How do you begin to make positive changes to social behaviour?
We chat with Ronni Kahn, Australian social entrepreneur, best known for founding the food rescue charity, OzHarvest.
Ronni Kahn: The reason I started OzHarvest was because I found there was a gap. There was a niche and there was a need. And I think that’s where things stem from; you come across something in your own life that causes you hassle, or that you see is not working right. Some people might just moan about it, but some people feel the need to fix it. My challenge is learning not to be a ‘fixer-person’ for EVERYTHING! But what I can do is recognise what skills I have to make a positive impact.
Frost*collective: There is something about bringing a positive attitude to everything you do that rubs off on others. How does that make you feel?
RK: You know, when I see the sparkle in someone else’s eyes, it lifts something in me; you know that you’ve connected in a way. It’s the most energising, beautiful feeling. And I must share that my life has been transformed once I decided to be committed to living in the now, living in happiness, to living in joy— to living a life of service. Most people think ‘we have the rest of our lives to do stuff’—but it can be snuffed out in a second. It’s not so much about ‘influencing’ other people to do these things, but living it yourself. It’s how we deal with people; how we listen, how we answer, and it’s not a conscious thing. I don’t walk around in life asking, ‘how am I going to influence people. How am I going to show them how to change’ I am however in an extraordinary position where I get invited to speak and to share my thoughts and experiences, but that’s me, and that contribution doesn’t work for everybody. So I really don’t try to go around and influence people. All I can do is be me… and that’s all anyone can do.
“It's not so much about ‘influencing' other people to do these things, but living it yourself. It's how we deal with people; how we listen, how we answer, and it's not a conscious thing.”
FC: So do you think ‘people’ are what motivates you?
RK: You better believe it! I read self-help books; there are so many people who motivate and inspire me—totally. I can’t get enough of learning more and more about inspiring people.
FC: It’s interesting you chose OzHarvest instead of starting another business and we wonder how successful you would be at running another commercial business?
RK: I’ve run my own business in the past, but I started OzHarvest because I found that making money for me, just didn’t inspire me anymore. There is always this feeling that we need more, but when I actually examined my life I found that I have my two sons, a roof over my head and food on my table. And that’s really why I started a social business, because I figured ‘I’ve got everything I need, now’s my time to give back, to do more’. I’d spent 15–20 years on my family just having enough for me, and it didn’t fill my soul, it didn’t fill my heart, it didn’t make me think. I always wanted more.
FC: We wonder about that too, in our own business. You’ve really used your business to expose something that touches people’s hearts, and we always think of how we can do that. Do you think it’s about bringing people on the journey with you?
RK: I really do. I think that I’m a vehicle for other people’s goodness, and it’s interesting how you said ‘I’m so much part of OzHarvest’—that was really an unconscious, unintentional thing. I never set out to be an ‘inspiration’ or a ‘story’, but very early on in the piece a particular PR person recognised that it would help the brand immeasurably. And I didn’t even realise this possibility until she began to see it in the business. And even then, I don’t think she had any idea as to where it would go. All I wanted to do was to start something meaningful. And yes, we have created a brand, and yes we have created something incredibly special, and I do believe that it is a vehicle for purpose, for people to fulfill their spiritual souls through OzHarvest.
FC: Apart from contributing financially, what do you think commercial businesses can learn from this?
RK: I think they can do a huge amount…
FC: … Kind of ‘anything is possible’ in a way…
RK: Not only that, but I think Frost*collective has a real opportunity with your people, and the pride that you should all have in the business because of the purpose the business has found in giving in so many ways. Every single one of Frost*collective’s staff should be saying ‘we’re a design company that has helped build OzHarvest’, or that has ‘helped change the world’. That pride comes from what the company stands for, and as business leaders you have the responsibility to build that. Your designers are more than designers— they’re changing the world through philanthropic causes. I read this little story yesterday. Three builders were working on a cathedral, and somebody asked the first builder “what are you doing?” and he said “I’m laying the bricks.” And the second builder said “I’m painting the bricks.” And the third builder said “I’m building a cathedral to God.” You have the opportunity to turn your business into the graphic design company that is adding a positive impact to the world because of your choice to do so.
FC: And that change is really starting to happen, Ronni. In the last five-to-ten years, we’ve seen a significant change in people’s business approach. They are far more focused on people and people’s wellbeing as a responsibility. We are heading in the right direction I think.
RK: We definitely are. There is a strong groundswell of change happening. It’s slow, and it needs to be harvested, but it’s happening.