Every night in Australia over 105,000 people are homeless. About 26,000 among them are aged from 12 to 24. The majority of these youth will leave school before year 10 with no formal education, 57% are destined for long-term unemployment and their average life expectancy will be 47 years (compared to 82 years).
Youth homelessness and disadvantage are hard to swallow. Fuelled by the belief that young people should have both a home and hope, Rebecca and her partner Kate gathered an amazing bunch of people and got to work. Since they pushed their first food cart out in 2010 in Melbourne, they have built a portfolio of 8 businesses, across which they served nearly 2 million customers, and provided over 50,000 hours of training to over 500 young people.
The stories of Rebecca are truly inspiring. She is definitely one of the most passionate social entrepreneurs you will ever encounter. Discover here some of her stories and how STREAT aims to stop youth homelessness and disadvantage, one mouthful at a time. Get inspired to become part of their amazing journey!
I like having big and ambitious goals. I want the goal to be so big that I don’t know how we’re going to achieve it and we have to think so creatively to try and work out how we’re going to do it. Paul, who has been my most trusted advisor across these six years, just takes that to a whole new level. He plays the role of lifting the bar for me. He will add zero at the end of every number. He will look at something and ask “Why couldn’t you triple or quadruple it or times it by ten?” He challenges me so much. Most people think that the speed that we’ve been pushing at is about as fast as you can go to build one of these things. Paul always turns that on his head, challenges me and asks me why we cannot go a lot faster or why we cannot get quantum changes in these social enterprises.
In anything that I do, if I’m going to do it, I’m doing it at 200 percent. It’s not like I have a switch and go to a different mode. I’ve never been able to disconnect my values in whatever I’m doing. I get job applications all the time from people who write me letters and say things like “I’ve been working in my business career for years but finally I’ve decided to give something back” or “I’ve been working in a soulless job for a decade or two and I really don’t want to reach the end of my life and wish I had followed my heart in my career”. I just couldn’t do that. I couldn’t spend time not doing something that felt like it wasn’t aligned. For me, life is just too short to not be doing the things you want to do. If you cannot find the thing you want to do, just create the thing you want to do.
Our son, Will, lives and breathes STREAT. Every week, he gets 10 dollars pocket money. He has three money boxes and ever since he’s been a tiny little toddler, it has been the same thing: $5 have to go into his saving money box, $2.50 have to go into his spending money box and $2.50 have to go into his giving money box. Right from when he was a little baby, we take him down with his $5 and put it in the bank so he gets used to saving. He can save up his spending money to buy whatever he wants, which is normally Lego because he’s always saving up for Lego. And he also has giving money. We’ve always worked out with him what he wants and which charities he wants to give it to. In the past, he has given it to The Lost Dogs Home or the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre. But yesterday, he counted all of his giving money, he has been saving it for two years now, and he had $300.95. He decided to give it to STREAT as we’ve got a crowdfunding campaign happening at the moment. I asked him why he had decided to give it to STREAT and he said “It’s really obvious mum. Everybody should have a home.” Our family just lives and breathes this organisation.
Our lives are strings of tiny little micro decisions. Most of them won’t create any major seismic shifts by themselves but in totality they are who we are as people. You have to continue to take joy in those little things.
My job is to keep on reminding us as an organisation of why we exist. It’s so easy to just do things because you do things. I just don’t want us to ever forget. I want us to feel so close to the social change and to keep on reminding us of those tiny little changes. We see so many amazing tiny little changes across time. One step forward, one step forward. My job is to keep on reminding us that all of this amazing stuff is happening right here. A kid who couldn’t catch public transport and get to work by himself because of a panic attack has now caught the train to work for the first time. Or a young person who couldn’t make eye contact has finally felt proud enough of himself and had the confidence to do that. Or a kid who couldn’t make a coffee yesterday, makes a coffee today. All those tiny little changes across all of our lifetimes add up to who we are as people. If we listen and watch carefully, we can see all those changes happen in front of us. My job is to keep on reminding us about the amazingness that is happening right in front of us. There are just so many examples in any given week of amazing things that are happening. My job is to keep on telling all these little stories. It is to be a storyteller. To keep on holding up a mirror and saying “Hey, look at this amazing stuff that is happening.” It’s not big stuff. It’s just armfuls of little stuff.
It’s really easy for us, consumers, to lose hope. People are talking all the time about capitalism and evil systems and what it is doing to us. But these systems are just groups of people who are making micro decisions. An organisation or company doesn’t exist if it doesn’t have customers. They are just institutions of people who don’t exist unless more people buy something from them and support them. So if we don’t like that, we can turn the tap off and say “Sorry, we are not giving you our money.” The power is always with us and our job, as social entrepreneurs or activists, is to remind people that it’s actually the collection of us that can change things. Yes, my one little micro action in the marketplace doesn’t feel significant but it is the aggregation of all of those that create the marketplace. In one sense, it leaves me optimistic because I think most people, if they’re armed with information, will make a good decision. Again and again, I see people who are generous. Random acts of kindness happen everywhere. But most of the time, when you’re making a decision as a consumer, you don’t have all information. There is always misinformation in the marketplace and competitors are often bigger companies with more money to try and spin what they do and market but often that can only be skin deep. They can spray a bit of goodness around the edge of their enterprise but there is no depth.
As a business person, you want your employees to be well-skilled, stable, really experienced, qualified, having the right attitude and the second they come into your organisation they hit the ground running. We’re saying the absolute opposite of that. We’re saying “Find the most unproductive, the most unreliable and the most damaged person that you can find anywhere on our streets, who has no future at all and is either destined for long term unemployment, early death or prison.” They are perfect for us and we put them right in the middle of our business. When I walk into a class, I cannot look at it as a bunch of kids who have nothing to offer. I walk into that class and think “Imagine the potential that must be in this room. Imagine what you guys are capable of” even though they will be scared, won’t make eye contact with us and don’t believe they have potential. One of our young people once said “What I love about STREAT is that you believed in me before I believed in me” and that is true. That is always the case. We absolutely know that with the right opportunities, confidence and somewhere to belong, most kids can achieve amazing things. Most of the young people have just been on the outside looking in the whole time. There just haven’t been places where they were wanted. It will take them a little while to trust us, a couple of months so they feel like it’s their place, but when you create an environment for young people that is nurturing, compassionate and fun, heaps of fun, and that gives you opportunities, stuff starts to change. It’s like little keys. Something has been unlocked for the kids.
There is a lot of planting seeds everywhere and fertilising and watering those seeds because I don’t know which ones are going to grow into trees or plants. You’re giving yourself the best chance of something happening.
I have these enormous books and scrolls of paper with hundreds, if not thousands of ideas. My staff hate Monday mornings because I had two days over the weekend to let my brain go crazy. I once made the mistake of taking my big scroll out, it’s about 15 meters long, and rolling it right down the middle of the office because I was trying to find something I’d written on there. Our General Manager of Operations just went white. She just realised the full depth of the inner workings of my brain, stepped away from the scroll and disappeared and I’m like “It was a really bad idea to show her the scroll.” My brain just never stops thinking. There are decades of ideas and it drives me crazy to have to wait because an idea isn’t worth anything. These pieces of paper with hundreds and hundreds of ideas aren’t worth anything. It’s only worth something when you start doing and creating (...) It’s like taking an idea for a walk like taking a dog for a walk. I just take ideas for walks and start feeding them into conversations, sometimes internally but a lot of the time externally. Sometimes I’m taking an idea for a walk and someone else happens to take their idea for a walk at the same time. For me, building a social enterprise isn’t just about the social good that you’re doing. It’s about the social way that you’re building your enterprise. It’s a social activity. It’s about getting like-minded people together. So many of those ideas, so many bits of our organisation end up evolving because we took ideas for walks and other people were there at the right time at the right place.
It goes without saying that Rebecca and the whole team of STREAT are passionate about food and coffee and about giving young people the personal support, life skills, training and real work experience they need to start achieving their personal goals. If you want to read more about STREAT, check out their website. No doubt that you will be inspired by their work!