PND co-founder Albert Li was recently interviewed by Nina Bertok of The Melbourne Review to share the story of PND.

by Nina Bertok

Albert Li combines his Air BP business development role with direct action on behalf of the homeless

There is nothing more important in life than leaving behind a positive legacy, whether at work or in the community, according to Albert Li. As the Business Development Manager for Air BP’s Australian and New Zealand Business Unit, outside his day job, Li kick-started the national homeless employment initiative, Project New Dawn, and it is this the Melbourne businessman and social entrepreneur considers his biggest achievement.

Founded in 2007, Project New Dawn has been responsible for helping to break the cycle of those experiencing homelessness by providing jobs and housing opportunities to the less fortunate, while at the same time creating tangible value to corporates, NFPs, philanthropists and others involved. It’s about offering a ‘hand up’, rather than a ‘hand out’, as Li explains.

“I live in North Melbourne and walking to work I would see the same homeless man every single day,” Li recalls as the inspiration that was behind the idea for PND. “I would give him a gold coin every time or I’d buy him a sandwich, but I knew that it wasn’t the solution to the problem. So I thought about how I could help that one man, it was never far from my mind. On the way to the Cinema Nova one night in December of 2006, my wife and I saw the same man again and I just felt I needed to take action and get him back into society.

“I truly believe it is up to people like myself, who can create change, to take on the personal responsibility to act and help in some way. I didn’t really have the expertise in dealing with the social and personal aspects associated with the homeless and I wasn’t equipped to deal with that. So when I met Brendan Nottle from the Salvation Army who’d had experience in this field, I presented him the idea and he saw merit in it. We shaped it into Project New Dawn.”

In the last six years, the initiative has gone national, spreading to Brisbane, Perth and Newcastle. For Li, the experience has been priceless, helping the Melbourne businessman’s personal development in ways that he claims he never could have imagined. What began with helping just one man on the streets start again in life has now evolved into a project that brings together remarkable individuals while giving homeless people the chance to regain self-esteem and break out of their circumstances.

“The way it works is each participant is offered a real job with at least 30 hours of employment a week,” Li explains. “BP has been providing jobs up until now, but now Bunnings has also come on board. The participants are enrolled in the project 12 to 18 months and offered a room in a three-bedroom house so they’re able to pay their own rent and utilities. The houses they live in are furnished by Radio Rentals who provide beds and whitegoods, everything that makes a home more liveable. There are two participants per house and a lead tenant who is there to be a role model and show the guys what it means to lead a normal life. If you’ve been homeless for a while the concept of getting out of bed early in the morning and working is something you have to get used to. No alcohol or drugs are allowed either. After 18 months, they have to transition into independent living which is possible because they now have very good references and a rental record allowing them to rent a house.”

As a result of Project New Dawn’s national success, Li claims that one of his core beliefs – ‘the art of the possible’ – has been even further strengthened. If there is one word in the English language he despises the most, it is ‘can’t’.

“I understand and have personally experienced that in making critical business or personal decisions we can find many reasons for why something ‘can’t’ be done,” he says. “For me, if there is one possible path forward – and as long as that path is aligned with corporate goals or personal passions – if after weighing up the risks and benefits that path is still worth pursuing, then we owe it to ourselves to pursue it with conviction. I have achieved things that people thought ‘can’t be done’ and I’ve seen people do things that others thought ‘can’t be done’, so when I hear the word ‘can’t’ I take it as a personal challenge.”

As Li adds, “With over 18 million adult Australians in the country, we all can contribute to our local communities, simply by contributing what we are good at. Our great country will be even greater, if we all can leave behind one meaningful legacy.”

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