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The End

September 12, 2010

…of P&P is the beginning of something new – launching November.

Have a browse around, let me know your thoughts,

til then,



And on that note…

June 19, 2010

…I’m gonna say See you later, kids! It’s been real.

But now P&P  has left the building. Writing it has been super-rewarding; I’ve met the most amazing people doing their various ace things, I’ve learnt about inspiring initiatives from all over the world and I’ve got some delicious ideas on what I can do to do my bit.

Bat Boy here is on his way to Africa, where he’ll be the posterboy/prototype in a new small scale project involving women’s empowerment, and it’s time for me to quit the writing, turn off the computer and get back to into making – some kind of change, hopefully.

Big thanks to everyone – you’re ace, and I’ll catch you soon, in the real world!


PS Hållbar Utveckling

June 15, 2010

I always feel a bit weird when Big Companies ‘do the right thing’, like BP selling Fair Trade coffee in their petrol stations, or IKEA working with UNICEF to empower women in rural India through paying them properly.

My husband, when we talk about it, often says “Yes, but if you think about it, if a multinational company chooses to support a cause, like fair trade coffee, they will make such an enormous difference compared to the local cafe doing the same thing.”

True. I just get a funny feeling, because If you KNOW how to do the right thing, then why don’t you do it all the time?

If you understand the importance of fair wages and organic production, how can you even be in a business that regularly devastates river deltas with oil spills and air pollution, making farming and fishing impossible? And if you recognize the need for sustainable development and fair working conditions, how can you keep using cheap labour (because if something costs 99 cents, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that someone is not getting paid) to produce chipboard furniture so full of toxic glues that they can’t be recycled and of such poor quality that they will end up in landfill before the end of the year?

I just don’t get it. I’m pretty idealistic, I know. Some would even say naive.

Anyways, last year or the year before super-talented Dutch designer Hella Jongerius was commissioned by IKEA to create wallhangings for the IKEA-Unicef programme, which helps women in India to start up small sewing businesses and enables their children to go to school – I’m sure you’ve seen them.

“As a consumer you like to have something unique, something with character, and to really enrich a piece like that, you have to do it by hand” she says about the hand embroidered pieces, now part of IKEA’s designer collection PS.

According to IKEA, this cooperation with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) will enhance the social, economic and political empowerment of women in 500 villages in Uttar Pradesh. At least 50,000 women (yes! Such is the power of IKEA!)  will be encouraged to become entrepreneurs, contribute substantially to their household income, strengthen legal awareness and participation in local political decision-making processes. Through this program, UNDP will help women by training them in good financial practice, help with access to micro credit loans and equip them with business skills. In addition, women will get more advanced literacy and leadership training in order to take on a catalytic and decision-making role as village leaders in institutions of their local community.

I love it! Beautiful wall hangings, an appreciation of the work of the hand, empowered women. But just imagine the kind of change – real change – that IKEA could make if they applied these ethics to all their production. Monumental.

(If you’re interested in what other positive steps the home-maker giant is taking you can read about it here.)

Karen Deegan: Always talk to the people who think your idea is crazy, and listen carefully!

June 11, 2010

It is always inspiring when people start up ambitious projects, but it’s especially awesome when friends do it. I think that’s because you know that they are real people (after all, you’ve dumpster-dived together, camped in the mud at Bluesfest, watched countless episodes of Secret Life of Us (if you’re my gen), helped each other out building scale models during all-nighters just before deadline, cried in each other’s arms when things didn’t work out), which basically means that there is a real possibility you could do it too – follow your dream.

Karen Deegan is an old friend of mine. We lived together in a sharehouse on the beach during that last painful year of uni, and while I was busy running after boys (well, one in particular), KD spent a large proportion of her time scouting for derelict buildings and old warehouses, dreaming of converting them into livable spaces. I didn’t think much about it, that was just what she did. It always took a long time to walk anywhere because we had to go past her newest object of desire, but that was ok.

Fast forward to 2010. We’re still friends, and while my particular interest has resulted in relocation across the globe and a couple of little guys, Karen’s has produced something which required a whole other set of skills – she’s conceived of the Urban Coup, a co-housing development in inner Melbourne.

It doesn’t exist in the physical world yet, but the Coup will be a small development of about 25 households, each one with its own private courtyard, its own kitchen, and can be bought and sold on the open market like a conventional house or apartment – but there will also be a centrally located ‘common house’ shared by all, a facility where the community can meet together regularly for meals, meetings, socializing and special events, a joint garden and a chicken coup. Like a big sharehouse for grownups!

In their own words, The Urban Coup is “our way of living differently to help ourselves to help the planet. Choosing to build a co-housing development is our answer to an age when global resources are being strained by modern living, urban sprawl is ever-expanding, and many of us in the city find ourselves isolated from real community in our current homes.”

It is such an excellent idea, and I decided to ask Karen how she did it. So, over a cuppa at ace local cafe:

Me: How did the idea about the coup develop?

Karen: It was a particular old building next to the Abbotsford convent in Melbourne perched high up over the river that rekindled lots of ideas I’d had. In fact, you were there! It was that day when you and I were riding our bikes and found it…

Me:…and we climbed up that steep escarpment with all the ivy and over the fence…was that it?

Karen: Yeah! That was the catalyst! I started thinking how much I’d love to live right there, but I couldn’t afford to buy it by myself of course, it was huge. At the same time a colleague had started travelling to Denmark and the US to look at co-housing, he showed me pictures, some of which were warehouse conversions. And also at the same time I started grappling with the idea that I might never have my own family and I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t age lonely. Those three parts merged. And then I started talking to friends asking if they’d want to buy into it and develop together. My need was “I need people”. After a while someone put me in contact with another person who had a similar dream and when we met we decided “Let’s do it together”. Having someone else who both heard my dream and had a personal interest in creating that dream, that was the magic.

Me: And then what did you do?

Karen: I wrote an email that took less than five minutes to write and I sent it to 22 people whom I’d been talking to and who’d expressed interest, and it was essentially a calling. 22 turned up.

And we needed everyone, and everything we needed was in the group: we had someone who could provide examples of projects that had worked before – IMAGES! were really important, to illustrate the end goal and to see that they were people like us so we weren’t just guessing and hoping! We had someone who could provide a room to meet in every week; we had people who knew how to chair a meeting and who understood group psychology; and we had someone to give us a visual identity which was incredibly important because it proved that we all wanted the same thing. That was two years ago.

Me: Where are you at now?

Karen: The project is now at a point where it needs deep thinking – lots of things need to be done right now, for example decide on the exact brief for the building and site layout – it needs to be sunny and welcoming, it needs this many flats, this type of laundry.

Me: And you’re about to go overseas for a while – which you didn’t know would happen when you started, but the project will keep rolling, it’s got momentum now.  How does that feel? How much will you need to let go?

Karen: I’ll have to let go of the part I love the most, which is interacting with people face to face. I don’t personally know how to do this thing [run a project of this scale], all I do is think of whom to ask.

Me: So how did you learn that skill, identifying a problem or need and then find the person who can solve it?

Karen: I think it’s about choosing a project that uses your natural abilities because then you enjoy the act of doing it and it helps you through the drudgery – I get high doing this!

Me: Was that a conscious decision on your part?

Karen: The project was a dream and everyone took the role that came naturally to them.

Me: Do you have to be able to dream large if you want to make substantial change?

Karen: Dream detailed! You’ve got to dream what it will feel like, what it will smell like, what it will look like. I don’t think you have to dream large, you just have to dream. It’s a difficult balance though, to hold on to your dream and at the same time be open when the project evolves. In this particular project it is important that it is a collectively owned dream, because then we all take responsibility for its creation.

Me: Is it important to talk to other people about your dreams and ideas in order to make them happen?

Karen: There is a real something in the externalization of an idea. Sometimes it makes it less hard, more real. I think it’s really important to talk to people not of your own ilk about your dream. Because often if it’s a bigger idea or project it can be quite complicated and it’s hard for any one person to conceptualize what different parts are needed to create momentum.

The other thing is, talk to people who don’t think it’s a good idea – it’s from them you’ll hear all the potential problems, it’s from them you can learn a LOT about what obstacles you might encounter. like-minded people will just go “Ohhh, that’s such a a great idea, can’t wait to see your chickens!” which is nice but it doesn’t really give you anything, whereas talk to some hardcore developer and they’ll go “Are you seriously thinking you are going to get permission to build a block of flats and provide NO parking? The neighbours will go NUTS when they see the plans and object to the council – they don’t want cars parked on their street, and the hell they’ll believe that ‘nobody living there will own a car‘!” Aha! THEN I learn something. Always talk to the people who think your idea is crazy, and listen carefully!


If you are interested in The Coup, you can check out their weir website,, or email Karen on

(Logo and drawings by the Talented Ms Eterovic)

Recipe for personal fulfilment

June 8, 2010

As you know, they research everything. Sometimes they find the most extraordinarily amazing things but sometimes I reckon they could have saved their grants and just asked any regular punter on the street if they wanted to know. Unsurprisingly, researchers have now found that people who spend time volunteering in some capacity are happier and more fulfilled than everyone else.

So, if you think you might be up for a bit of fulfilment but you want to do it from the comfort of your home, online volunteering is for you.

The United Nations Volunteers programme  – Inspiration in Action – is inspired by the conviction that volunteerism can transform the pace and nature of development and by the idea that everyone can contribute their time and energy towards peace and development. Volunteerism, they say, is a powerful force that enables everyone, including marginalized and disadvantaged people, to contribute to peace and development, on-site and online, all around the world.

If you’re interested, head to their website and hit Opportunity Search – projects typically run for a few weeks so you’re not signing your life away, and they need people with all sorts of skills. Would you, for example, be up for writing an online chemistry course for American free university PEOI? Or design the layout for a tabloid newspaper for the Twentyfirst Century African Youth Movement in Sierra Leone? Or develop a poster with visual instructions on water and hygiene for  people with little education – hang on a minute, they are looking for ME!

However, if you feel like you spend enough time on the computer and want to braze the real world, (and  the freezing conditions of the Australian winter) to volunteer, check this place out instead.

Good luck!

Another day at the office: Operating the ferry

June 7, 2010

Hooray for The Social Studio

June 1, 2010

The good news is: Vodafone has got a kick-ass initiative called World of Difference – a program which gives five Aussies the chance to work for a charity or NGO of their choice while being fully funded and supported for a year.

The bad news is: I didn’t get it! (I proposed a project on this theme).

The good news: Grace McQuilton did. Grace is an amazing woman and visionary, dedicated to creating social change through innovative design and social enterprise.

In 2009 she started up The Social Studio, a Melbourne-based design house and social enterprise dedicated to empower young refugees to achieve their dreams. The main barriers faced by newly arrived members of the community, she says, are unemployment, isolation and difficulties accessing education and training. The Social Studio addresses these problems by creating jobs, providing education, encouraging community engagement and offering social inclusion.

The studio is set up as a training facility, providing opportunities to obtain qualifications in retail, fashion and hospitality, the main focus being clothing design in a program where young trainees learn production skills through creating original garments from recycled and excess manufacturing materials gathered from local industry.


Having worked for several years for a non-profit organisation Lentil as Anything (a restaurant chain allowing the customer to decide what they want to pay for their food(!)), she says she was tired of seeing her efforts to train and provide employment for refugees and migrants workers go nowhere. Looking for a way of providing ongoing opportunities for workers, she began thinking again about artists who used design to create social change.

In an interview on indesignlive, Grace says: “It occurred to me that rather than trying to change this group of people to suit mainstream employers, it would be better to create a business that is actually designed around their skills, their culture, their talent and their creativity, and give them an opportunity to express that.” She came up with a plan to grow the passion for fashion in the young community, by setting up the studio/shop/cafe.

I couldn’t reach Grace for an interview, but her chat with the Sportsgirl website late last year was so inspiring and beautiful that I feel obliged to reprint it:

Sportsgirl: The hardest thing for people trying to make a difference in the world is often where to start. Can you tell us about the birth of Social Studio and how you initially got started?

Grace: The Social Studio was a proactive and direct response to seeing many talented young people from the refugee community who were struggling financially and socially. Many young people who have come to Australia from war-torn countries have to support themselves financially and often have to send money to family members living in difficult circumstances overseas.

It is very hard to get a job when you have never worked before, and when your English is not perfect, and when you don’t have social networks in a new country. The Social Studio is a dynamic attempt to turn this situation around. Starting up was the easy part, because so many people recognised the need and wanted to support the initiative. Understanding the problem, however, took several years of engaged community work.

There are so many ways that you can engage a community – why did you choose fashion as a focus for your work?

Grace: Fashion is the focus of The Social Studio because it is fun, creative, and empowering. It offers an outlet for cultural expression, and provides skill development in many different areas – from manufacturing and design to retail, business and administration! It is also an industry with a lot of excess and waste which we believe can be used in environmentally sustainable and socially beneficial ways. Most importantly, newly arrived communities in Australia have got an abundance of beauty, style, and fashions to share. We can learn so much from other cultures and the Social Studio offers this opportunity.

What’s the one piece of advice that you’d give to young people who want to make a positive impact on the world around them?

Grace: The one piece of advice I would give to young people who want to make a difference is to start now! Don’t compromise your values and don’t wait for “the right time” – start thinking about the world you want to live in today, and help make it a reality.

Go, Grace! Go Social Studio!

And the rest of you, check out her work on The Social or drop in to their shop on 128 Smith Street, Collingwood for a coffee and some retail therapy. And if you can go minus the caffeine, they’re on etsy, too.

(Photos by Raphael Kilpatrick)