Summer treats: staff and board picks 2018
This year, our smorgasbord of treats has been recommended by both SVA staff and board members. Once again, we hope this provides inspiring, insightful, and affirming reads, listens and viewing for your summer break.
SVA’s board and staff are a thoughtful lot – keen to understand others’ life experiences and different philosophies and approaches to seeing the world.
As a result this selection provides a broad array of topics. You can find out why we should give free money to everyone, or about the worlds of the congenitally deaf. You can hear from Hannah Gadsby as she unpacks comedy from the point of view of a performer on the margins of society, or Matt Haig in his stunningly crafted account of what it is like to experience the depths of depression. You can imagine yourself into the stories of the Illawarra region over several centuries, or what it was like to grow up Aboriginal in Australia. Or you can be inspired by tales of fierce girls and women or ‘proof’ of the immense progress that we as humans have made against many dimensions.
Click on the links here to go straight to the media of choice.
Emily Adams, Consultant, Sydney
Embrace by Taryn Brumfitt
This uplifting documentary is all about celebrating ourselves and our value beyond just our physical appearance.
Your body is not an ornament; it is the vehicle to your journey.
Premiered at the 2016 Sydney Film Festival, the film follows one woman’s global journey to understand why so many people seem to hate their bodies and how society has socialised us towards body loathing. It is such an honest, heartfelt film, and it left me feeling hopeful – I believe we can end the war we wage with our bodies. My favorite quote: “Your body is not an ornament; it is the vehicle to your journey.”
Liz Albornoz, Marketing Coordinator, Sydney
Sustainable community development: from what’s wrong to what’s strong, TEDx talk by Cormac Russell
Russell argues that NGOs tend to do unintended harm when trying to help people and communities when focusing on their deficiencies. Instead trying to right what’s wrong within a community he claims we need to start with what’s strong. We need to help people discover what gifts they have and to use those gifts to enrich those around them
Ryan Chuganiz, Assistant Accountant, Sydney
A Plastic Ocean, preview on YouTube
Directed by Australian journalist Craig Leeson, this documentary challenged me to think about the impact that we have on our environment and was one of the most provoking documentaries I’ve seen this year.
What happens when you’re done with that water bottle? The amount of plastic we go through each year, or day for that matter, not only harms the environment and marine life, but it also harms groups of people and ourselves. Part of the documentary looked at a Fijian community where the once clean waters which provided food to the small community is now unimaginably polluted by trash. Another scary fact which the documentary addresses is how microplastics are finding their way into our bodies. This was a documentary which prompted me to do things differently in my every day.
Katy Le Gall, Manager Marketing, Melbourne
Nanette by Hannah Gadsby on Netflix, Trailer
Comedian Hannah Gadsby’s stand up show at the Sydney Opera House in June 2018 in which she explains why she’s going to give up comedy.
Quite simply, this left me speechless, shattered and in awe – all at the same time. Many people before her have told stories of discrimination and the personal toll… but it was her delivery that floored me. She makes you laugh at experiences she’s had, and then suddenly rips the carpet out from under your feet by delivering the reality of those experiences, and pointing out the devastating, life-long consequences lying just millimetres below her funny, witty, sarcastic surface.
It highlighted that I cannot know just how difficult life can be for people who feel that they’re living outside ‘the norm’, and don’t belong.
Martina Donkers, Manager, Strategy & Planning, Sydney
You Can’t Ask That on ABC iView
You Can’t Ask That is such a beautifully simple window into the lived experiences of a diverse group of Australians. It’s accessible, engaging and moving – and I think it really encourages us to ask questions, listen to the responses without judgement, and to put ourselves in someone else’s position.
The episodes on homelessness, schizophrenia, recent war veterans, and facial difference were stand outs for me. But the best line goes to the 100 year old woman who was asked can you drive – she said of course she drives and soon she’ll be driving her sports car to her next skydiving lesson. Never assume!
Emma Glyde, Manager, Marketing, Melbourne
The joke goes that Netflix crime docos are the most plentiful resource on the planet – however, I can wholeheartedly recommend The Keepers as a different and worthwhile watch in this overcrowded genre. It tackles the unsolved murder of Cathy Cesnik, a beloved nun and Catholic high school teacher in Baltimore and the secrets and pain that persist five decades after her death.
The subject matter can sometimes be difficult but it is worth it to see a documentary that gives voice to those who have experienced abuse, and chronicles their resilience and their reclamation of their lives – rather than taking an obsessive focus on the perpetrator, ‘or cracking the case’ as is often the norm in crime documentaries. It’s not an easy watch, but certainly a powerful one.
Karen Prout, Editor, SVA Quarterly, Sydney
Backtrack Boys by Catherine Scott
In this close look at the Backtrack program for young people doing it tough, Scott has done a stunning job at capturing the journeys of three of the youngsters – their various rubs with the justice system, the struggles they face, their indomitable spirits, and the support that Backtrack provides. The mentoring interactions with founder Bernie Shakeshaft are some of the most moving.
A sobering and inspiring insight into what’s really needed by way of support for kids on the fringes, and the difference that one person galvanising a community can have.
Katie McLeish, Director, Partnerships, Melbourne
We should all be feminists by TEDx talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Although I stumbled upon this a few months ago, quite a while after it was given, it was at the height of the #metoo movement, and it resonated as a timely reminder that we – all of us, everywhere – can never be complacent about embracing being ‘feminist’. This talk inspired me to read Chimamanda’s novel Americanah of which the Guardian wrote: “Some novels tell a great story and others make you change the way you look at the world. Americanah does both.”
Letitia Tunmore, Operations Manager, Impact Investing, Sydney
RBG, directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West, Trailer
This inspiring documentary (particularly in the current political environment) focuses on the life and career of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Now 84 years old, Ginsburg was the second woman appointed to the US Supreme Court, a position she has held for 25 years. The film reflects on and celebrates Ginsburg’s record of progressive activism and her witty and intellectual determination to use the law as an instrument of change.
The take away for me was her way of approaching issues. She is calm, polite and tries to understand and get on side with those opposing her views. She mounted her attack on gender inequality slowly, case by case (often staying up all night to pour over her legal research) demonstrating that it takes time and persistence to enact change. No heated Twitter storms required!
David Williams, Executive Director, Ventures, Sydney
Black in Latin America, You Tube
This four-part documentary by Henry Louis Gates explores the historical roots and influence of Afro-Latin Americans. The documentary’s episodes each focus on individual Latin American countries whose African heritage is often overlooked.
I came across this and was astounded by some of the facts and history that I had no idea about despite working and studying in the region. Especially pertinent given the ultra-right and racist President just elected in Brazil – the country where over half of the Africans taken as slaves were sent and today where over half the population identify as having African ancestry.
Mitch Adams, Consultant, Perth
Science of Survival podcast by Outside Magazine
Would you survive being stalked by a jaguar or trapped in a bushfire? This podcast tells fascinating stories of people who have survived disasters in the wilderness, and delves into some of the science of why they survived. Few of us will find ourselves in these situations, but the common theme of these stories is one we can all relate to: those who survive are those who refuse to give up. This is a lesson the host draws on himself when he breaks his leg while canyoning.
Hanna Cihal, Consultant, Sydney
The Habitat by Gimlet Media
The Habitat follows six participants living together in a simulated Mars habitat for one year as part of a NASA experiment to understand what life will be like for astronauts if they make it to the red planet. Think tiny spaces, limited contact with the outside world, way too much time with the same six people.
I loved this podcast because 1) it’s a fascinating concept 2) it contains some really interesting lessons about how humans work together and what makes effective teams. Hint: it’s not always what you think!
Malcolm Garrow, Executive Director, Consulting, Melbourne
Overcoming disadvantage, ABC Life Matters
I strongly recommend this thought provoking 30 minute listen that unpacks the lasting physical and psychological effects of disadvantage, particularly when experienced during childhood and even pre-conception. It’s a rapidly emerging area of study and something that is important for me to understand working as we do to alleviate disadvantage.
Erin Grech, Executive Assistant, Sydney
Fierce girls, ABC Radio
An awesome podcast series that uses famous Australian females to tell the stories of fierce Australian girls/women who dared to do things differently and were generally trailblazers in their chosen field.
It’s a favourite with my girls as it tells a wide range of stories from famous sporting figures to the story of the first female policewoman and detective (a particular favourite). Its value is that it puts in context the challenges faced and effort required to be the best or the first or the most determined!
A policewoman dressing in a skirt and wearing pearls made my girls laugh, but equally made them think about how things don’t always just happen easily and haven’t always been as they are now. Similarly, stories of Layne Beachley and Cathy Freeman taught them all about determination, dedication and rising above discrimination.
Alison Kwok, Associate Consultant, Perth
Health inequality and the causes of the causes by Professor Sir Michael Marmot, 2016 Boyer Lectures, ABC
This podcast is the first in a lecture series called ‘Fair Australia: Social Justice and the Health Gap’ delivered by Professor Marmot, President of the World Medical Association. It is an entertaining, thought provoking and at times confronting lecture on the large inequalities of health within and between countries in the world.
Most interestingly, Sir Marmot couches his analysis of inequalities in a broader conversation of the social determinants of health and the need to tackle the “causes of the causes” of those inequalities. The lecture is refreshing as we, as a society, so often focus on tackling the symptoms and not the causes of disadvantage in our communities. Sir Marmot is also an exceptional story teller, which makes for an easy listen.
Daisy Mallett, Board member, Sydney
Interview with Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America, NPR’s How I Built This Podcast
In 1989, Wendy Kopp wrote her honours thesis on improving American public schools, proposing a national teaching corps that would recruit recent college grads to teach in underserved schools. A year later, she launched the non-profit, Teach for America, which today has 50,000 alumni, a budget of nearly $300 million, and continues to place thousands of teachers across America.
Wendy’s move from being concerned about a social issue to having the passion, drive and grit to propose a solution and energise a generation of young Americans to get behind her vision is inspirational.
Cassie McGannon, Policy and Research Manager, Melbourne
Australian politics live with Katharine Murphy, Guardian Australia
This podcast has a broad theme of rethinking Australian policy, politics and governance. From the summary it looks like just another news podcast, but Murphy takes the conversation beyond the political tumult of the day to consider much deeper themes of how we’re governed and why that matters. Two highlights for me were a discussion of ‘the Canberra bubble’ and an interview with Jenny Macklin on the long arc of policy change.
Shona Saxton, Manager, Marketing, Sydney
Universal basic income: the future? Rutger Bregman interviewed on ABC’s Conversations
This podcast is a challenge to society and contemporary thinking on poverty. The author provides an interesting idea backed by research and evidence on why a basic income for everyone could help alleviate disadvantage. The discussion made me think about how we tackle problems such as this. (Book recommended below).
Kye White, Marketing Associate, Digital and Content, Melbourne
Caliphate, The New York Times
Rukmini Callamachi is responsible for some of the world’s best journalism on ISIS. Her podcast series Caliphate is no exception. Callamachi portrays the Islamic State and radicalisation with a nuance and understanding available in few places.
Lou Campbell, Principal, Consulting, Sydney
Storyland by Catherine McKinnon
As a sucker for fiction, I want to recommend an Australian novel that stayed with me a long time after reading.
… strange that a work of fiction can illuminate what ‘place-based’ is all about.
Pipped at the post in the Miles Franklin awards, Storyland takes its readers up, and then down, a chronological step ladder from the late 1700s to a future era, all steeped in the Illawarra region of NSW. The three themes that permeate are: a sense of place (strange that a work of fiction can illuminate what ‘place-based’ is all about); the impact of climate on people and place; and relationships with the traditional owners of the land. It was a joy to turn those pages.
Nicolas Deloux, Associate Director, Partnerships, Sydney
The Great Swindle by Pierre Lemaitre
I never knew my grandfather. Born in 1888, he survived WWI as a simple soldier and lived a life, crippled by disease and injuries from the war, in which there was no place to share the trauma and sheer horror that was trench warfare. As with so many vets, he kept it all in and all I have left are a couple of pictures and medals, and the frustration that I’ll never know what he went through.
That’s why I’ve chosen The Great Swindle. A great book (winner of the Prix Goncourt – the French equivalent to the Man Booker prize), set in the immediate aftermath of WWI, it follows the story of two forgotten, mentally and physically broken soldiers embarking on an ambitious and rather dodgy scheme to defraud French municipalities by selling fake war memorials. Funny, sad and a much needed reminder that war stinks, literally.
Diana Ferner, Director, Consulting, Sydney
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Exit West is a deeply moving tale tracing two individuals’ lives as their world becomes filled with conflict and upheaval and they seek to escape it. I found it an incredibly evocative portrayal of the ways in which lives do and don’t change over the course of war and migration. It also raises questions about who are we willing and able to care for, and to what extent is this defined by arbitrary lines – very relevant questions for our times.
Alex Humphry, Consultant, Perth
The Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser
One of my best reads this year, this winner of the Miles Franklin had portraits of Sydney so vivid they tugged at my heartstrings as I was preparing to leave for WA. The characters are fascinating and the social issues (mental health, isolation, racism, amongst others) are subtly included but made me reflect on the personal experience of others in our communities by presenting their story and perspective. It made me think more deeply about the stories of the person sitting next to me on the bus or the shop keeper I see every day. Loved it!
Suzie Riddell, CEO, Sydney
The Power by Naomi Alderman
What if women ruled the world? What if the power to hurt were in women’s hands?
Incredibly thought-provoking and a good page-turner. It forced me to stare into some of my own unconscious biases
Rebecca Thomas, Director, Impact Investing, Sydney
Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton
This novel is effectively a coming of age story centred around two brothers, with a plot that weaves through tales of friendships, brotherhood and love.
The stark reality though is that some of the account is not fiction; it’s inspired by the author’s own childhood and his time growing up in Brisbane’s Housing Commission. The book tackles the brothers’ exposure to domestic violence, mental health issues, alcoholism and crime. Told through the ‘innocent’ eyes of a 13 year old without judgement, it provided a fresh perspective.
My childhood didn’t feature these things, however many children throughout Australia don’t have that luxury. It took me through a rollercoaster of emotions, but the end left me feeling hopeful and thankful.
Annabel Downing, Analyst, Consulting, Sydney
Am I black enough for you? by Anita Heiss
In this memoir, Anita Heiss shares her personal journey growing up as a Wiradjuri women in Sydney and her struggle with identity. Striving to breakdown stereotypes, especially those perpetuated by the media, the book recounts Heiss’s involvement in one of the most ant Australian legal decisions of the 21stcentury when she joined others in charging newspaper columnist, Andrew Bolt, with breaching the Racial Discrimination Act. He was found guilty, and the repercussions continue.
Heiss’s writing is entertaining yet informative and provides an amazing insight into her identity struggle growing up in inner-city Sydney.
Anna Faithful, Director and Practice Lead, Employment
Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia, edited by Anita Heiss
What is it like to grow up Aboriginal in Australia? This anthology, compiled by award-winning author Anita Heiss, showcases many diverse voices, experiences and stories in order to answer that question.
Accounts from well-known authors and high-profile identities sit alongside those from newly discovered writers of all ages. All of the contributors speak from the heart – sometimes calling for empathy, often times challenging stereotypes, always demanding respect.
This ground-breaking collection will enlighten, inspire and educate about the lives of Aboriginal people in Australia today.
Olivia Hilton, Executive Director, Melbourne
Educated by Tara Westover
Tara Westover is the child of a religious fanatic who sees the government as pure evil. And by government, he means schools, hospitals, vaccines, seat belts, car insurance, etc – everything we think of as civilisation. Tara struggles with the knowledge that for her to go to school will mean a total separation from her father because he will never acknowledge that his ideas are not the correct ones.
I grew up with my nose perpetually in a book. So, the idea of not being able to go to school, hit me hard. It was tough to grasp that things I take for granted, like knowing what the Holocaust was or who Martin Luther King was, were black holes for Tara until she was in her late teens.
It’s not an ‘education makes everything better’ story. Tara continues throughout the book to struggle to find her way, to stand up for her beliefs. It is incredibly visceral and powerful.
Susan Metcalf, Chief Marketing Officer, Sydney
Mind of a Thief by Patti Miller
For 40,000 years the Central NSW area of Wellington was Aboriginal – Wiradjuri – land. Wiradjuri land is also where author Patti Miller was born and, mid-life, it begins to exert a compelling emotional pull, demanding her return.
Having grown up in country NSW, so much of what Miller writes about was intuitively familiar to me. The places, the language, the way of living all strongly echoed my childhood. Miller writes eloquently about what was a very ‘ordinary’ way of life, in what seems now to be another time and place when Australia was a much less diverse and culturally aware place. The first post-Mabo Native Title claim sets the scene for a journey of discovery and reconciliation of identity for Miller personally, and provides a focus for discovering the threads woven into a more complex community unseen in childhood innocence. A very enjoyable and thought provoking read.
Hannah Moon, Marketing Assistant, Sydney
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
Haig brings an oddly upbeat, brutally honest and stunningly crafted account of what it is like to experience the depths of depression and come out the other side. Particularly beneficial for anyone experiencing mental health challenges or who’d like to better understand or support someone who is.
The immersive quality of Haig’s writing brings you along a devastating and yet strangely beautiful journey that leaves you with a refreshed perspective on the world and an appreciation for his honest account of a difficult but all too present issue.
“Wherever you are, at any moment, try and find something beautiful. A face, a line out of a poem, the clouds out of a window, some graffiti, a wind farm. Beauty cleans the mind.”
Non-fiction (short read)
Maia Ambegaokar, Director, Consulting, Sydney and Perth
Early in the year, I read this article which reports on Professor Deb Verhoeven’s social networks analysis. Her work shows in visually striking diagrams that men not only received most of the research grants, but those men’s research teams were also mostly composed of only men, who are then supported by their male leader with recommendations and referrals. Disheartening that women continue to experience such disadvantage, and more evidence of what seems like the need to require gender balance to break these patterns.
Later in the year, I read Why women have less power than you think (BBC News) by Laura Jones from the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, at King’s College London, which illustrates that increasing the numbers of women does not necessarily increase women’s power and influence.
But don’t give up! As Iris Bohnet’s research shows, behavioural design can help de-bias organisations. Read her book What Works: Gender Equality by Design and listen to her talk about how to run your organisation without gender bias.
Simon Faivel, Director, Consulting, Melbourne
23 charts and maps that show the world is getting much, much better by Dylan Matthews, Vox
Sometimes we need to step back and see how things have changed over long time-frames. This short article shows 23 charts and maps that suggest the world is improving. Yes, we need to do more, and there are many important points that would challenge the key message of some of these charts, but it is still worth stepping back and appreciating (and celebrating) progress.
Patrick Flynn, Director, Policy & Advocacy, Sydney
Net Loss: The inner life in the digital age by Sebastian Smee, Quarterly Essay
The Quarterly essay is an absolute gift to our public discourse – a long thoughtful 30,000 word read rather than 140 characters. Smee asks us to consider whether in the age of the meme machine, we risk losing a complex idea of the inner self. Are we defining our self by a mediated version that we share online in a way which risks losing a more messy and intricate idea of what it means to be human? Smee invokes artists and play rights, political thinkers and activists to ask us to lift our ambitions for who we are.
Rob Koczkar, ex-CEO, Sydney
Moment of a Truth, History and Australia’s Future by Mark McKenna, Quarterly Essay
A powerful statement of the gaps in our understanding and narrative of modern Australian history and why this is holding us back as a nation.
In this inspiring essay, Mark McKenna considers the role of history in making and unmaking the nation. From Captain Cook to the frontier wars, from Australia Day to the Uluru Statement, we are seeing passionate debates and fresh recognitions. McKenna argues that it is time to move beyond the history wars, and that truth-telling about the past will be liberating and healing. This is a superb account of a nation’s moment of truth.
Non-fiction (long read)
Benedikt Alt, Consultant, Sydney
This book tests the common perception that the world is bad and things are getting worse against hard data and evidence. While I don’t agree with all assessments, Pinker shows the immense progress we have made as humans against many dimensions, without ignoring that there will always be more that we can do.
In his words: “we will never have a perfect world, and it would be dangerous to seek one. But there is no limit to the betterments we can attain if we continue to apply knowledge to enhance human flourishing.”
This book inspired me to look at the problems in this world from a position of strength rather than despair – what a fantastic starting point to continue working on the world’s biggest problems.
Matthew Deeble, Director, Education Practice Lead, Sydney
Randomistas by Andrew Leigh
Andrew Leigh tells the stories of radical researchers who overturned conventional wisdom in medicine, politics, economics, law enforcement and more. From finding the cure to scurvy to discovering what policies really improve literacy rates, randomistas have shaped life as we know it – but they often had to fight to conduct their trials and have their findings implemented.
It makes scientific methods and economic analysis seem fun, easy and essential. It’s like a great detective story for social impact.
James Dudfield, Director, Consulting, Sydney
Utopia for realists and how we can get there by Rutger Bregman
This guide to a revolutionary yet achievable utopia is supported by multiple studies, lively anecdotes and numerous success stories.
Why we should give free money to everyone! I didn’t realise how close the US came to a basic income plan when the 1970 Nixon’s Family Assistance Plan passed the House but not the Senate – because the Democrats said it didn’t go far enough!
Social problems are correlated to inequality, not GDP. Why don’t financial literacy programs work? Read the book and have some of your assumptions challenged!
Chris Harrop, Board member, Sydney
Shows how examining our attitudes toward money – how we earn it, spend it, and give it away – offers insights into our lives, our values, and the essence of prosperity.
It is a provocative exploration of attitudes to money, and how it can warp our sense of what really matters. Both fascinating and thought-provoking.
Stuart Lloyd-Hurwitz, Executive Director, Consulting, Sydney
Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas
A must for the social sector reading list this year, this book challenges us to consider the intentions and consequences of allowing philanthropists to set the agenda in domains government often manage.
It is a provocative read – Giridharadas is a self-described flamethrower who simplifies and exaggerates many points since nuance doesn’t sell books. Nevertheless, he raises important issues on whether we want a society where ‘giving [is] the wingman of taking?’ Is it acceptable that money derived from harmful activities is then redistributed in an effort to appear to do good? The author would argue that it is the intent of many philanthropists to preserve the status quo and mitigate the chance of social revolution.
For SVA and the social sector in Australia, Winners Take All stimulates a reflection on the importance of beneficiary engagement and deep understanding. It also underscores something we have observed in our work – the difference between people working to improve social issues because they believe it is right versus those who do so because they believe it will look good and improve their individual or corporate standing if they do.
Jon Myer, Principal, Consulting, Melbourne
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
Though recommended last year, Sapiens has made it onto our list again (for not just one person but two). It provides a sweeping, compelling and fascinating history of what it means to be human. For those who get addicted to his work, this can be followed by Homo Deus and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.
It encourages you to lift your thoughts out of the day-to-day and think about the much longer time horizon of human progress.
Nathan Sowell, Manager, Impact Investing, Melbourne
They F*** You Up by Oliver James
Clinical psychologist shows that it is the way we were cared for in the first six years of life that has a crucial effect on who we are and how we behave. It is a remarkable analysis of science and popular culture explaining intergenerational disadvantage. It taught me how my family dynamics have shaped me, and helped me see past family norms.
Gillian Turnbull, Director, Consulting, Melbourne
Seeing Voices: A journey into the world of the Deaf by Oliver Sacks
This is a relatively old book – written in 1989 – but provides a fascinating introduction into the world of the congenitally deaf and their experiences of trying to adapt to a hearing world. It explores the important role of language and how our capacities for communication and thought are crucial to how we fit into society. Or not. I cannot imagine what it must be like to live in a world without ever experiencing sound but this book goes a long way to allowing me to begin to understand it a little bit better.
Tanya Vaughan, Associate Director, Education
Talking To My Country by Stan Grant
This is the life story of Stan Grant. It’s a personal meditation on race, identity and history.
I love the honesty of Stan Grant in explaining his experience of being a Wiradjuri man in Australia.