Summer treats: staff picks 2019
Once again, SVA staff provide a bevy of reading, viewing and listening recommendations for your summer break. We hope you’ll be inspired, informed, moved, uplifted or all of the above.
Emily Adams, Manager, Consulting, Sydney
ChangeMakers podcast – Hong Kong Protests series (episodes 12, 22, and 23)
In the age of increasingly nationalistic, authoritarian governments and the growing, very real threat of climate change, active citizenry has never been more important. Protests are spreading around the globe, with citizens demanding change from the governments and entities that have power over them. Hosted by the incredible Dr. Amanda Tattersall from the University of Sydney, episodes 12, 22, and 23 of the podcast ChangeMakers is a series highlighting various protests in Hong Kong, including the infamous Tiananmen square protests, the Umbrella protests, and today’s ongoing fight for democracy. The series explores lessons, skills and mistakes learnt across history – from the voices of those on the streets. If you ever ask yourself ‘How can I make a difference?’ or ‘Is change really possible?’ I highly suggest this fascinating series (and the whole podcast!)
Hannah Cihal, Manager, Consulting, Sydney
1619 Project by the New York Times
In 1619, the first slave ships arrived in North America. This podcast examines what happened from there – as slavery came to influence every aspect of the country that would become the United States of America. There are five episodes in the series, about 30 minutes each, and they are all incredibly well produced. They tell a history of America (my home country) that we’re not taught in school and will leave you feeling both enlightened and confronted. It is one of the most worthwhile listens of our time.
Dan Code, Manager, Consulting, Melbourne
The Tragedy Expert episode of the Without Fail podcast
In this episode, host Alex Blumberg talks with Kenneth Feinberg, who has lead responses to some of America’s greatest tragedies such as September 11 by administering victim’s compensation funds. I have listened to this episode five times since it was released and every time have been moved by the stories of suffering that Kenneth shares and his demonstration of the amazing power of simply listening to peoples’ stories. He also shares a beautiful description of how he copes with dealing with hearing these traumatic stories on a daily basis.
‘I have listened to this episode five times since it was released and every time have been moved by the stories of suffering that Kenneth shares.’
Lisa Fowkes, Director, Ventures (Employment), Sydney
Can democracy survive the rise of surveillance capitalism?, The Minefield podcast
This is a pretty bracing discussion about the implications of the use, on an unprecedented scale, of digital data about our daily lives. Zuboff argues that surveillance capitalism is a new form in which basic market principles – like autonomy and choice – are undermined by the sale and use of data to manipulate our behaviour without our knowledge or consent. Zuboff’s focus is on companies’ use of data for profit, but there are also questions for the social sector. While there is much excitement about the potential of ‘big data’ to address social problems, Zuboff’s analysis is a reminder of the asymmetric power relations between those who collect and control this data and those whose lives are affected.
‘Zuboff argues that surveillance capitalism is a new form in which basic market principles – like autonomy and choice – are undermined by the sale and use of data to manipulate our behaviour without our knowledge or consent.’
Katy Theobald, Associate Director, Bright Spots Schools Connection, Melbourne
The plastic backlash: what’s behind our sudden rage and will it make a difference by Stephen Buranyi, The Guardian
This audio long read examines how plastic became so commonplace and why we have suddenly started to question its use in everyday life.
I loved this podcast as it gave me a new insight into how corporations have contributed to increased use of plastic and how they’ve placed responsibility on the individual rather than themselves for the environmental consequences. Have a listen – or read the long article.
Prebhjot Kaur, Analyst, Consulting, Melbourne
No Such Thing As A Fish podcast
This podcast can be summarised as four know-it-alls discussing obscure facts.
I am obsessed with this podcast because not only do you learn a series of interesting facts, but the hosts are funny and make the content engaging. For instance, I learnt the iconic red lipstick look from the 30s-40s was a politically motivated trend in this one. It might be a very specific niche, but if you’re into learning whilst having a laugh – give it a listen!
Shona Saxton, Manager, Marketing, Sydney
Rebel with a cause episode, Hidden Brain podcast
I always enjoy the Hidden Brain podcast but this episode struck a chord for me. It challenges society’s need to follow rules, what connotates a rebel and why it’s perceived as a negative or destructive characteristic. This podcast looks at people who practice ‘positive deviance’, how that approach can achieve incredible feats of imagination and how to build it in yourself or your organisation.
‘This episode… challenges society’s need to follow rules, what connotates a rebel and why it’s perceived as a negative or destructive characteristic.’
Cassie McGannon, Policy & Research Manager, Melbourne
Both are ‘rotation curation’ accounts, where a different person each week shares something of their life – sometimes serious, sometimes more light-hearted. @WeAreDisabled is hosted by people with disability from around the world, @IndigenousX by Australian Indigenous people. Both give fantastic insight into the experiences of people who don’t often have a voice in public discourse – and remind me of the diversity within groups that it’s easy to think of as homogenous from the outside. Proof that social media can be used for good as well as evil!
Liz Albornoz, Manager, Events, Sydney
Call to Courage by Brené Brown on Netflix
In a humorous way, Brené Brown talks about the ‘uncomfortable’ things: vulnerability, shame, fear, leadership – and about having courageous conversations at work and at home. This goes well with her book Dearing Greatly. Based on 12 years of research, Brown dispels the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness and argues that it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage.
Karen Prout, Editor, SVA Quarterly, Sydney
The disarming case to act right now on climate change, Greta Thunberg’s speech at TEDx.
Greta Thunberg’s clarity and freshness catapulted me into researching the latest climate science and just how close we are to the potential tipping points into an unpredictable future. Her call for a system change, not a climate change, speaks to me of the changes needed for a sustainable and more egalitarian future. Its prescience is uncomfortable, and the enormity of the task – as well as the implications if we don’t – is sometimes overwhelming… But in her voice, and the voice of the millions of other young people, I hear the willingness and potential for change. But what about the rest of us?
‘[Greta Thunberg’s] call for a system change, not a climate change, speaks to me of the changes needed for a sustainable and more egalitarian future.’
Lili Sussman, Chief Strategy Officer, Sydney
Uluru Statement from the Heart – Secondary Education Tool, BlackFella Films.
I enjoyed this video. It helped me learn more about the importance of the Uluru statement, and the ‘torment of powerlessness’ so beautifully articulated by the Uluru statement.
Empowerment and self-determination is so important in supporting the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, but this video also helped me understand and feel the criticality of historical truth-telling and recognition of injustice – a matter of moral and emotional justice, beyond mere political issues of power. It’s a great one to share with the family too.
Katherine Sivieng, Finance Manager, Sydney
Native Tongue (Song & video) by Australian artist Mojo Juju.
The song, composed by Mojo Juju, covers identity, race, family, belonging, and the experience of feeling ‘other’. It is the title track to an album exploring those themes, and others.
The first time I heard this song and its opening lyrics I was won. I love the complex subject matter, the direct and sometimes cutting honesty of the lyrics, the musical soundscape and energy, the juxtaposition of ancient and modern sounds. My story and experience is different to that of the artist, but I can’t help but relate to some of the sentiments expressed. I also don’t speak my father’s native tongue. I too was born under this Southern sun. And every person of colour knows what it’s like to feel like they don’t belong. The video clip is striking. Each time I listen to this song and/or watch the clip I am reminded of the richness of the cultural language of our First Peoples, and how much female artists, queer artists and artists of colour have to offer.
Rebecca Thomas, Director, Impact Investing, Sydney
This ABC show is a TV documentary/social experiment set around an Australian old people’s home and its residents’ connections to a group of four-year olds from the local community. The series provides a unique insight into how the elderly can be forgotten and isolated in the society we live in today. The intergenerational interaction between the two groups provided some heart-warming and heart-breaking viewing.
Looking after the members of our society who have contributed to building our futures is not just about medical care. Human interaction, a sense of community and being valued are things we take for granted in mainstream society. This series reminded me that not everyone has these luxuries. Against the backdrop of a royal commission, this series really demonstrated a need for more innovative and holistic ways to care for the older members of our society.
‘Human interaction, a sense of community and being valued are things we take for granted in mainstream society. This series reminded me that not everyone has these luxuries.’
George Bradshaw, Marketing Coordinator, Melbourne
Circe by Madeline Miller
Madeline Miller’s Circe is a thrilling reimagining of the story of the witch Circe from the Odyssey. Daughter of the sun god Helios, Circe discovers witchcraft and is banished by Zeus to spend her eternity on the deserted island of Aeaea, where the real story starts to unfold. Miller is a wonderful storyteller, and much of the prose is both beautiful and poignant. The book has strong themes of independence, self-discovery and empowerment, and Circe is an interesting and complex character. It’s a real page-turner that I couldn’t put down, and would be well-suited to a quiet coastal trip over the summer break.
Katie Maskiell, Campaigns Manager, Sydney
This book does a fantastic job of detailing the events surrounding the AIDS epidemic in 1980s Chicago. It explores the scale of human trauma sensitively whilst also conveying the importance of people power in forcing governments to respond to the crisis. The film is a documentary which follows a similar group in New York and how they used proven advocacy and campaigning methods to change the way the Government funded AIDS research, the availability of drugs, how people were treated by hospitals and the wider public and worked to reduce the stigma surrounding the gay community and people living with HIV/AIDS.
Both stories are powerful and moving and are great examples of how a marginalised community banded together, when literally facing death, to bring about social change.
Letitia Tunmore, Operations Manager, Impact Investing, Sydney
The Other Hand (also known as Little Bee) by Chris Cleave
The dual narrative explores the story of a Nigerian asylum-seeker and a British magazine editor who met during the oil conflict in the Niger Delta. It humanises the experience of asylum seekers in Britain and explores issues of British colonialism, globalisation and political violence. The book starts with Little Bee wishing she was a British pound coin rather than a Nigerian girl, as pound coins are able to travel freely and safely. I was hooked from the first page: “Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl. Everyone would be pleased to see me coming. Maybe I would visit with you for the weekend and then suddenly, because I am fickle like that, I would visit with the man from the corner shop instead…” It challenges us to understand the treatment of asylum seekers and has a gripping plot!
“Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl. Everyone would be pleased to see me coming. Maybe I would visit with you for the weekend and then suddenly, because I am fickle like that, I would visit with the man from the corner shop instead…”
Lou Campbell, Principal, Consulting, Sydney
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
This novel isn’t fresh off the press, being published in early 2017 – but well worth diving into over the summer. Its engaging colourful cover and gold title belies some of the uncomfortable reading about the appalling treatment of one group of people who have immigrated en masse by their new host country (Koreans to Japan in the mid-1900s). For many, this type of historical novel might feel distant and lacking relevance to our modern lives – but as I followed the family saga of Sunja over many decades, I really got under the skin of prejudice and had to sit in that discomfort. It left me with greater understanding for current migrants and refugees. Did I mention that it’s beautifully written? Enjoy every page and prepare to be well and truly educated.
Neha Broota, Associate Director, Partnerships, Sydney
In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri
In 2012, Pullitzer Prize winner, and English speaker, Jhumpa Lahiri immersed herself into a new language and world by moving her family to Rome and only communicating in Italian – a language she was captivated by, but never really mastered. In Other Words is autobiographical, written after this experience. It explores the process of learning to express oneself in another language, along with themes of displacement and the discoveries it can lead to.
As I am learning a new language, a lot of the book’s insights really resonated with me. I could see how new languages enable you to connect more deeply with others and allow for startling acts of self-reflection and reinventions; moving you to places you never knew you could go. Well worth it!
Non-fiction (short read)
Maia Ambegaokar, Director, Consulting, Sydney
Philanthropy for the Women’s Movement, not just empowerment by Françoise Girard, president of the International Women’s Health Coalition, Stanford Social Innovation Review
Women’s movements need stable, multi-year funding because genuine social change takes time. Read this article and replace ‘US’ with ‘Australia’ – are funders here trusting in their grantees and investing in women’s rights over the long term?
Non-fiction (long read)
Sofie Desmet, Associate Director, Marketing, Sydney
Lost children archive by Valeria Luiselli
“A travelogue centred on a road trip from New York City to the Mexican border, the book was begun in 2014, when tens of thousands of migrants from Mexico and Central America crossed into the US. The narrator reflects on the ethics of storytelling, while setting out to document children going missing while trying to enter America.” – The Guardian
I enjoyed Valeria’s storytelling and was moved to tears by the power of stories with children as the main heroes. Her novel weaves together the experiences from a blended family on a road trip, with stories about the last Native Americans conquered by European settlers, whilst flagging the deeply sad and dire political situation of many Mexican children.
Martina Donkers, Manager, Strategy & Planning, Sydney
Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked The World by Penelope Bagieu
It’s a graphic novel depicting the lives and achievements of 29 amazing women throughout history, from Agnodice, a doctor in ancient Athens who defied the ban on women practicing medicine to deliver obstetrics services across the city, to Sonita Alizadeh, a teenage child-marriage activist and rapper in Afghanistan. I love how accessible and easy-to-read the book is, and the incredibly powerful and diverse stories of women overcoming barriers and changing the world. The book itself is beautiful and full of gorgeous, detailed illustrations. It’d make a great Christmas gift – especially for girls and young women with world-changing ambitions.
‘I love how accessible and easy-to-read the book is, and the incredibly powerful and diverse stories of women overcoming barriers and changing the world.’
Annabel Downing, Consultant, Sydney
I am Uluru by Jen Cowley
This book follows the history and journey of the Uluru family, the traditional owners and custodians of the land around Uluru. It is a fascinating read, following the struggles of the family to adapt to a European world after first contact told through first person accounts. I loved learning more about the Uluru family, their culture and the history they have endured since settlement, particularly as Uluru became a national icon and popular tourist destination.
Patrick Flynn, Director, Policy & Advocacy, Sydney
Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
I read some time ago that we tend to focus on the successes of those we admire, yet seldom learn about the person themselves. In this award winning book, Isaacson describes how the illegitimate son of a lawyer, who ran afoul of the church because he was gay, landed a position studying under one of the great polymaths of the day. He describes how Leonardo developed an incredible curiosity to learn how absolutely everything works, and the ability to observe things in minute detail, come up with theories and then test them. It was a relief to read that Leonardo was renowned for failing to finish project after project, and that he may have pilfered some of his ideas from the likes of Archimedes. The biography’s timeline also helps to place Leonardo’s story in the larger context of the birth of the Mughul empire in India, the peak of the Incas in South America and the rise of European colonialism.
Caleb Heard, Analyst, Consulting, Sydney
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
This is an intense read that goes to the core of seeking to understand life itself. At the surface level, it’s a psychiatrist’s reflections on his and others’ experiences in WW2 Nazi death camps, through which he developed the theory of logotherapy “those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost any ‘how’”. Pretty intense surface level.
There’s a rawness in looking at life through the lens of humanity’s extremes, offering us a rare clarity of insight into our own complex lives. For example, the ability to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances is posed by Frankl as ‘the human freedom that can be never taken away.’ I found I didn’t adequately value or exercise this freedom, given how easy it is to habitually live life reacting on autopilot.
‘There’s a rawness in looking at life through the lens of humanity’s extremes, offering us a rare clarity of insight into our own complex lives.’
Alison Kwok, Consultant, Perth
Watching Brief by Julian Burnside
“In Watching Brief, noted lawyer and human rights advocate Julian Burnside articulates a sensitive and intelligent defence of the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees, and the importance of protecting human rights and maintaining the rule of law.”
I am recommending this book as it brings to light Australia’s historical and current treatment of asylum-seekers and refugees. Importantly, as the author is a prominent human rights barrister at the coal face of addressing such issues, the arguments are presented in a deeply informed, evidence-based and clearly articulated manner. A great read for anyone who wants to understand more about this discussion.
Dawn Lee, Senior Operations Manager, Consulting, Sydney
Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales
The day that turns a life upside down usually starts like any other, but what happens the day after? This is a fascinating read full of interviews with people who have faced unthinkable tragedies – think the Lindt siege, Port Arthur massacre, Thredbo landslide, as well as the latest research on the way the human brain processes fear and grief.
Even though these people have suffered so much, the majority have come out of each event with such strength and hope. It was encouraging to read about human resilience!
Jon Myer, Principal, Consulting, Melbourne
The Inner Level: How more equal societies reduce stress, restore sanity and improve everyone’s well-being by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.
This book explores income inequality and specifically the way that it’s affecting how we think, how we behave, and ultimately our mental wellbeing.
It’s a sequel to The Spirit Level, which looked at the broader impact of inequality. I really liked how this newer work connects the system (and income inequality) broadly and drills down to how it affects our psychology as an individual. It shows how inequality makes social relations more stressful, undermines self-confidence and distorts natural differences in personal abilities. While a lot of it may seem intuitive and straightforward, the authors have built a strong case from the available data sets.
Suzie Riddell, CEO, Sydney
This book really made me think. It made me stop and question how I think about morality and why I want to see change in the world. Haidt’s engaging book explores how intuitions drive much more of our behaviour and decision-making than rationality and goes on to describe how moral foundations theory applies to political beliefs of liberals (meaning progressives or left-wing), conservatives and libertarians.
‘Haidt’s engaging book explores how intuitions drive much more of our behaviour and decision-making than rationality and goes on to describe how moral foundations theory applies to political beliefs of liberals ‘
Isabella Skelton, Marketing Associate, Melbourne
High profile campaigner Sally Rugg is her signature dry and direct self in this memoir detailing the trials and tribulations of the ‘Yes’ camp during the marriage equality campaign in 2017. The book details a critical moment in Australian social and political history and, as per Rugg’s stated intentions in writing it, sets the record on exactly how the largest mass movement of activism in Australia took place.
Gillian Turnbull, Director, Consulting, Melbourne
Winners take All – The elite charade of changing the world by Anand Giridharadas
In his book, Giridharadas puts forward a concept of MarketWorld, where consultants, business people and politicians meet to create profit under the guise of driving social change. For me, it was a thought-provoking book as it forced me to challenge many of the beliefs that I have held for most of my adult career around the importance of ‘win-win’ situations as a way to get corporates to drive social change. As a former employee of the Clinton Foundation it put me in the uncomfortable position of asking whether I would have been quite so excited to focus on inequality if it didn’t come with the associated perks of being an expat. It pushes back on ideas I had always accepted as being ‘good’, such as impact investing. I know people who have read this book have all gotten something different from it, however I recommend reading it with a readiness to embrace the challenging picture that Giridharadas paints.
Kye White, Marketing Associate, Digital & Content, Melbourne
Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino
A compilation of essays examining many aspects of the current moment, from online identities and marriage, to feminism and ‘take culture’ (a.k.a. attention economy – more retweets, more likes, etc.), Trick Mirror helped me understand my life and the world shaping it.
“I have felt so many times the choice of this era is to be destroyed or to morally compromise ourselves in order to be functional – to be wrecked, or to be functional for reasons that contribute to the wreck,” – Jia Tolentino.
“I have felt so many times the choice of this era is to be destroyed or to morally compromise ourselves in order to be functional – to be wrecked, or to be functional for reasons that contribute to the wreck,” – Jia Tolentino