Using What’s In Your Hands for Impact

Using What’s In Your Hands for Impact

Mark Dombkins and I had the great pleasure of connecting at a convention recently for women in business (thanks to Tracy Harris and Karl from @mumswithhustle)

We chatted amiably and I think it’s fair to say we immediately both cottoned on to a synergy of values. A few sparkly eye moments of recognition assured me we would have something to talk about on the podcast.

A couple of weeks later and we recorded. It was humbly inspiring to hear a little about Mark and his wife’s remarkable story from being two teachers, with a baby, and living in Australia to being a family of many more and starting a not-for-profit that raises millions to help women in Tanzania keep their kids and become self-sufficient financially.

Don’t miss this one, it’ll get you in the feels. Listen to it here

About Mark

Mark is the founder of Forever Projects – a not-for-profit that helps women break the cycle of poverty and create a self-sustaining future. The Forever Projects community currently raises funds for local teams in Tanzania, who empower women in some of the world’s most challenging circumstances to live with dignity and hope.

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Here’s a transcript of our conversation.

Our Conversation

[00:00:00] [00:00:13] Well, hello Mark. How are you? I’m well, thank you. Thanks so much for catching up for a chat. It’s yeah, great to connect again. And isn’t it interesting the first time we met was in real life, which is really unusual these days. Not unusual. What a lovely thing. Yeah, very rare. And actually rare on this podcast as well.

[00:00:30] Usually the people that I meet on this podcast, we become friends from the podcast . So you and I already had a bit of a connection and, and an understanding when we spoke, which was so nice. Yeah. When we met in real life. We met at the mentor of Mine’s convention Tracy Harris, mom with Hustle at her beautiful convention, which was such a treat to see you speak about your project.

[00:00:53] I’d love you to tell me who are you, where are you and mm-hmm. . What’s your greatest passion at the moment? Yeah, that’s so my name’s Mark Dombkins. I’m currently in Wollongong, New South Wales. And I’m passionately working to Yeah, further the mission of our not-for-profit that we’ve started, which is called Forever Projects.

[00:01:11] So we help women break cycle of poverty and create a self sustaining future. And as you know, that, that story kind of is connected to our family’s journey. So we lived and worked in Tanzania for a couple of years, and three of our six kids are adopted from there. And so yeah, this is a mission that’s really close to our heart in helping women in that culture be empowered to live independent and dignified lives of full of Hope and yeah, empower.

[00:01:36] That’s amazing. Just amazing. So Forever Projects, right? Yeah. Remember that name folks. And it’s pretty, it’s pretty clever the way you’ve set it up. I do love the way you’ve set it up, but I, I would love to hear it to start off with just a little about your story and, and how it came to be. A thing for you?

[00:01:55] Yeah. Well it was, I think that, as I’ve shared with you and we caught up at Tracy’s event, like story is something we just, we, we kind of almost like stumble literally ourselves into. And it was one for us that started when our elder son Jackson was about six months old. And we were watching this documentary, my wife Anna and I one evening and he’s there sleeping soundly in the bassinet and we watched.

[00:02:16] Documentary about the about children who’d been abandoned in an orphanage in developing country. And these volunteers had kind of snuck in these cameras to expose some of the human rights kind of abuses and the obstacles that were happening there. And we’re just watching this going on on the screen and seeing our little boy sleeping, sounding, just thinking like, How is this?

[00:02:34] Right. That this is the same world and these kids are just living in such different lives. And so that was the kind of spark for us that we just started to talk about. Like what would it look like if our family was, was open to kids who didn’t have that hope of the family of their own. So that was kind of what started it.

[00:02:48] [00:02:50] [00:03:36] [00:03:38] And then we over, over a long, you know, years and years and years, like, you know, starting to investigate, would that look like being foster parents in Australia or potentially being part of the intercountry adoption program in Australia? And those steps that we kind of, you know, took and then looked like it was gonna be some progress and then take steps back as all stories are.

[00:03:57] But we ended up. Four years into this process and no further along. And at that, that stage, we, we were just so invested in this idea. I think, you know, when you, you take that first step, you not sure, but like we, we really investigated it and, and turned ourselves into it. And so that was where my wife just.

[00:04:15] One innocent day walking along the beach in Wollongong said, Hey, what if we moved overseas and instead of being victims of the current circumstances, what if we kind of kicked the door down and you know, take this story into our own hands? And so yeah, that was, I was ready to say yes to that. And we within six months, moved overseas, started working at international schools.

[00:04:34] Were both in like, education by trade. So yeah, moved to Tanzania and without four or one year old and started Did, I guess the, not, we didn’t start straight away, but just that, that was a yeah, the first steps of that next chapter of our story. That’s amazing. I mean, I already really like your wife.

[00:04:52] The fact that she said, Let’s kick the door down, if that was the intention there. Yeah. And I can understand that. That would be frustrating. The only thing I could relate it to would be a four year fertility journey that I had. Yeah. I mean, when you feel that your family. Is destined to be bigger than it is and it takes a long time.

[00:05:13] It can be really hard and it can be a really soul searching time and it’s kind of out of your hands, isn’t it? Totally. If you’re in the hands of, you know, government policy or yeah, something like that, there’s that powerlessness and sort of surrender to the process that can be really difficult and I think it’s amazing that you decided that you made that very bold and very courageous and very kind of seemingly small at the time, but actually massive choice.

[00:05:38] To to move overseas. That’s, that’s a really interesting thing. I’m also fascinated by the fact that you, going back to that initial part of that story, not everybody would watch that documentary and be triggered into action by that injustice that you noticed. And where do you, where does that come from, do you think?

[00:05:57] Why is it that you and and your partner potentially have those values? Is that something you’ve always felt since you were young? Yeah. Is that something that’s, Yeah. So that, that’s definitely part of my wife’s story and thinking, in thinking about how do you, like, she’s a school counselor and psychologist, and so you know, getting in, like hearing, hearing the words, the cry of people who are like in pain, like that’s part of just the, the reason why she got into that.

[00:06:24] In the first place. I think for me, like I’m a math teacher by trade, so it’s not necessarily caught up in that profession, although obviously being an educator is about Yeah. Creating that space for kids. But I think for, for me personally, I have reflected later on, like, why was I ready to kind of lean into that Yeah.

[00:06:39] Opportunity and say yes. And so my mum I think it was a big part of that. So she had a long and difficult journey with breast cancer from when I was about, 14 years old right through to when she passed away a couple years ago and it was like she was in remission and then it would come back and She eventually turned into secondary bone cancer and she passed away a couple years ago.

[00:06:56] But I watched her as a teenager and then as young, young man, like not become a victim to the, to the hand that she’d been dealt. And yeah, she knew what it was like to be journeying through that. Difficult cancer process. And so shortly after her first kinda experience with that, she joined a, a cancer support group to help women and kind of be by their bedside as they kind of came out from surgery to kind of talk through things.

[00:07:19] And so I think, and you know, we’d have like women in the home and they’d be like sewing all kinds of stuff and raising money for cancer research and stuff. So I think I just downloaded that from her, particularly my dad as well that like, you don’t, you don’t become a victim to your circumstances.

[00:07:33] She used to always say like, make. Outta lemons and, and I just saw her do that with such grace and Beautiful. Yeah, just beautiful action. Just quiet, bit convicted action. So I think that was definitely where I, I would attribute a lot of that too. Yeah. That’s beautiful. It’s so interesting you mentioned that.

[00:07:47] It reminds me of a conversation I had with my aunt recently where we talked about the way that we have this kind of inclination in our family, I guess also family of educators by the way, out of interest. But we. Our children always say to us, Why do you talk to everyone? It happened to me this morning.

[00:08:03] I was in a cafe and I’m chatting to the guy next to me in the cafe and his one year old daughter, you know, And my daughter says to me for like the millionth time, Mom, you talk to anyone, Like you talk to everyone wherever we go. Why do you do that? And it’s funny cuz talking to my aunt uh, My grandparents, her parents, you know, and, and that apparently my grandmother was like that.

[00:08:22] And I know on my other side also my grandmother and grandfather were like that, that when they spoke to someone, they acknowledged the fact that we are all human no matter mm-hmm. who we are if we’re cleaning the toilets where the Queen of England doesn’t matter. Yeah. There’s that. You’re human and there’s that moment of acknowledging another person and looking them in the eye.

[00:08:43] Mm-hmm. actually, You know, just really letting them be seen, heard, and safe for a moment, whatever their existence or reality is. Yeah. And that there’s a huge amount of power in doing that. Mm-hmm. , not only in in that moment, is it really fun. I mean, I love hearing people’s stories, love learning, and listening, and.

[00:09:02] Giving people the space that they can talk to me. You know, I love it. And it also, I guess, is an extension of what you’re talking about, just being in some way of small service to another person by hearing them just for a moment, whatever their reality is. And. I agree that it comes from your family and mm-hmm.

[00:09:21] you know we learn it pretty young and we learn it from observing those mm-hmm. that we respect and care about. And I’m sorry to hear about your mom, but it does sound like a really amazing gift and legacy that she has given you. Yeah. Yeah. And my sister and I both say like, we feel that. A way that we, you know, when we’re grieving still and, and just missing her a way that we can remember her is by kind of embodying that spirit that she brought into the world, in the way that we live our own lives with our own families and friends and Yeah.

[00:09:50] And workplaces and stuff. So it’s a nice way to think about that. You know, she’s passing the to onto us and we’ll pass it on to others and the way we show up does make it easy. But it’s, it’s, it’s a nice way to say that, you know, she’s still here kinda with us in that way. Yeah. Yeah, it’s a way of keeping in contact with her, isn’t it?

[00:10:08] And yeah, I think it was the same with that conversation. Not that I’m grieving in the same way, but that it was the same with that conversation with my aunt. It connected me in a way with my ancestry, you know? And I thought, how interesting that we do this in families that we mm-hmm. , without even realizing it, the way that we are as parents, the way that we’re living.

[00:10:26] We are giving our children a b. Every day, you know? Yeah. And not in a pressured way. I don’t mean that in a You must be perfect way, . Yeah. I mean that in a, you know, living from the heart and living with those values and embodying those values day to day, whether it’s with a big project like Forever Projects or whether it’s with talking to the girl in the coffee shop, whatever it is.

[00:10:45] It’s powerful and that acknowledgement of connection is powerful, you know? Yeah. And she started doing maths. You’ll like this as a math teacher. After that, we started talking about grandparents and she started to do maths in the car. She was like, So I had, she said, I have four grandparents. I said, Yeah, you’ve got eight grandparents.

[00:11:02] Actually, you’ve got two. No, cause I got confused. I’m not great with the math. But anyway, she was doing the math and she was, you know, doing the exponential math. She was like, Okay. So I have. Two, then I have four, then I have eight. Then I have, oh my gosh, 250. You know, she was, that’s how many great, great great grandparents I have.

[00:11:19] She couldn’t believe it. Yeah. And I sat there, all of the people who lived to create you, you know, like it’s pretty amazing. Yeah. So anyway, that’s a nice little off track comment. Yeah. But , it’s good. Oh, it’s good to digress a little bit. Totally. So, coming back to your journey now, I’d love to hear a little bit more about what happens then You get to.

[00:11:38] Tanzanias it to Tanzania. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And we and we dod down our research and thinking about if we were gonna live in a country where where foster care for children that needed that as a last resort was possible, then we’d wanna make sure that the country was safe to live in. And then that, whether if there was You know, immigration laws and that of stuff, all that, you know, things that you would check out.

[00:11:56] Yeah. So, so we but we made contacts already with an organization that really inspired us. They they were a baby home for abandoned children in Western Tanzania. But they kind of said their vision was a day where they closed the door. Cause this was not a problem anymore. Where, cause you know, they’d been wow systems changing where children were never needing to be a then in the first place that really resonated with our values in terms of adoption being an option for children who.

[00:12:20] Like had no other option for, or hope for family their own. But but that, that was working kind of to, to mitigate that being an issue in the first place. So yeah, we were in contact with them. Yeah. And we shared that when we moved to Tanzania, obviously we were working residents and so on. So we.

[00:12:35] Connected with social welfare system there, and we’d be making ourselves available for ly children who needed that home. But also if there were siblings that were in danger of being separated biological sibling siblings, that we’d be open to that. And so six months of living and working there there are three children that are in our now adopted, three children Sha and Jabbar, who, Yeah, that they were in that situation where they’d been abandoned and needed a family.

[00:12:56] And the hope was that that. Could take all three. So wow. We went from a family of two, a four and one year old to a four and four one year olds overnight at the end of 20, end of 2010. So that was a lot of, you can imagine like that many kids, let alone in East Africa with like, no, we had to quickly get our, he get our hands on a big washing machine and, and dryer to get through all the.

[00:13:20] And stuff. But anyway, that was the that was the, the, the kind of turning point in our, in our story as a family. Yeah. That’s amazing. And they’re how old now? Yeah. So recording. Yeah, time recording. We have so Shane, Charlie twins, they’re 12, they’ll be 13 next month and their older biological brother.

[00:13:38] 13, 14 going on. Yeah. 14 in January. So there’s this period from October through. February where, sorry, January. We’ve got four of the same age . So oh my goodness. As of end of October, we’ll have four 13 year olds in our home, plus the 16 and eight year olds. So, yeah, That’s incredible, isn’t it? Yeah, plenty.

[00:13:58] Plenty of never a dull moment. never a dull. And we’re back. We just had to do a quick shift of headphones, situation, . So you might hear now, Mark’s lovely, warm, clear voice coming through. So thank you Mark. So I’m curious now, at what point does it change from being you are there to foster children to, Oh, hang on.

[00:14:19] There’s more we can do. What happened? Yeah, I think it was the, from our personal perspective and being a contribution to that was the definitely the day we walked outta the baby home, starting that fostering process with our three, and whilst that’s a beautiful moment in their story, Because of the, you know, situation they’re leaving and going into and joining a family.

[00:14:38] It’s, it’s so hard walking past 57 other children who are just there and aren’t Oh gosh. Aren’t going to that family. Yeah. You know, and so so I think that that, and then the question you kind of, that lingers with you, not just at that moment but ongoing is like, what would need to have changed in these kids and our kids Bo mum’s story, so that the bo their biological mother was never in that situation in the first place.

[00:14:58] So I think that for us personally was how do we. How can we be a contribution to that problem being solved so that kids aren’t in that circumstance? But then the great thing was that the baby home had adopted from, as I’d shared, they were really passionate about keeping families together. And they’d already started testing and running some pilot projects with some of the women in the community that were kind of just before that crisis point of bank separated from their children.

[00:15:22] And so yeah, so that, that was the kind of point for us where we were like, well, The local teams are testing this out and it’s starting to work. They’re starting to catch these women in crisis provide that like help break that cycle of poverty and then help. That’s amazing. Set up a small business.

[00:15:36] Yeah, and, and what they needed was funding and so we just ly started saying, well, we’ll run a fundraiser one off. And just, we’ll share some of these hopeful stories at home and and send the money to Tan without realizing what a huge thing it was that you were doing. Of course. Yeah. But I think that’s the, that’s the key thing you, you and I were talking about before.

[00:15:54] Oh, it’s getting a bit patchy, isn’t it? Hang on, sorry. We’ve got some internet issues happening. Oh no.

[00:16:04] Hang on a second. Oh, Mark. Hang on a sec. Yep. Yeah, unfortunately the place we started fostering our kids from it was called Forever Angel’s Baby Home, and they had this plan to, to start catching women in crisis before they’re at that point of tragically being separated from their kids and making that decision.

[00:16:22] So they did, identified there was a 12 month kind of project that they could create that would help catch these women in crisis, provide nutrition for their child, provide I. Improvements their quality of life, but then help them set up a small business in their village so that after 12 months their child was weaned, healthy and chubby.

[00:16:38] And then they have this business that would provide a self-sustaining future to their family ongoing. So these stories were just, you know, incredible just starting to sprout up and, and they were really excited about this work and saying what we need is, To really scale it up and test if it can happen not just in this particular part of Tanzania, but in other areas.

[00:16:57] So, so we just then thought, well, that we can be a contribution, not by doing the work. Obviously these amazing people know their culture and people better than we do, but what we can do is share this story with our friends and family at home. So we thought let’s just run a, a fundraising event a one off night.

[00:17:12] And so we did that in 2012. Raised 16 grand in an evening, and a hundred percent of that was able to be sent straight to the, to the partners that we fund. And we thought that was just as a one off thing. But as we were sharing earlier, like you never know where your story’s going and you just ask yourself, Well, what’s the next right thing I can do?

[00:17:30] And it doesn’t need to be finished or perfect or whatever. It’s just what’s the next step I can take forwards. It’s aligned with our values and the kind of way we wanna show up in the world and just see what happens. And that was the start of for projects. Yeah. Amazing. Amazing. And did you ever, at any point in that process, were you thinking, I don’t feel ready to do this.

[00:17:49] I’m not quite sure I can pull this off. Did you have doubts? Totally. I mean, we, I think we’d. Well, you always do, right? Like you never stop doubting. You know, I wake up this morning and there’s a big project we’re working on. I’m like, are we, are we able to do this? Right? Like, at, at the point where we stop doubting, we’re probably not pushing ourselves in our causes.

[00:18:07] Yeah. In our work as, as, as far as we can. But as an example, we, we wanted to run like a raffle. You know, just what are you doing when you’re doing a charity fundraising event? I guess you do a raffle. So, yeah. You know, we, we remember like designing these terrible looking tickets on Microsoft Word, and then I thought, Wait.

[00:18:22] I know someone who knows design much better than this. So contacted my friend Ben, who’s in our, our creative director. And you know, within couple of hours he’d sent something back by the internet from Australia and we were still living in Tanzania and said, Oh, does this look bit better? And I was just beautiful.

[00:18:38] I’m like, Okay. Yeah. So, you know, so you, you doubt whether you can do something, but you just start. And I think it’s that. You start and then you also invite other people in and say, Hey, here’s my, you know, very average attempt at. Particular thing but I know you do this much better. Would you like to be part of this journey too?

[00:18:57] And so that that idea of inviting people to consider what’s in their hands, what they’re good at, and how they can join our community to, to leverage that as a force for good. I think that that also was at the heart of that very first, you know, inviting Ben to get in involved because it’s that’s, that’s how our community’s grown.

[00:19:13] It’s by everyone considering what, what they have and how they can contribute to the story. Yeah, that really struck me when you spoke, when you said, What do you have in your hands? Cause I did the same thing when you were speaking. I thought, Oh, I don’t know what I’ve got to offer this. You know? Like I’m not in a position to donate a lot of money and become a key funding, you know?

[00:19:30] Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. . So I guess I can’t really help. And then you said this thing about we just asked people to use whatever they have in their hands, and I thought well have a blog. You know, long running blog that I could use as a platform for you to spread your message. I have a podcast. Mm-hmm. have the ability to interview you, you know, and that’s how we got to this point.

[00:19:48] It immediately made me think about the way that often when we are collaborating and especially if we have self doubt, we can sometimes slip into that thinking, which I believe is erroneous, which is that we are imposing on another person if we ask them to be involved in something. You know, like I, I don’t wanna impose, I don’t wanna put them out.

[00:20:09] I don’t wanna feel, you know, let them feel pressured by my request. Mm-hmm. , the thing is, when I get asked to be involved in something, either it’s. No, that’s not for me, which is no dramas. Thanks for asking. Mm-hmm. , or, it’s thank you so much for thinking of me. I’d love to be involved. It feels good to be asked, and yet often we think, I guess in our culture or I don’t know, that collaborating is somehow, sometimes asking for help can be seen as a sign of weakness, or we think it’s a sign of weakness in us, and so we don’t ask, and it’s such an opportunity, miss.

[00:20:42] It’s such a shame, really, because there’s so much that can be done just by that little question. Yeah. Would you like, would you like to be involved? Would you like to help me with this? And that’s it. I’ve had a, Yeah, it’s beautiful. And it’s something I think a lot of it’s becoming more common to collaborate, you know, we are getting more to be in a sort of collaboration culture in business, in, certainly in the business I’m in.

[00:21:05] And in your, you know, forever project is a collaboration culture for sure. And mm-hmm. . So it’s beautiful to see I’ve, I’ve been a collaborator my whole life and always wondering like, why is it so weird? Why do people think it’s so strange? You know? It ma, to me it’s just a no brainer to work like that.

[00:21:21] Yes. Yeah, definitely. And maybe that’s a bit about our legacy as well, about what we, what we saw growing up. Yeah. And I think there’s, there’s times where we let ourselves and our own insecurities, you know, like, like you said, like, I don’t wanna ask how this come across. We look like I’m an imposter.

[00:21:35] Yeah. So I won’t, or we’re worried that We’re gonna come across salesy. And something that Tracy shared outta the comments we met at was really I can’t remember exactly words, but I wrote them down around sales is simply inviting someone to connect in with you and where you’re headed based on, But it has to start with empathy.

[00:21:50] So to go, Okay, who is this person I’m thinking about? Where are they going? What do they value and what do they want? And yes, does collaboration actually help accelerate where they’re going and alignment of values? And if so, It’s not an ask or a sell, it’s an invitation to say, and, and, and as we said earlier, like it’s, they’re gonna feel seen like, Oh wow, that person really has done yeah, they’ve thought about me where I’m going and, and they’ve invited me to be part of that.

[00:22:14] And you’re actually, I think in the best couple collaborations, you’re, you’re actually showing up to offer to solve their problem, but in a way that solves yours as well. Right. Total win-win. And I think, I think that those also, what that’s really about is also serviced. You know, like how can we serve and how can we serve our higher ideals?

[00:22:33] They’re higher ideals together, you know, And that some, so often there’s a synergy. I know there’s something I’m doing, I’ve done it for three years now, where I’m a panelist and expert panelist for the Clean and Conscious Awards in Australia and Oh, cool. I was so chuffed to be asked to do that, and it, they, Sort me out from the blog that I write, and it’s been such a pleasure to do it.

[00:22:55] And it’s, it’s not like there’s any massive reward. Like you get some things that you try out and you, you test them out and you review them, you know? Mm-hmm. , it’s no big deal really. But it was just actually the, the fact that they came to me and said, Our values align with your values and we want you involved.

[00:23:10] Mm-hmm. , it just has always been so exciting to me when that sort of thing happens, cuz you. Oh, I found my people. You know? Yeah. It’s about that thing about, okay, I found other people who are in service of this thing that’s greater than us. You know, It’s not really about me. It’s not really about them. It’s about we’ve got this shared value.

[00:23:30] Mm. And I think when we share values with people and we can step in and serve those higher values. Mm-hmm. , it’s actually kind of a powerful experience as well. Not only. Is it, I think you get better results as well because you have people working together. Yeah. But you get to exercise all those things we’re talking about.

[00:23:50] You get to exercise, living in service of a high passion. You get to exercise empathy and leading with empathy, and that’s all great stuff, you know? Mm-hmm. and I think you do that really well. When you spoke at that convention, I felt like you did that really well and leading with the idea of, you know, we’re all in a story.

[00:24:08] Mm-hmm. , we all have stories. I thought that was really cool. Mm. And how long have you been doing that for now? The Forever Projects thing. Yeah. So we. We ran a couple of fundraisers annually for those couple of years, from the first one from 2012 till 2015. Then we, we noticed, and then we know it again in that story framework going, Okay, we’ve taken one step after another and we’re noticing this is certainly fueling the mission of, of the work in Tanzania, but also it’s, it’s really adding value to people in Australia who wanted to be generous, and now they found a way to do that.

[00:24:38] So 2015, we said let’s launch this for officially as a, as a all year round course. And we thought, we call it Forever Projects cause it’s the projects of Forever Annual Baby Home that we’d adopted from. So that was 2015. We, we launched at a music festival in Wollongong. And so we had some friends who, again, they, they said, what’s in our hands is a music festival and we can give you.

[00:24:58] Of the space there to create like an art installation. So we Right, Yeah. We thought let’s, let’s replicate like a, a bustling Tanzania market with like pork on a spit and little stalls and let people walk in and wander around and it’ll, they’ll feel like we’re in Tanzania and they’ll, let’s let the, their senses really appeal to.

[00:25:17] Yeah, transporting them there to the stories of the women and the businesses they’re setting up and then invite them to, to take part in it. So that was the, that was the way we de launched and and now I think that’s been interesting as we’ve gone then, you know, the years from that growing our Frog Projects community, like we’ve gone from creating this space.

[00:25:34] In a physical location with a, you know, limited number of people that try and invite them in through storytelling and not use guilt or obligation, but inspiration and story. And now digitally we’re doing the same thing where I was just saying, well, instead of it being an art installation in a physical place, it’s a website.

[00:25:49] We’ve got communications channels that can mean we can reach anyone in the world if we want to. And then how do we continue to use creative? That’s cool retelling to invite people into that, into that story if it resonates with them. Yeah. Mm. That’s awesome. And I, I like the way you’ve set it up. I mean, it just sounds to me like the results that you’re getting are.

[00:26:10] Really the maximum results you could get with the minimum resources, You know, like you’ve got a clever set up. Can you talk to us a bit about the way you’ve set it up? Yeah, I think it’s really clever. Yeah. So we identified after launching maybe six, 12 months in that we were really getting some traction but that we needed to actually pay the people who are generously using their time to do the, the work, the creative work and, and the fundraising.

[00:26:33] And so, But we, we didn’t want to take any money from the funds that were being raised to pay for those Australian operational costs. We, we felt that one of our unique selling points as a charity was the confidence that a donor had that when they gave 50 bucks, every cent was reaching tanza. Now so what we did was went back to the, that group that we’d formed in, in the early days, that those angle fundraisers and said, Would you form our core community of donors?

[00:26:56] Would you actually give directly to our operational costs here? To help, to help fuel our team to reach new donors, new donors at a, at a, at a greater scale. Yeah, so that was the kind of start of our a hundred percent model in mid March, 2017. We said, from this point on every donation that comes in from the public well, it’ll continue to go to TANZA now because we now have operational costs and they’re covered by this, this core group.

[00:27:19] So that was a really important step to say this, this is a way that we’re gonna kind of set up our business in a way that’s. Yeah, it’s, it’s meeting the needs. I guess if every stakeholder in the, in the organization from staff through to our donor community, through to the teams in Tanzania to make sure that all that was kinda working well.

[00:27:38] So I think that’s really important to get that architecture of your, of your business or your organization right at the start. And as we’ve, we’ve talked about like, does it. Does it support, Does the architecture of your business or charity, does it support the values that you wanna show up in the world with?

[00:27:52] And if it doesn’t, then you’re gonna have problems from the get go . Yeah, that’s right. And and did you say that’s about six years? Was it from when you began till now? Yeah, So we started We launched for a project in 2015. We, we kicked off that a hundred percent model in about March, 2017. So that’s been going for about five, five years.

[00:28:11] Yeah. And we’ve seen we celebrated the five year milestone of that core community who, who fund our operational costs. We celebrated that back in May. And We’ve seen at that point, $450,000 donated to our operations in Australia. And then our teams use that to inspire 1.5 million of donations.

[00:28:26] That’s amazing. And we’re so stoked to be able to say every cent of that 1.5 million has reached the project. And it’s enabled the teams to not just. Operate in the area where we adopted our children from, but they’ve now since scaled to six locations across the country. Awesome. And we’ve seen nearly 1300 women and more than 1,650 babies kept together as families because of this work.

[00:28:50] So it’s, yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s amazing to think that back to that day that we walked out at the baby home, thinking about those kids that were there, that were, were separated from their families. And to think that there’s now, you know, 1,650. Babies that weren’t put in that situation cause of this working ahead of the problem.

[00:29:07] Yeah. It’s, it’s, yeah, it’s incredible. It’s incredible. Yeah. And, and I’d love to know a bit about the roles, like, so you, yourself and your wife are the leaders of the organization. What’s the breakdown there? What, what’s your, where do you shine? Where does she shine? Yeah. Well, so, so Anna’s so. Like I said, she’s a school counselor, so she, she works very as a week in counseling and she’s, she’s one of our board members and is actually just finished writing a book about our journey which hopefully will be I’ll be accessible next year.

[00:29:34] But yeah, her role is more on like a governance kind of board role than I work three days a week as the, I guess the founder ceo kind of really my role is to have close connection with the team in Tanzania to make sure we’re communicating. Truthfully and clearly what their vision is. And then allow that vision to inspire donations, both in those on the coordination side, but also the the public donations.

[00:29:55] And then really think through how do we build a team that’s gonna best make the most of that, of that operational budget that we have here. And so, so the team we currently have is it’s real strong and creative. So Ben, so my co-founder, he You know, graphic designed by trade, but just nerds out on story.

[00:30:11] So everything around brand storytelling, but with a rural flare for tech as well and how to enable tech to hold up good storytelling and amplification. So Ben, and then we’ve got a couple of contractors in copywriting social media management. Videography. And then our trustee accountant, who is the backbone of our team.

[00:30:30] Yes. So that’s for a team of six. And then, and then Adam and a few other members on the board. So That’s awesome. And what’s your other two days a week? What are you doing those other two days? Yeah. So I still teach part-time maths on the side, so You do, So we are all, so you, me and your wife are all doing two day a week.

[00:30:45] Yeah. That’s funny, isn’t it? Yeah. I’m also an educator two days a week I think is quite addictive. Yeah. You primary second. High school. Yes. What’s your subjects? What’s your k? Well, it changes. Okay. I was trained in history, modern history, so that was my original bachelor degree, but that was 1990 to 93.

[00:31:07] Okay. So by the time I did my teaching qualification, which was only in 2014, not that long ago. Mm-hmm. I actually. Had I had to do history as my main core subject cause that was my bachelor degree. So if you do postgrad, you have to follow that. Yep. But I’ve done very little history teaching. I’ve actually ended up this year teaching would work, food and multimedia.

[00:31:32] Awesome. And next year, who knows, I might end up being literacy support. I might, you know, I just kind of go wherever. Mostly at the same school and yep, they’ve kind of adopted me, so That’s cool. It’s pretty good though. I do enjoy it. And I do enjoy actually breaking up the week. I mean, what I really like about what we’re saying here is that you and me and your wife have all got this thing that we love.

[00:31:56] Like I have a business I absolutely love also. Mm-hmm. . But I do find it helps to step away from. A couple of days a week. Yeah. I think it’s really actually good for your mental health. It’s good for your perspective. It’s good for me anyway. It’s good for working out the priorities in my business so I don’t faff around totally.

[00:32:15] I’ve only got limited time. Right. So it does make me more strategic, which I am not naturally strategic, so that’s a good incentive to be more careful with my time and I just, Love that it normalizes. You don’t have to kind of be an all in startup ceo, you know? That’s not necessarily the only way to run a project.

[00:32:37] That’s right. These days, yeah, you’re allowed to go, Okay, I want two days for the kids. Two days earning something, doing something else, and three days on my passion project, you know, I. That’s great balance for me. Definitely. Yep. Yeah. And I, and I think it works and as we were saying you know, before we started recording, like the we can define success however we want to in terms of how quickly do we wanna grow by, how much do we wanna grow?

[00:33:01] Why do we wanna grow? How do we measure that growth? Like that’s, that’s all up to us to decide us and our teams. And and if we give away those metrics to someone else to impose on us, then yes, then that’s, that’s, that’s a dangerous kind of moment. I think. So to, to be really clear on Yep. Values first.

[00:33:18] What are we, what are we kind of, what value are we, we need to add first and foremost to our families and then, you know, the people around us and then our businesses. But yeah, I think we, there, there’s so much freedom in being able to do that. But I love what you’re saying about constraints as well.

[00:33:30] I think you hear a lot of stories in the startup world where someone might have a great idea and then potentially just through the network, whatever it is, they end up with a ton of, you know, venture funding or it might be, and they’ve. More resources than they would’ve expected, but they’re not forced through constraints to be necessarily efficient or I’m sure there’s accountability there, but when you’ve Yeah.

[00:33:51] Maybe less conscious of it. Yeah. And so I think sometimes the constraints imposed can force you to get creative you know, if you were asked. Yeah. You know, you’ve got. A whole wall in any color you want in any medium, do a mural or you’ve got one square meter and you’ve got three colors and it’s charcoal.

[00:34:06] Yeah. Or whatever like Yeah. The constraint actually means, It might create something more beautiful. And it might be forces the creativity. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And innovation. Yeah. And, and also it normalizes slow growth, you know? And I think when I first started this sort of entrepreneurial journey, I quit teaching and I, and I gave it like, I’ve gotta do this five days a week, six days a week, seven days a week, I got a grind, grind, grind.

[00:34:31] And that first year, yeah, I got some things going, but it actually. I realized after 11, 12 months, I don’t want to be doing this. You know? I don’t want it to be something that grows really, really fast. Like I was initially defining success with money. That was it. I was like, if it makes money, it’s successful.

[00:34:53] You know? Mm-hmm. , I’ve now realized that for me, and this is quite recent, I’ve kind of put it into these words. That for me the priority is first of all lifestyle, and I include in that my family mm-hmm. and, and the way that we live. And secondly, impact. The impact that my actions have and my business has.

[00:35:11] And third income. Mm-hmm. . So it’s lifestyle impact income. That’s I love. I’ve never started, It’s definitely not in that order. It was, I have to make money now because otherwise I’m not validated as a business person. That was the honest truth of it. Yeah. And what I’ve realized is that’s really a vast misconception and a great sort of, I guess, dumbing down of, of what’s possible, you know?

[00:35:36] Yeah. And that’s very freeing. I think when we go, Okay, like you say, we can define our own success. We can actually choose the way we do this, how long it takes us to build something. And actually, slow growth also allows you to. I guess piece things together in a way that you want them to be more carefully and more consciously and more, I don’t know, Meticulously in a way.

[00:36:02] Yeah. And I don’t think I was doing that to begin with. I was just like throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks and, and sort of doing it really haphazard and like almost little desperately, and, and now I’m much more in the space of, okay, here’s the. I want it to be amazing. I’m gonna take the time to build it so that it’s amazing.

[00:36:20] Yeah. And the those that need it or want it will come. Yeah. Yep. You know? Yeah. And it’s more of a crafting process and. That seems much more in integrity for me. Mm. Yeah. But that’s not without challenges. I’m not saying it’s easy to do it that way. There’s a juggle, there’s a, you know, I am constantly thinking, should I be focusing more on just making money?

[00:36:39] Like isn’t that what a business is? Yeah. You know, there’s all of that and it’s like, honestly, Yes. It’s important for sustainability. Of course. Mm. And in your case it is, it is. Your business is to make donations. Yeah. But yeah, I just think it’s not the only thing. So that’s interest. Yeah, definitely.

[00:36:55] And I think like we, Anna, I can talk about this like with the lifestyle and family, like it’s, if we’re at a point where we’re so busy or stressed or whatever it is from, from charity work that we’re not, you know, the best parents we can be for our kids who we have adopted, like, and obviously all of our kids, but like what?

[00:37:14] You know, awful situation that would be where if our own adopted children were like, Oh yeah, our parents were stressed or busy or absent because they were too busy trying to raise funds for other children like us. Like that’s, yeah. That, that’s a very real tension that we feel. And we’re like, Yes, yes, first and foremost.

[00:37:32] Like you can kind of tell yourself a story that, ah, who else is gonna do this? But really when you think about there’s value add, but then I like thinking about unique. Value add, Like what’s the value that you and you only can add? And really, like, yes, it’s, it’s your immediate family. Yeah. And you know, potentially a few relationships beyond that, but other than that we need to take some hum humble pie and say like, I’m a small contributor here.

[00:37:54] Yeah. And yeah, just to keep them in perspective, I think super important. So I like that that framework’s call that you’ve shared there. Lifestyle impact, income. Mm. Yeah, I imagine you have a pretty huge banner in your office that says Charity starts at home. Just to remind you of all of that , that’s, that’s, that’s, that’s, I should have that sign up on the wall, like that’s, Yeah.

[00:38:14] Yeah. Just like everywhere to remind you. Yeah. Yeah. But it is easy. I think it is really easy, and I relate to that as well, that it. It’s easy to go. Okay. So I run a business that helps support mothers not to be run down and to be present with their family and, you know, so that we can create generations that are not growing up in fight or flight and not bringing generational trauma through to, to the future.

[00:38:35] You know? And, and that’s a really big, And then there I are working. You know, who would I be if I’m like working my guts out after consciously and like my family this year, they haven’t seen me that much cuz I’ve been training for a black belt. Mm-hmm. and that’s, I’ve had to really just go, okay, well it’s pretty important that I do this for now, but post that grading.

[00:38:56] Yes, I’m refocusing really back into the family cuz I’ve really noticed it’s been hard and something I’ve had to do. It’s been challenging to have that time with them, and you only get, you know, not that much time. I know with my 19 year old, it’s not that much time that they’re with you, you know, So value it and enjoy it and do whatever you have to do to, to make.

[00:39:19] You know, work for you. Yeah, a hundred percent. But I think that, again, it’s, it comes back to the values, doesn’t it? Mm-hmm. , a hundred percent. Mark is there, how can people get involved in what you’re doing? Tell me a little bit about how you structure that and how you invite people in. Yeah. Well, as I said what’s in your hands is the question we.

[00:39:39] People. So we invite people to consider is it time that they have. So, as an example of that, in October we’ve got a big campaign, Watch Your Killer Manjaro, where people, you know, create a physical challenge running, swimming, hiking. Or it could be reading, doing puzzles, something that intersects with your interests in a way that, One second.

[00:39:59] So tell me, how can people get involved if they wanna get involved in what you’re doing? Yeah, so I, I lead it out with that that saying, what’s in your hands? So we believe everyone has something in their hands they can use and leverage as a force for good, whether it’s their time, their talent skills, or, or money.

[00:40:16] And we’ve got a community that’s, yeah, raised that 1.5 million as of that milestone by doing a combination of one of those three or more. So, yeah, so time it could be running a fundraiser as an example. We’ve got a campaign coming up in October. Watch your killer Manjaro that invites people to do a physical challenge.

[00:40:32] Or it could be something that’s, you know, puzzles or something that you love doing, but you challenge yourself with it and then invite your friends. Back your generosity and your bravery to, to raise funds for the women in our project. So that’s, that’s at mike I’m personally gonna be climbing Matt Kira in Wollongong 15 times in a, in a row 15 days straight to kind of match the elevation of Mount Kilman.

[00:40:54] So lots of cool challenges. People doing like. 15, lots of 15 minute yoga sessions or, you know, 6,000 puzzles in a week. So it’s a really fun month where our community uses their time talent. It could be something like this, like you are doing, like you are using your talent at, at sharing stories and concept in the community and inviting me to be part of that.

[00:41:14] And so it could be people doing something like that with us or it could be money. And so the, the way to, I mean, obviously. Any donation’s gonna be extremely helpful and a hundred percent of that will reach the project. The key. When we think about our local partners in Tanzania, what they really need is like reliable and and unrestricted funding.

[00:41:32] And so we’re building a, a monthly giving community at for projects where people might show up at 5, 10 30 a month or more if they can. And then that money collectively as part of a wider group of people that are giving gives ’em that runway they can count on to continue expanding their work across the country.

[00:41:47] So yeah, all those brilliant are on our side at my at Forever Projects dot. Awesome. Thanks. I’m gonna put a link to that in the notes beneath this podcast as well. And Mark, thank you so much for taking some time to hang out with us today. I really appreciate you, appreciate the work that you and your team and your lovely wife are doing.

[00:42:09] And it’s been a real pleasure to chat about it with you and I hope you get some really good interest from the audience that here’s this podcast. I have a feeling you will thank. Yeah. Thank you. Yeah, and thanks to you too. Cause I think these conversations are just so nourishing. Like, you know, when we’re in the, in the trenches in our work, we’re in our day to day, it’s like nice to kind of come up for air and say, That’s right, this is where we’ve come from.

[00:42:30] And then I, here’s someone that’s on the same journey as, as I am. And, and that, that values that we’re sharing. So it’s, yeah. Thanks so much. It’s, it’s the, the fuel that keeps us going, conversations like this. Thank you. Absolute pleasure. Same here. Yeah, thanks work. Great to have you on. Thank you. Bye. See ya.

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alena turley | creator, educator, martial artist
alena turley | creator, educator, martial artist

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