Australia Travel Diary

14 February 2010

Well, I’ve been in Melbourne a couple of days now – finally over the jetlag. The flight from London via Hong Kong is a bit of a marathon, and with an 11 hour time difference, it’s not surprising my body clock was confused.

I am staying in a student complex, about 30 minutes outside the city, and about 15 minutes from the La Trobe campus. It’s a matchbox size single room with a bed, sink and toilet/shower (the toilet is actually in the shower cubicle!). What more does a guy need?

I’ve had two short trips into the city. First, on Thursday, I visited Leeora Black, Director of ACCSR, and took a lovely stroll through the Royal Botanical Gardens. There’s some great, funky architecture down town. Friday was just a quick trip in to apply for a passport renewal.

Friday to Sunday, I was teaching at La Trobe Graduate School of Management – the first half of a 6 day module on Business in Society, as part of a Masters in Responsible Business. They are a great bunch of students – a mixture of managers, local government officials and academics.

The La Trobe campus is vast, with large expanses of green space. I keep seeing “beware of the kangaroo” signs, but I haven’t seen any yet (maybe they can’t read?). There is a nature reserve right next to the campus, which I look forward to visiting.

Today, I head off to Sydney for a couple of days, where I will be teaching a 1-day workshop for the University of New South Wales on “Creating Change through Social Responsibility”. I should have a day or so to be a city tourist as well, before heading back to Melbourne.

I’ll be staying in Bondi with Samantha Graham, an old friend who studied with me at the Centre for Human Ecology in Edinburgh about 15 years ago. She is now a mum & sustainability educator at Stormlight Consulting. It’s great how these connections live on over time and space.

18 February 2010

This week, I flew to Sydney to deliver a workshop on “Creating Change through Social Responsibility” for the University of New South Wales’ Centre for Social Impact. I also gave a talk on “The Future of CSR” at a CSR Sydney evening event, kindly hosted by David Morrisey.

I was fortunate enough to be given a place to crash for 3 nights by Samantha Graham, a colleague from my days at the Centre for Human Ecology in Edinburgh, where we both did our Masters. Both Sam and her partner, John Talbott, also lived at the Findhorn Community for many years.

Findhorn is an ecovillage in the north of Scotland, which I visited twice (in 1994 and 1995). It was a source of great inspiration, as an example of living in harmony with nature and with an intentional spiritual purpose. Like so many others, I first heard about it through Paul Hawken’s book, The Magic of Findhorn – the same Hawken who wrote subsequent classics that have been equally leading-edge, like The Ecology of Commerce, Natural Capitalism and Blessed Unrest.

As it happens, Sam & John’s flat overlooks Bondi Beach, so I was treated not only to their wonderful hospitality, but also spectacular views across the bay.

On my “tourist day”, I visited the New South Wales Art Gallery, where I was most taken with the Aboriginal art painted on flattened bark. There is also a fantastic sculpture outside, comprised of two 20 ft matches – one burned and the other not. Apparently, it is a commentary by the artist of the transience of life.

I also walked around Darling Harbour and took the ferry to Manly, which allows great views of Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. All in all, my impressions of Sydney (which has strong echoes of Cape Town for me) is of a city where they have got the work-play balance just about right.

This laid back lifestyle (which Sam captured in a nutshell as “too much sun”) is probably also why Australia has been so slow to take issues like climate change seriously (despite years of drought), but that’s the subject of another blog.

20 February 2010

Yesterday, at the invitation of Leeora Black, Director of the Australian Centre for CSR (ACCSR), and sponsored by La Trobe Graduate School of Management, I gave a keynote address on “Leadership for social responsibility” at the ACCSR conference in Melbourne. The conference theme was around ISO 26000 in a post financial crisis world.

What are my impressions so far? I sense a huge frustration among people working in CSR in Australia. The biggest reasons cited are an unsupportive (some even say backward) government policy environment, and the negative lobby power of Australia’s two biggest industries – extractives (mainly mining) and agriculture.

After about 10 years of severe drought (and even fatalities from runaway bush-fires in Victoria last year), it is hard to understand why climate change is not right at the top of government and business agendas. But perhaps that is testimony to the power of vested interests in the status quo.

Also, the opposition party is scoring cheap political points by calling everything to do with climate change a tax, to be avoided at all costs. They fail to mention that (according to the Stern Review) it may cost 1% of GDP now, but it will cost 20% of GDP later if nothing is done. So they are happy to tax the future 20 times as heavily, in order to get quick votes today.

I did hear one other explanation for why the take-up of CSR in general, and climate action in particular, is so lacklustre in Australia. “There’s too much sun”, said my friend and sustainability consultant, Samantha Graham. By which she meant, Australians are too laid back about life. They are eternal optimists who believe that things will get better sooner or later.

To be fair, there is some really progressive work going on in stakeholder engagement and social impact management among the mining companies (more about that another time). Meanwhile, why worry about disaster scenarios for 2050 when the sun is shining, the skies are blue and there’s a cracking footie (or rugby or cricket) game on?

CSR-what? Surf’s up!

27 February 2010

Last week, I went to an exhibition of Australian sculptor, Ricky Swallow, at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. His work is quite simply sublime (although his affection for skulls makes some of it disturbing at the same time).

Encouragingly, Swallow is a self-taught wood sculptor, relying on persistence rather than formal training. Asked about his talent, he says: “You’ve either got some sort of gift for it or you haven’t. I’ve always thought it better to be a pirate than an expert in any medium; it’s better to find your own attitude within it.”

I have an inexplicable emotional affinity with wood carvings and it remains one of my unfulfilled ambitions – to learn the craft myself. I can’t yet tell whether I have “the pirate within”, but in the meantime, I am more than happy to be inspired by the art of others, such as Swallow.

6 March 2010

This past week, I have been sampling the best of Melbourne – from art to football, academia to social enterprise. Last Saturday, Bob Kochen too me to an Aussie rules football match (St Kilda v Sydney). It was surprisingly easy to get the hang of, and great fun to watch, made more exciting because it was a close match – the Saints won by a single point.

Still on the sporting theme, I went to see the movie, Invictus. It brought back some strong memories, as I thought back to that tense and magical time in South Africa’s history. I was in Johannesburg at the time and apprehension and ecstasy were palpable. I found the first half of the movie – which gives some insight into Mandela’s mind – more captivating than the rugby-dominated second half.

On Sunday, Leeora Black and Bob Kochen took me out to the Dandenongs (a mountainous area on the outskirts of Melbourne), to visit the William Ricketts Sanctuary. As a self-confessed sculptophile, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. The clay sculptures of aboriginal people emerging from rocks and trees in the forest are breathtakingly beautiful. It was also interesting to learn how Ricketts’ art was inspired by a deeply spiritual eco-animistic philosophy.

As if I hadn’t been spoiled enough, yesterday Kate Hardiman went with me to a Ron Meuck exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. Mueck is a super-realist sculptor who messes with your mind by changing the scale of his (mostly human) pieces. Hence, a giant (maybe 20 foot) newborn baby and a miniature (2 foot) old woman in the foetal position. Really fascinating!

It hasn’t been all play and no work. On Friday, I gave a presentation at an event on responsible business organised by Victoria University, sharing the platform with Colin Higgins (Vic U), Neil Birtchnell (Transfield Services) and John Prince (Social Compass). Colin then took me to meet Shanaka Fernando, founder of the social enterprise Melbourne restaurant chain, Lentil As Anything (I will blog separately about Shanaka).

Apart from the delights of Melbourne’s sights and citizens, I also experienced all four of its seasons yesterday – from sunny blue skies to a freak hail storm in the space of a few hours. I ended up spending a wonderful afternoon in St Kilda, then wondering back in the rain through the memorial park and along the Yarra river.

7 March 2010

Recently, I had the good fortune to spend some time with Shanaka Fernando, founder of the Melbourne based restaurant chain, Lentil As Anything. Shanaka is one of those rare pioneers who are prepared to live by their convictions, flaunt social convention and challenge the status quo.

After a failed stint as a Buddhist monk in his home country of Sri Lanka (he fell in love with a nun and got kicked out), he came to Australia and dabbled in law studies. It wasn’t fulfilling, so he gave it up to travel on a shoestring around the Third World for six years, learning about culture and community along the way. When he returned to Australia, Shanaka started a business importing saris made from recycled fabrics, which made him enough money to start his current social experiment – Lentil As Anything.

I call it a social experiment, because the business goes beyond simply being a social enterprise. Like other social businesses, Lentil As Anything embraces the entrepreneurial spirit while it “seeks to have a significant, positive influence on the development of the community”. But there is something more unique, more challenging, more sublime and more subversive – because it gets to the heart of human nature and the essence of Western capitalism. I am talking about generosity and money.

Through Lentil As Anything, Shanaka is trying to foster a culture of generosity. What would happen, he wondered, if there were no prices? What if people only paid what they could afford, or what they thought the food was worth, or what they were inspired to pay? Is there enough generosity left in Western society to run a viable business on the principle of giving and sharing, rather than profit maximisation? Would the ‘free rider’ problem kick in, with people taking advantage of the ‘free’ food?

According to Shanaka, all kinds of interesting things happen when people are faced with ‘the magic box’ – the treasure chest that people can place their donations in as they leave. A few (very, very few) take advantage. Some, who genuinely can’t afford to pay, offer to chop vegetables or do dishes. Others make their own assessment of what is a fair price to pay. Some are quietly generous, while others make a theatrical gesture of placing their donation in the magic box.

But it goes beyond the money. Other unexpected things happen too. As you look around, you notice that this is not a ‘people like me’ experience, where you are surrounded by those from your own socio-economic or ethno-cultural strata. Lentil has succeeded in mixing it up, cutting across traditional divides. And because of the philosophy of the place, you may find a wealthy businessman striking up a conversation with a subsistence artist.

When you nurture these kind of creative connections, it is a potent recipe for innovation, for rediscovering what it means to be human. Shanaka insists that Lentil is first and foremost about good food (interestingly, vegetarian food, because that is the most inclusive, making concerns about halal or kosher or meat-based preparation irrelevant). But it is clearly more than that. It is an invitation to restore our faith in the essential goodness of humanity and the wholesome nature of community.

What, you may ask, has all this to do with CSR? Well, I believe it is entrepreneurs like Shanaka that are at the forefront of the CSR 2.0 wave. If we subject Lentil to the 5 tests of CSR 2.0, it scores well: 1) Is Lentil creative? (yes), 2) is it scalable (not sure), 3) is it responsive (extremely), 4) is it glocal (yes, it thinks globally but acts locally), and 5) is it circular (mostly, yes, local production and recycling are part of the philosophy and practice).

Even on scalability, Lentil gave me pause to think about what I mean by that. If we accept the ‘Long Tail’ approach to scalability (popularised by Chris Anderson), Lentil doesn’t have to go from 4 to 40,000 restaurants to be scalable. It could be that 10,000 independent restaurants – inspired by a similar philosophy – pop up all around the world and turn the generosity experiment into a global movement.

As the world recovers from the Age of Greed that culminated in the global financial crisis, it is refreshing to be reminded of the rightful place of money in society. Money is always a means to an end; never the end in itself. Melbourne – and indeed the world – would be a poorer place if brave experiments like Lentil As Anything were allowed to fail. Let us make sure that, in the battle of generosity versus money, generosity wins hands down.

15 March 2010

My time in Australia is up. I am now flying to Singapore. The five weeks seem to have flown by, jam-packed with stimulation. The ‘shared learning’ approach worked out extremely well, and included delivering the keynote speech at the ACCSR annual conference, teaching the Business in Society course at La Trobe Graduate School of Management, running 1-day workshops for ACCSR in Melbourne and the University of New South Wales in Sydney, and giving talks at Banarra (a Sydney based consultancy) and Victoria University (in Melbourne). I also managed to capture numerous video interviews with CSR experts of various flavours, which I am sharing through CSR International.

The social and cultural side has also been great. Although confined to Sydney and Melbourne, I feel like I have gotten to know both cities a bit and tasted some of their delights, by visiting the attractions (Sydney harbour, Melbourne gardens), strolling along the beachfronts (Bondi, St Kildare), looking in on the galleries (National Gallery of Victoria), cheering on the sport (Aussie rules football) and soaking up the music (Bennett Lane jazz). It has also been a time of making new friends and acquaintances, some of which I expect to last into the future, or at least be revived when I return. Speaking of which, I am pleased that La Trobe wants me back to teach again next year. I expect I will oblige.

17 January 2011

Arrived jet-lagged in Melbourne. 3 am and I’m bright as a button. Well ok, more like an unpolished, brass button ;-). Will try to sleep now.

24 January 2011

Finished a weekend of teaching (Fri 6-9pm, Sat & Sun 9am-4pm). Tiring, but rewarding. I enjoy the interaction with the students and the challenge of making the content engaging and informative. I took a few days to get over my jetlag last week, so my productivity was not great. This week will have to be far more productive, as Indira arrives on Saturday, and most of next week will be a no-go for work.

I am staying in a spacious self-catering room at Rydges Bell City in Preston. So far, I have not been tempted to go out, or even to swim or test out the gym. Mostly I’ve been reading (really enjoying Pillars of the Earth) and watching the Australian Open Tennis. I feel I must take advantage of this time alone to work on my personal projects (website, diary, art, writing) but I haven’t had the energy or motivation so far.

It has been wonderful to have blue skies and sunshine for a few days, although it is raining today.

25 January 2011

Saw my first wild possum in a tree last night. Today is a holiday down under – Australia Day (or Invasion Day as the more cynical call it).

31 January 2011

Enjoyed the Melbourne Immigration Museum & a stroll thru the Botanical Gardens. Still pretty scorching, but at least not 38 C like yesterday Heading off on the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne today. 36 degrees C so will be grateful for aircon. Will probably overnight in Apollo Bay.

2 February 2011

Apollo Bay, Australia. After driving down from Melbourne yesterday, Indira and I have spent a glorious night at the Kookaburra Cottage just outside Apollo Bay. The cottage is everything you would hope for – overlooking the sea and in the shadow of a hill, where herds of Shetland ponies graze; a river running through and forests flanking; an 87 year old cockatoo called Cockadoolie, who says, Watcha doin’?’ and ‘See ya later’; free roaming chickens and 3 cats (we also spotted a fox on the hill); beautiful wild cockatoos – white with bright yellow crests, and blue and white parakeets; wooden benches made of driftwood; all manner of artistic installations – crazy paving, pebble cairns, dream catchers, carvings, stained glass, old wagon wheels, rusty horse shoes and weather beaten saddles, not to mention all the luxuries of a log cabin with fireplace, Jacuzzi and gnarled wooden writing desk overlooking the ocean.

Yesterday, we drove at a leisurely pace down the Great Ocean Road, stopping at Anglesea Bay to swim, and numerous other spots to take pictures, including an amazing flat rock formation (seemingly volcanic), called Cathedral Rock. We have the same rocks here at Apollo Bay, with cracks and bubbles and honeycomb erosions that make exquisite patterns. As Indira said, ‘No wonder some people believe in God’.

We were up in time for a sunrise stroll along the beach, after a deeply restful sleep, soothed by the rhythmic roar of the ocean waves and the crackle of the fire. The owner, a spritely woman with grey dreadlocks, has owned and built up the cottages over the past 30 years, with the help of her son and daughter. She told Indira (as they went down to the herb garden to collect fresh mint for her tea) that this is a place of healing. I don’t doubt it. I feel replenished after less than 24 hours. We also came away with lots of ideas for Mountain View Cottage. Maybe one day we will add to the dream that Mom and Dad have already begun.

3 February 2011

Melbourne. Yesterday, we drove to the Twelve Apostles, which are spectacular rock buttresses that have separated from the mainland limestone cliffs. Then we went to a temperate rainforest where a ‘skyway’ bridge has been constructed through the tree-tops. At its highest, the viewing tower is 47 m, while the walkways (including a cantilever ‘arm’) reach 33 m. In one section of the forest, realistic-looking dinosaurs have been hidden alongside the path. On our way back along the Great Ocean Road, we were delighted to see a wallaby on the side of the road, and some koalas in the eucalyptus trees. They truly are the cutest things ever, and they make the strangest growling sound, we think to mark their territory. Apparently, they sleep most of the time because the eucalyptus leaves are so low in nutritional value. So, all in all, an amazing two days. And all the better to be sharing the experiences with Indira. These good memories will be a deep well to quench us in the years ahead.

4 February 2011

Melbourne is getting the fringe effects of Cyclone Yasi – lots of rain, some flooding .. and on the news, they assure “we’ve seen it all before”.

7 February 2011

After our Great Ocean Road road trip, we went to the Yarra Valley, a beautiful drive through vineyards and forests, and on to the Healesville wildlife sanctuary. We discovered that koalas make the strange grunting, growling noise to signal their presence to females during mating season and to warn off other males. At the sanctuary, we had a chance to see a koala up close. I never knew that they have a double thumb for better grip. We also saw a platypus – much smaller than I had expected, but also rather lovely. One kangaroo was lying on its side, with its arms folded and looked for all the world like a model posing in a beach scene.

Apart from these trips out of town, we have also gone into town, first to City Square for a drink, where we listened to a wonderful live band called Joys Soul; then to Chinatown, where we had a delicious dinner – rather appropriate as it was Chinese New Year (last night). Today, we will head to Victoria market, then have drinks with some of the La Trobe staff, before driving to the airport for Indira’s evening flight. It has been a real treat to have her here for the past 10 days, and we have seen some great sights. Now, it is back to serious work for us both.

8 February 2011

Presented a workshop at Victoria Uni yesterday on governance & leadership. Tonight, I help to launch the ACCSR State of CSR in Australia report.

14 February 2011

A weekend of teaching, but enjoyed a pre-season Aussie rules football live match on Saturday. Also a Japanese summer festival at Docklands.

16 February 2011

Giving input to a workshop today at Melbourne Law School on The Future of CSR. Can changes in corporate law redefine the purpose of companies?

17 February 2011

En route Melbourne to London via Singapore. It has been a good four weeks in Australia – a good change of weather and of scenery and of activity. Indira’s visit was a highlight, seeing beautiful sights beyond the city.

9 May 2014

On my way to Melbourne from London via Singapore for a week with the good folks of Deakin University, as part of my Adjunct Professorship.

14 May 2014

Looking forward to presenting at the Deakin MBA CSaRO alumni event on Creating Shared Value: Revolution or Clever Con?

15 May 2014

End of a productive week in Melbourne, with a PhD roundtable, faculty seminar on sustainability leadership, alumni talk on shared value, meetings on collaborative research, as well as seeing a few sites over the weekend.

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