the classes, the children are having fun, and we’re helping those less fortunate at the same time. It’s a win-win situation!”

For more information about Caroline’s Little Stars or to contact Caroline visit

Photo courtesy of Boroondara Leader community paper

Film and Feminism in Melbourne

A topic that seems to have emerged in Melbourne at the moment is women in film, or rather, women making films. From an inaugural feminist-inspired film festival to a screening of films directed only by females, Melbourne is giving women a long-awaited front-row seat.

The Girls On Film Festival, set to start on 12 September, is gearing up to showcase –for the very first time- an entire weekend of film and talk focused on women writers and directors as well as inspiring on-screen female characters. The festival has been financed through an extremely successful crowdfunding campaign. A huge $14 500 was raised through Pozible less than a month ago, and exceeding their target by more than $2000. Does this then mean that such an event is in high demand? It would seem so.

Artshub has long been discussing the underrepresentation of women in the arts. Two years ago, Fiona Mackrell covered the alarming truths found by Australia Council report Women in Theatre, including that female playwrights are far less likely to have their work produced. This fact was echoed again recently in Richard Watts’ June article ‘Theatre Makers Act On Gender Parity’, making it clear the problem continues. In the same month, former 20th Century Fox executive and producer of films What Women Want and No Reservations, Susan Cartsonis, wrote about ‘Why Women Should Get the Jobs’. Cartsonis explains the impact that restricting female voices in film can have.

“When fewer female-focused films get made, it diminishes staffing of women in the executive suites and on set,” she writes.

The program being presented by Final Cut tomorrow night (26 August) celebrates that, in fact, many women are directing great films and shorts.
Final Cut: Girls Together Outrageously will show (again, for the first time) films that have all been directed by women. The night has been curated by filmmaker and Made In Melbourne Film Festival Co-director, Sarah-Jayne.

Final Cut is a monthly short-films screening and networking event with pre-show performances and free-entry.

Dates: 26 August, 6pm-10pm
Location: 1000 Pound Bend, 361 Little Lonsdale St, Melbourne

Girls On Film Festival

Dates: Sept 12-14
Location: Northcote Town Hall, 189 High St, Northcote

Forum: Understanding and Engaging Today’s Volunteers

Understanding and Engaging the 21st Century Volunteer is a free forum that will be held at the Boroondara Council Offices on Wednesday 3 September. Leading the talk will be UK volunteering expert, Rob Jackson. The session will look at key ways our society is evolving and how this affects the world of volunteering, as well as discussing what leaders can do to update practices and make the most of changes.

Rob Jackson has worked in volunteering for almost 20 years. His expertise covers volunteer programmes in education, advice, fundraising and children’s services settings at local, regional and national levels.

The forum is free to attend but bookings must be made to the Boroondara Volunteer Resource Centre on 9278 4550 or at

Understanding and Engaging the 21st Century Volunteer: agency forum
3 September from 9am-12.30pm
Parkview room, Boroondara Council offices, 340 Camberwell Rd, Camberwell

Business Volunteers for Arts Projects

Creative Partnerships Australia are dedicated to fostering growth and facilitating the professional and business development of our arts and creative industries. Apart from running a program whereby artists and non-profit arts organisations or projects can receive funding from public donations (the Australia Cultural Fund), CPA also provides a Business Volunteering Program.

Business Professionals from across a wide range of skills and business areas volunteer their expertise and time. They can give advice, provide their skills, or even offer themselves to be included as a board member.

To receive these benefits, organisations and projects simply need to register, or for more information contact Sarah Boykett (available: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday) on 03 9616 0326 or at

The Effortless Way Towards Collaboration and Changing the World

I love this story. If anything, this story is about how easily one can realise a dream. It’s also about how wonderfully easy it is to make connections and form relationships that lead to meaningful collaborations, ones that change other’s lives. Let me tell you Sanjeev’s story and how he, an emerging photographer, came to team up with fast-growing social enterprise, STREAT, on a project that will help bring Australian youths out of homelessness. For Sanjeev, it simply started with a conversation at a party…

Sanjeev Singh is a self-taught photographer who this year embarked on formal training. Last year, he was on a career path that had nothing to do with photography. In fact, his work had not involved cameras since his days as a photojournalist in Malaysia. He moved to Australia as a student and soon walked a journey that led away from art and the lens.

“Nine years later, I thought, ‘Okay this wasn’t my original plan. I didn’t want to work in education, I don’t know what I’m doing here.’ ”

A change came abruptly last year when Sanjeev was faced with a redundancy.

Revealing a lot about his character, he saw this as a chance to reassess the direction he was headed and took a leap of faith. He would focus on his passion of photography and hone his technical skills with a two-year course. I like how he put it to me. He said:

“I thought of going back to studies as a great opportunity to re-invent myself.”

It’s clear that re-inventing meant more to Sanjeev than just a new direction. Here he was at the start of a course, the start of a new life, and he was already asking himself about the bigger picture. He thought about what it was he wanted to achieve with these new skills, thinking beyond what he could do to what he could give. Sanjeev dreamed his work would eventually involve collaborating on projects that would touch the lives of others.

“I always wanted to be a part of something that’s going to bring about positive change, whether it’s to homeless kids or whether it’s to people’s attitudes towards certain issues…I wanted my art to be a bit more meaningful.”

At a dinner with friends just a few months ago, Sanjeev struck up a conversation with a (then) stranger and was very open about this desire.

“I started talking about what I do, that I’d love to do a fundraising project,” explains Sanjeev.

Interested, the stranger asked which group he had in mind to work with and Sanjeev told him of his admiration for STREAT, who provide homeless youths with training and work experience for careers in the hospitality industry.

“And he said, ‘Funny you mention STREAT’,” says Sanjeev. “I said, ‘Why?’”

“He said, ‘Well, the office is down below where I work and I’m really good friends with the person who founded it!’ “

Within a week, Sanjeev met Rebecca Scott, CEO and co-founder of STREAT, a joint project was coordinated, and Sanjeev launched a successful crowdfunding campaign for help in purchasing the photographic equipment he needed to do the work.

This sense of ease comes up a lot in this story. There was an immediate rapport, and it seems STREAT were waiting for Sanjeev to come along. Over their first meeting, the project scope grew quickly from Sanjeev’s offer of creating a calendar to also producing a children’s ‘food’ alphabet book, something Rebecca had wanted to do for two years.

“I’ve always got some hair-brained ideas for collaborative arts projects and, most of the time, I’m just waiting for the right type of collaborator,” Rebecca says.

The right type of collaborator, for Rebecca, could come from anywhere. She says there isn’t a profession she can think of which couldn’t bear value to any social change project and believes so strongly in collaboration, she’s building it into STREAT’s growing physical space.

“My view is that some of the reasons we haven’t solved what have seemed like intractable social problems is that, often, we’ve been quite limited in who we’ve invited to the table to be part of the solutions.”

“Our business model has absolutely proved that baristas and chefs can stop homelessness. Well, why can’t photographers, and why can’t artists, and why can’t anyone?”

STREAT offices

Sanjeev is pragmatic in his approach to getting involved.

“We come to a stage where we have to create opportunities for ourselves,” he says.

Rebecca agrees, though is mindful of the trepidation and anxiety that often comes with starting out on these journeys.

“I have lots and lots of admiration for people who go, ‘I don’t know where this is gonna lead,’ ‘cos lots of people don’t take the first step…but there’s an enormous courage in doing it.”

“If you want to do stuff that you’re passionate about- cause related- and you just take that first step, you pretty quickly find other people who share those values.”

Sanjeev’s story is one of many I’ve come across showing how easy it can be. Without detracting from all the hard work that also goes in, his is a great example of how talking openly about your dreams can get you on the path of fulfilling that vision. Often, it takes the right mindset to be successful.

“What I really, really admire about Sanjeev,” Rebecca says, “is that not only is he changing careers but he’s entrepreneurial enough to work out how you help fund the change… and then engage his own personal friendship networks to help him in that.”

“He’s turned what for most people would be a job change, into a community project. That’s one of the things I love about harnessing a broad range of people, you end up feeling like you’re getting a group hug.”

The project is now well underway, with shooting set to finish at the end of the month. Both the calendar and alphabet book will be ready for Christmas sales and all proceeds will go back into supporting STREAT training programs.

Cover photo courtesy of Sanjeev Singh. Pictured: Rebecca Scott and Sanjeev Singh