The Difference magazine is a concept launched in 2011, it gives a report card on poverty and disadvantage in Australia, and provides readers with donation options to address these issues. Thus, between the covers of The Difference readers are able to learn about pressing social issues, discover projects working to address them and contribute to making a difference.
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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.”
During an interview on 11 August 2013, Nic Bolto, Founder of The Difference Magazine, highlighted Project New Dawn as an effective example in helping to resolve homelessness and long term unemployment
Station: 774 ABC Melbourne Date: 11/08/2013Program: The Sunday Show Time: 10:20 AMCompere: Libbi Gorr Summary ID: W00054171991Item: Gorr speaks to Nic Bolto, The Difference, about his organisation which aims to indicate where money may be spent for people to reference when they donate to charities.Interviewees: Nic Bolto, The Difference
LIBBI GORR: How do you make your decision as to where to donate money? When you pick a charity, what factors influence you? Well, there is a guideline, a set of guidelines, is that what you would call it Nic?
NIC BOLTO: Well I guess yeah, we’ve put together a bit of a group of indicators of where money may well be spent.
LIBBI GORR: Tell me about this organisation that you’ve created called The Difference?
NIC BOLTO: Yeah there’s a couple of interested people like me, we’re looking at how we’re going with our social health, it’s not all good news, we would expect that it is because we’re a wealthy country.
LIBBI GORR: There are 11 indicators, yeah.
NIC BOLTO: Eleven indicators this year, eight are worse and you know…
LIBBI GORR: Two are better?
NIC BOLTO: Two are better, one is unchanged and you’ve just got to ask the question, well what’s happening in this space between all these increasing number of people in need and reasonable sensible people like us that can do something.
LIBBI GORR: So what does The Difference actually do? I understand that you’ve pointed out the social indicators that are worse, the indicators that are better, but I understand you’ve undertaken a really big charity evaluation process to find charities that actually do deliver the dollar that you donate.
NIC BOLTO: That’s right. So we did start just with indicators and we went to interest groups and focus groups and said are you kidding, this is too depressing, you cannot just tell us that things are better or worse. We want to get involved, we want to do something about it. And so from that point Libbi, now we’re in year three, we’ve become a lot more sophisticated around who do we put up as the ones with the best ideas or the best concepts will actually drive these indicators down.
LIBBI GORR: So they can actually go to your website or something, The Difference and see which charities are attacking the social indicators that…
NIC BOLTO: That’s right, yeah, so we’ve…
LIBBI GORR: … say whether or not we’re healthy?
NIC BOLTO: If you google The Difference magazine, you’ll get a preview of the mag and last year’s copy is there for free and basically this year we’ve just tried to be as I say a little bit more scientific and programmed around – if you give to a charity what may happen. There are so many to choose from and my daughter and I lived this a few years ago walking from Richmond Station to the MCG. Five different can shakers for homelessness – we’ve got no idea which one to put the money in and which one will actually give a bang for buck. What we do know is that professional fund raising will take up to 65 per cent of your money. So no one actually declares or discloses that up front. It would be good if they did because it would change the way we give.
LIBBI GORR: How does it take up to 65 per cent of your money?
NIC BOLTO: Well everyone’s got to get paid, so whoever’s shaking the can gets paid, whoever’s…
LIBBI GORR: Oh! The professional fundraisers take the commission, 65 per cent?
NIC BOLTO: Yes. Up to 65 per cent. So particularly Melbourne CBD on the street corners where you have people in t-shirts that are badged with a particular charity, up to 65 per cent will never go to the people that we profile in difference, the real people that all of this industry and activity and these mechanisms are actually there to serve.
LIBBI GORR: So how do you find your way through that?
NIC BOLTO: Yeah…
LIBBI GORR: How do you find your way through that because it always seems so mean saying no to the professional can shakers but, I feel like I like to give in other ways where I know that the giving will be direct.
NIC BOLTO: Yes.
LIBBI GORR: It’s hard.
NIC BOLTO: We’re discerning about restaurants. You’ve introduced with movies. We’re extremely discerning around our arts and yet with charity all we seem to feel is guilt…
LIBBI GORR: Guilt.
NIC BOLTO: … or you’ve just got to be compelled in a particular direction. It’s often at an emotional level only. As I say we don’t get to see what’s underneath, we don’t get to see what will actually go directly towards driving this stuff away.
LIBBI GORR: So I can see that the indicators that are better from your list and there are eight that are worse, but homelessness and suicide.
NIC BOLTO: Suicide by all of 29 people, so we haven’t knocked the lights out there but it is better.
LIBBI GORR: Has that got anything to do with the charities that are working in those spaces?
NIC BOLTO: Well, our argument is absolutely yes. Like clearly there are things that underpin why things are getting better or worse but we pour billions of money into the charitable sector. This is not about charity bashing, it is about saying some are better than others, just like movies, restaurants and other things and we as givers need to know.
LIBBI GORR: So, which ones stand out as being the most effective?
NIC BOLTO: Yeah, on our web we’ve profiled 11 as you’ve mentioned. One of them that’s fabulous is Project New Dawn. So this has actually started by a BP executive walking past the same homeless man every morning and eventually saying one day, no, I’ve got to do something about his myself. And so Albert Li has gone ahead and he’s organised with the Salvation Army and some other corporates not a homelessness program, but a work program…
LIBBI GORR: Right.
NIC BOLTO: So they’re getting jobs for these guys, getting them off the streets, into homes. It’s a fabulous example of what happens when really sensible people put their thinking hats on.
LIBBI GORR: Yes, they actually go to the root cause rather than just putting a bandaid over it.
NIC BOLTO: Yeah.
LIBBI GORR: So is that the one that you would recommend? I mean in this town we have Red Cross, we have Salvation Army, we have the Smith Family, we have St Vincent de Paul, then we have all of the people who are raising monies for surf clubs, homelessness, The Big Issue…
NIC BOLTO: Yeah it’s really difficult and certainly…
LIBBI GORR: How many charities are there operating, how many thousands of charities are there operating in the country?
NIC BOLTO: Fifty-six thousand six-hundred. So again it’s people who were into stockbroking appoint advisors because there’s to many to choose from. You don’t know which one’s up and which one’s down. What we haven’t done is said there are only 11 that you can choose. What we have said is these 11 that we’ve identified…
LIBBI GORR: Are good.
NIC BOLTO: … will give you return and more importantly they’re going to do something about these people who live in situations of homelessness, child abuse and so on.
LIBBI GORR: So what 11 – can you give us a clue?
NIC BOLTO: Yeah sure. So Second Bite is a great example of what’s happening with dealing with food scarcity, with child abuse…
LIBBI GORR: Because these are the ones that need work. Youth unemployment, reoffending, drugs and alcohol, child abuse, high school completion, children learning, children without an employed parent and long term unemployment. They’re still the social indicators that are getting worse.
NIC BOLTO: Yep.
LIBBI GORR: So if you want to donate your money towards one of those causes, you provide some sort of pathway to show the most effective way of doing so?
NIC BOLTO: We do and then obviously being Australian and what Australians tend to want to do is like you said, go direct to source. So we just provide information and background material, people can go and speak to the charity, interview the charities as we did to get a sense that it’s all well placed.
LIBBI GORR: So in terms of – I don’t know – child abuse and you wanted to do something about that with your money.
NIC BOLTO: Yeah, in the magazine we list the CEOs name and contact details. Janine Mahoney, she’s a very well respected and visionary person that’s put in place prevention strategies that even governments [indistinct] with.
So if we touch for a moment on say reimprisonment or reoffending, the rate is over – 56 per cent this year, so what a waste of money, time and effort and for the poor people that are getting sucked up in this cycle of to and fro from prison…
LIBBI GORR: Recidivism.
NIC BOLTO: …they’re really basic answers to this and our profile charity AXO(*), again it’s about employment, training and these guys are out there doing it and doing it at a really great degree of success.
LIBBI GORR: So who’s funding you the difference?
NIC BOLTO: Yeah there are a group of really interested people around me and they provide their money, I provide my money. This year the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation has helped tremendously – they’ve put money in and…
LIBBI GORR: So is this a charitable philanthropic exercise on your behalf?
NIC BOLTO: It is, yeah. So Libbi the measure – in my editorial on page 1 we talk about the Gini coefficient and that’s the distance between the richest and the poorest. I’m in the richest, I’m in the top 20 per cent, so I’m morally bound not only to give back but also to be really clear with my children and those in my peer group who are interested about where it needs to go.
LIBBI GORR: Thank you so much for coming in Nick.
NIC BOLTO: Cool.
LIBBI GORR: It’s illuminating, just what we need. You want to know where your money’s going, don’t you? Absolutely.
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Transcript produced by iSentia