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?”
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