StartSomeGood - Sydney, Australia

Because they understood the challenges faced by social entrepreneurs and community groups to raise the funds they need to make a difference, Tom Dawkins and Alex Budak founded StartSomeGood. The crowdfunding platform supports social entrepreneurs, grassroots changemakers and innovative community groups to build a community of small-dollar supporters.

StartSomeGood encourages these organisations so they can innovate quicker and find and scale the initiatives we need to build a better future for all of us. As an equivalent of angel investors for the social sector, the organisation gathers supporters that back new ideas as risk-adverse investors such as governments or corporate foundations often stick to traditional projects. 

I had the opportunity to meet with Tom, a very driven and passionate social entrepreneur committed to support other social entrepreneurs and social change. He also calls himself an activist, organiser, burner, dreamer and project junkie. It goes without saying that he is a very inspiring person full of ideas. Below you can read some of them!

Photo credit - StartSomeGood

Most people feel disempowered. It’s more than just young people. It’s far more endemic. If you grab the average person on the street in Sydney and ask if they feel like their voice really matters and if they can affect the future, most people would say “No.” I think there’s a crisis of legitimacy. I cannot speak for every country but something interesting is going on across the world as we’re pulling towards extremes. I worry about increasing wealth inequality and how that affects increasing democratic inequality. Who has the ability to raise their voices or participate in the conversations that matter and to be heard? I feel like people think things are moving out of control. They’re right of course. Partly this is just the reality of the world. Things are going to change really fast and it will feel a little bit out of control but the more we can give people tools to exercise their democratic rights and to do so on a daily basis, the better we can make things.

Telecommunications and technologies have changed everything in terms of what is possible. The friction involved in trying to make a difference was really high. To be involved in a certain organisation, you had to turn up at a certain time in a certain room. The friction was obviously enormous in terms of peoples’ schedules and lifestyles. Whereas now barriers have come down for some of these simple actions. I’m really fond of a quote that says “We no longer need organisations in order to get organised.” The ability to get organised and therefore to make things happen is easier than it used to be and no longer requires the infrastructure of an organisation, which once used to be the only way we could manage. So you see incredible collaborative efforts online, even in very simple ways.

I’m not a futurist. I’m focused on a relatively short time horizon and on what I can do now. I’m very doing oriented. If I cannot do it now, I don’t spend much time thinking about it and therefore I don’t spend much time thinking about what it will be like in three years’ time because I cannot do anything about that now. Having kids has made me think a lot more about the future though. Virtual reality maybe? I don’t know. But what we do know though is that we want to communicate. I think people want to do stuff that connects them and they want to do things together. I think there has always been a desire to connect. There was just this weird moment in human history where we all watched television for 50 years. But that’s the oddity, not the internet and everything that has happened since then. The oddity is that, for 50 years, we stopped leaning into each other and became a bit docile from the power of moving images. That was the weird thing. Human beings have put an unbelievable amount of time in watching television. Trillions of hours a year. Completely non-productive. Barely learning things.

People would do what they could from Monday to Friday, go to church on Sunday, say sorry and then go back and do it all again. People would make a fortune until they retired and in the last years of their life, they would give it away. However, as a result of prosperity in most of the world, we’re moving to the other corner. We do a lot more hanging out than we used to. People didn’t have the luxury to hang out as much as we do, to do things that make no difference and don’t earn any money either, to do what they like to do. There’s a really strong desire to bring the two together, purpose and profit, because we don’t want to wait. Everything is accelerating now. People’s expectations are accelerating. We don’t want to wait anymore until we’re 65 until we give back. That seems like a really long way away. We just want to do it right now. But we also want to make a living and be successful and find ways to do all of these together. I think that’s an incredible positive trend.

You want a message that conflicts someone’s way of thinking very directly. I don’t know what that would be. I wish I had a good answer. I feel like I really want to think about it. A message that I like in general is related to this incredible set of tools that we have at our disposal. We’re fortunate enough to be born in the era of prosperity. We can try and do more than just take care of ourselves. We have to use those tools and the opportunities we have to improve lives. I think anyone can do that. But what the right message is on a billboard to kind of get someone to believe in their own personal power to create change and who didn’t have that belief yet, I’m not quite sure. It’s a tricky one. I think the ultimate enemy of social change is not someone who’s working against that change, it’s someone who is cynical about the possibility of change. People who belief that change isn’t possible. Things are just the way they are. As if they are some kind of natural law of the universe that you end up with. Could the world be different? Is another world possible? A world that is more equal, more sustainable. I think so. Definitely. I think it’s probably. I think we’re leaning towards it. 

The ability to find people, share interests, identify mutual passions and work on things together is beyond anything that has ever existed in human history.

I agree with Martin Luther King that the long arch of history bends towards justice. I think that’s what’s happening. It just took a generation for homosexuality to move from illegal to more or less a normal issue for anyone under 35. We still don’t have the same marriage rights but we will in the next 12 months. It’s unstoppable. And the pace we’re working on transgender rights is incredible. I think a lot of good things are happening. However I think that all of it can be turned down very quickly. Climate change is an enormous threat to everything. It can cause massive economic relocation and it affects our political system. Under those sorts of crises, we can end up with all sorts of outcomes. But equally, it’s the disruption that climate change causes which gives the possibility of an entirely different kind of happenings as well (...) I think we’ll have to grapple with issues around generation inequality. I think the two big issues are income inequality, and whether that breaks our political system because at some point it costs so much to effectively participate to get your voice heard and could break the ability to make conscious decisions for the better of society, and climate change which is ultimately about generational inequality. Do you respect future generations? Do they have the right to the same kind of resources and opportunities that we have or do we all use them up in the present?

I’m worried about employment. In 30 years’ time, what will humans still be better at than robots? What would you employ humans for in 30 years’ time? Most people think that, within that timeframe, we’ll have really good AR. And robots are already taking over most industrial processes (…) The number one job on earth is driving. On the entire planet, that’s the number one job description. Think about every taxi driver, every bus driver, every tuk tuk driver, every person transporting materials, driving airplanes, driving boats, driving cars, driving stuff, steering stuff,… There are tens of millions of people employed to do that. All those jobs will disappear. All of them.

Deep changes in our society require trade-offs. We’re going to have to trade off some of our standards of living in the Western world. It might be impossible to sustain this particular lifestyle (...) I feel like, with kids, my perspective, in some ways, is getting ever more narrow. That’s the danger with kids, your perspectives are getting really selfish. In a way that feels selfless because you care about your kids more than anyone else but that can actually politically push in a whole range of really conservative directions. In some ways, I’ve been so worried about that that I almost get to the point of the opposite extreme which means I’m more radical in some of my views. Why should there be any controls on human movement? Why do we deserve this amazing life while most of the world doesn’t have it?

Social financing has traditionally come from governments, foundations and high level individuals. All of those are relatively risk averse actors and all of those are winners at the status quo. It is, in some ways, irrational to expect them to fund real system change. They don’t often fund anything that kind of directly threatens the system or something that they’re not sure of if it will work. It sounds rational but it isn’t. You actually have to fund things in order to find out if they work so you can implement things that work. We just haven’t had a lot of funding for social change experiments, particularly around early stage and high risk projects in the social sector. Crowdfunding could provide access to that kind of high risk capital that enables new things to happen and what we definitely need in the social sector is to innovate more rapidly. One of the fundamental changes in the world today is that the pace of change itself has changed. Change happens faster than ever before. And the funding models for social change are not keeping up and are not capable or have not been proved capable of funding experimental work. We only fund what works but we cannot figure out any new things that work if you don’t figure out what doesn’t work. Generally it’s the stuff that sounds ridiculous that can really change things. We’re still struggling to find out how to fund those bets in the social sector.

It goes without saying that Tom is passionate about social change and making a positive difference. If you want to read more about the different projects StartSomeGood supports, check out their website. No doubt that you will be inspired by the many amazing projects on this platform!