I’ve always liked James’ love of new ideas and big picture optimism. The longer I’ve known him, the more apparent these traits become.
When I first met him a few years ago, we were both working at the same engineering company. We didn’t realize until later we were simultaneously hatching plans to find new roles.
James was the first to jump ship. He left his job as a certified civil engineer to become Director of Members and Supporters at Engineers Without Borders (EWB). Recently, he’s moved on from the non-profit sector to take up a new role as General Manager Community at the Impact Investment Group’s latest venture, The Dream Factory; a former woolshed in Footscray that has been converted into a hub for start-ups, creative entrepreneurs, social businesses and not-for-profits who focus on design, technology and social change. I caught up with James to find out what inspired his involvement with The Dream Factory.
My Nonno was a big influence on me. As an Italian migrant to Seddon, he was really big on family and local community. He was one of the community leaders at the time and helped a lot of Italian migrants settle in Australia. He was also really big on small business, had a fruit shop and was very passionate about looking after his customers. Even though he has passed away, people still talk to me about Frank and tell me how he treated people really well in business. I really resonated with that. He was introverted, the flip side of me. I liked going there because he was very calming. He led by example and was very entrepreneurial, but very family and community focused.
Education was a passport. I was the first person in my family to go to uni and the first person from my school in Hoppers Crossing to go to the University of Melbourne. Pursuing a career in trade was common practice, going to uni wasn’t. In year 11 and 12, I had checkboxes on my bedroom wall about getting into Melbourne Uni Arts/Engineering and travelling the world. It wasn’t a checklist like a bucket list, it was because I wanted options and flexibility. I did engineering because I liked maths and science, and so I could get a well paying job. But I also studied Arts as I’m passionate about humanitarian issues and social change, so I thought I’m going to do both and see what happens.
As a teenager, I realised I needed to have options, I needed to have vision and I needed to be around people who were thinking big. Now I want to work where I can have the most impact fast; that’s impact investing and social enterprise. We need to encourage people to innovate and take risks. You have all these old industries like mining and manufacturing that are going out of business, but there’s no point debating the macro economic stuff because that’s government and they are going to take 20 years to make up their mind. We need to create jobs for people through socially focussed businesses that are more aware of what’s going on in their community, and they’ve got to make money.
The Dream Factory could have just been set up as a normal commercial project, but instead the Impact Investment Group set it up as a socially-focused design and tech precinct. This means we can focus on supporting businesses and not-for-profits who are utilising design and technology to create positive social and environmental outcomes. It’s enabled us to create a centre for like minded individuals and organisations where they can share ideas, skills and experience. Since it’s launched, the amount of good will it’s generated has been overwhelming. So many people have emailed and twittered us and said “Thank you for creating this opportunity for people to be able to use their skills in business and design for good.”
We can harness the power of business, design and technology to create large scale social change. The core of the change I want to see is for everyone to double or triple their empathy. If we had more empathy, I think people would think about their impact more. They would think twice about what sort of careers they did, or how they invest their money. There are multiple pathways for improving empathy, but I think one of the best ways is through enabling that connection between technology and design with humanity to create social change.
The generations coming through, they don’t just want to work for money, they want a job that makes money, but also has an amazing impact. I’ve only got 40 years left of my career; that’s not a long time. So for the next 40 years, I want to be dedicated to ensuring that business is a massive force for change and I want to create social change fast using design and technology. I see huge opportunities and the most talented people will only want to work for companies that are doing amazing stuff.
© Matilda Bowra 2016