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Graphics: Time Out

Meet the people changing Melbourne in Civics

From social enterprise entrepreneurs to scientists envisioning the future, these are our civics future shapers

Cassidy Knowlton
Written by
Cassidy Knowlton

Time Out is profiling the incredible people who are shaping the future of Melbourne in this Future Shaper series. We have asked a panel of esteemed experts comprising Senator Lidia Thorpe (Greens Senator for Victoria), Claire Ferres Miles (CEO of Sustainability VictoriaPat Nourse (creative director, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival), Simon Abrahams (creative director and CEO of Melbourne Fringe), Peter Tullin (co-founder and CEO of Remix Summits) and Kate Vinot (chair of Zoos Victoria) to help us identify the people changing the future of Melbourne in the areas of food and drink; arts; community and culture; civics; and sustainability.

In some ways, civics is the category that is hardest to define, but we take it to mean those who are changing the way we live, work and play in Melbourne and creating opportunities for others to do the same. In this category, we meet the founders of a social enterprise that provides training in the hospitality industry to young people experiencing disadvantage, as well as scientists who are figuring out ways to use technology to build a better future. We've spoken to the founder of Australia's largest independent human rights organisation, and those who are fighting for the right to proudly fly the Aboriginal flag. All of these initiatives are building a better Melbourne for all of us.

In civics, our Future Shapers are Luz Restrepo, founder of SisterWorks and co-founder of Migrant Women in BusinessKon Karapanagiotidis, founder and CEO of the Asylum Seeker Resource CentreAlan Crabbe, cofounder and CEO of Pozible and BirchalLaura Thompson and Sarah Sheridan, founders of Clothing the GapsBec Scott and Kate Barrelle, co-founders of social enterprise STREAT; and Rebecca TappDr Angus (Gus) Hervey and Tané Hunter of future-thinking think tank Future Crunch.

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When Luz Restrepo arrived in Melbourne from Colombia in 2010 as a political asylum seeker, she felt isolated. She had no Australian connections, little money and little English. It’s a similar story we hear from a lot of people who seek refuge in Australia – how hard it is to find work, engage with the wider community or even make friends. For Restrepo, it was a turning point – and she didn't want others who came after her to feel as isolated.

“I’m an entrepreneurial woman who ten years ago didn't have resources, connection, money or confidence,” she says. “When I arrived in that position, I found that there were barriers beyond [just] the language.”

So, in 2013, Restrepo founded SisterWorks, a not-for-profit social enterprise based in Melbourne. The team works to support refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. SisterWorks has a ‘learning by doing’ ethos and trains women in design, cooking, sales and entrepreneurship, equipping them with practical skills they can use in their new life in Australia. 

SisterWorks provides women with the initial tools to help them get on their feet – but it's a hand up, not a handout. According to Restrepo, “this is the narrative that we need to start to change in our society".

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Kon Karapanagiotidis has been thinking a lot about the future lately. A future in which he is no longer needed as CEO of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, the refugee advocacy and support charity he founded 20 years ago. And maybe a future in which Australia's largest independent human rights organisation doesn't exist at all. 

"The ultimate dream would be to close our doors because we're not needed, because people don't need to come to a charity for things that are and should be your fundamental human rights as a new Australian," Karapanagiotidis says. "I dream of a time where there is no more political mileage in poisoning the hotter imaginations of Australians around refugees."

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It's hard to remember a time before crowdfunding when it was almost impossible to directly support artists without going to a gig or an exhibition. That changed when Pozible came onto the scene, more than a decade ago.

"We actually launched Pozible back in 2010," says Alan Crabbe, Pozible's cofounder and CEO. "At the time, crowdfunding wasn't a thing. It wasn't even a word that people would know. And it was a kind of a pivot on what we had been operating, which was a marketplace for visual artists at the time. We did a massive pivot towards being campaign based, but aligning with the likes of creatives. [We created] a kind of a time-based campaign to raise capital to do something with an idea. The initial idea was to use this as a way to raise enough capital for these emerging artists to put on an exhibition, for example."

The idea has been tried in Europe, but Asia-Pacific had never had a crowdfunding platform before. The platform launched with four campaigns, all of them artists with whom Pozible shared a coworking space. Three of the campaigns were successful. The fifth was someone Pozible's founders didn't know, and it was that campaign that proved the model could be successful. "We had a burlesque dancer raising funds to get a flight from Brisbane to Melbourne. And she was successful on her first day and raised the money that she needed to do that. So that came from nowhere," says Crabbe. 

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You might be surprised to learn that Aboriginal-owned and led apparel brand Clothing the Gaps has only been operating for two years. The team has achieved such a staggering amount of success so quickly that co-founders Laura Thompson and Sarah Sheridan haven’t had a lot of time to reflect on it all. 

“In some incredible way we’ve been able to make people feel like they belong, and that they’re allowed, and that they’re welcome,” says Gunditjmarra woman Thompson. “I think if you do all those things really well, you get what we’ve been able to create at Clothing the Gaps in such a short amount of time, [which is] an incredible amount of love for a brand. We continue to push boundaries. We rely a lot on instincts, and I think we’re brave in terms of putting things out into the world and just seeing how it goes.”

You’ve likely already seen what Clothing the Gaps is putting out there. Maybe it's the ally-friendly “Always Was, Always Will Be” merchandise, or maybe you saw footy players sporting “Free the Flag” tees during the AFL’s Indigenous round. As Thompson puts it: “Lots of people buy their conversation starters from us.” 

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Rebecca Scott and Kate Berrelle founded social enterprise STREAT to help give young people experiencing disadvantage a way to find employment in the hospitality industry.

"We started STREAT in 2009 because we couldn’t conceive that in the ‘Lucky Country’ we still had young people starting life without the security of a home, and without hope for the future," they say.

"We knew that to really address youth homelessness you needed to address the root causes, not just the symptoms. We also knew that providing training and a real job were critical pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. In the last decade, we’ve built a whole host of hospitality businesses – like cafés, kiosks, a bakery, and a catering company – where young people get skills and support. To date, we’ve worked with over 3,000 young people, over 500 of them really intensively. The terrific thing is that we’ve served over 3 million meals and coffees in the decade – essentially that’s millions of Melburnians giving our young trainees a caffeinated group hug."

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Future Crunch is all about championing human progress across science and tech and want to share the good news with you.

"We’re a think tank with a simple mission: to discover what’s happening on the cutting edge of science and technology and to seek out and tell stories of human progress. It’s about giving people the knowledge and power they need to stay ahead as we move into a new era," says CEO Rebecca Tapp.

"Gus [Hervey] and Tané [Hunter] met at Rainbow Serpent Festival in 2013. Many philosophical conversations later, with Gus as the social scientist, and Tané as a real scientist, the duo had compared notes on all of the incredible stories of human progress, and advancements in science and technology, and wondered why those stories weren’t being shared in mainstream media. In response, rather than fight the system they decided to provide the antidote in the form of a newsletter that showcased good news based on the gold-plated facts from the world of science and technology. The rest is history."

Read about more of our Future Shapers

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