JW Juliette Wright
AL Andrew Leigh
JW I said, what is the most beautiful story about my work, about my parenting, about my children, about my marriage? And when I wrote the answer to that, it gave me immediate clarity on who I am and what I want and my best-case scenario.
AL Welcome to The Good Life: Andrew Leigh in Conversation, a podcast about living a happy, healthy, and ethical life. In this podcast, we seek out wise men and women who have lessons to teach us about living life to the full with humour, pleasure, meaning, and love. We’ll chat with musicians and athletes, CEOs and carers about making the most of this one precious life. If you like this podcast, do take a moment to tell your friends or give us a rating. Now, sit back and enjoy the conversation.
If you’ve ever thought about making a donation to someone in need, then perhaps you should turn to the GIVIT website. Founded in 2009 by Juliette Wright, GIVIT has helped to auspice more than a million donations. It is a platform used in disasters, but also used in regular times, a kind of a virtual warehouse. I first profiled Juliette Wright along with Nick Terrell in our book Reconnected and particularly admire her energy and her discussion of the vulnerabilities and challenges of being a non-profit leader.
She is Australia’s 2015 Local Hero and somebody who I greatly admire. Juliette, thanks so much for taking the time to join me on The Good Life podcast today.
JW Thank you so much for having me. I’m really honoured.
AL So, how did GIVIT start?
JW So, GIVIT started in 2009. I had a baby boy called Hudson, and I got given all these gorgeous, gorgeous clothes that he never wore because he got a bit fatty boom boom. And so, I decided that I wanted to give them to charities or a charity in my local area, and I had to ring lots and lots of charities to be continuously rejected. None of them wanted the baby clothes, and they did say that they already had a huge amount of baby clothes that had been given from Salvos and Lifeline.
And I said, well, what do you need? And the answer was always surprising and always fascinating to me, and I remember when a charity for children said they needed closed-toe work boots, I was really confused, and I said, why? And they said, well, the family’s homeless because the husband’s lost his job, and if we got him a pair of closed-toe work boots, that we’d be able to get him work on the roads. And that’s when I realised simple items can make a massive difference to people’s lives, pull people out of poverty, and also, charities don’t have a warehouse full of
And so I started GIVIT in the hope that charities could request whatever they needed for their clients, and now, we’re just about to hit 3.8 million donations and we have close to 4,000 charities across Australia utilising the model.
AL And less than a year after you’d launched, you suddenly turned GIVIT into a massive giving platform for the Queensland floods, didn’t you? Tell us about how that affected the organisation.
JW Well, because of necessity, because I was still matching donations awkwardly through the system, because what happens is charities can request whatever it is they want. So they want a TV or a bike for a woman who can’t get to the train, and so the charity would request it, and so a few weeks into GIVIT, there was a list of what was needed, but people wanted to give what wasn’t on the list. And so I was manually donating their household items and matching them to charities, and so the virtual warehouse was born.
And it was up running for about three or four months where charities could log in, see what was in the virtual warehouse, find what they needed, but if they couldn’t, they could request it. And that’s when, in 2011, Anna Bligh, the Premier of Queensland at the time, asked if GIVIT would be the partner of choice to manage all offers of good and donations in Cyclone Yasi, which was just devastating to, my god, the 30 local shire councils. It was just devastating, and we did, the little engine that could, managed…
I think we did 33,000 donations in just over three weeks, but that was why I got the Local Hero award because all of my volunteers at the time were on holidays, so I had to do the whole thing.
AL Oh my gosh.
JW Now, look, I ended up recruiting a lot of help, and we ended up doing 45,000 donations for those affected. I just say, now we’re doing 200,000 donations for events, and we’re now the national partner for New South Wales, and we’re the lead agency in the New South Wales floods. And we’ve already done tens of thousands of donations of course in that, and we’ve changed the model a bit.
Now we don’t actually necessarily ask people for their microwave for someone who’s in a drought-affected town or a flood-affected town. We ask them to help us buy it so that we can purchase it and we can support the local economy at the same time. So, in the last eight months alone, we’ve spent $3.7 million in drought and rural-affected communities on donations, and so we’re making sure that donations don’t do any harm as well.
AL So, what’s so fascinating to me about the GIVIT origin story, Juliette, is that you’re not somebody who had a background as a social worker. You didn’t have an MBA. You weren’t somebody who had experience in technology, and yet you set up this technology platform that just went from strength to strength. What made you think you could do it?
JW I don’t know why I have got such a dog on the bone, kind of, I’m going to do it. Well, I don’t know if you know, but I actually failed building the website a few times. So, I raised $500, and remember, I had two kids under two at the time, so I was… And I raised $500 by basically put my husband who’s a beef grazier on a vegetarian diet with shakes trying to save money. Anyway, raised $500 through seconding money for groceries, and then that flopped. So, the guy that I gave the money to just couldn’t build this donation portal. What was wrong with him?
And then, I went to market and I found this place, and I raised $800, and they said, I promise you this time, the website will be automatic. And I just wanted people to go to the website and if they see the microwave, then they click on it, they’re going to donate it, and then it drop off the list. And this lovely guy who I thought was in Melbourne with a gorgeous Indian accent said, oh no, no, it is automatic. You just have to log in and go into the back end, and it will automatically fall off the list, and I said, oh mate, that is not automatic.
Anyway, so I’ve failed again, and I remember, I was bathing the kids. I had to go and bath the kids, and I was bathing the kids and I was enraged, but I was trying to be happy mummy like, oh my god, I did it again. I can’t do this, and then I remember pulling him out of the bath, and I just was in the hallway and I’m going, I am going to ignore everyone who says I can’t do this. This guy, I can’t… I’m hearing I can’t build a website. My mum and dad, my mum particularly, my husband’s very concerned that I’m trying to build a donation portal.
It sounds really risky, and everyone in the universe… All the signs are there that I shouldn’t do this. Actually, I didn’t get any positive feedback whatsoever at that early stage, and I decided, Andrew, to ignore everyone on the planet and all the signs from the universe. And I went, stuff you all, I’m going to do it anyway. So, I’m not superstitious. The universe has been okay with me so far. It’s going well.
AL And this is reflected too, isn’t it, in the sign you’ve got on your desk, what would you do if you knew you could not fail? Has that been a really important maxim for you?
JW Yes, and my latest one is, I can do hard things. Oh, that’s going to be great to succeed. I can do hard things. I can do that. I can do hard things. So, that helps. So, you go, oh, that sounds hard. What I do when I’ve got hard things, I always just do a bit of an ecology check now with my family because often when I do hard things, that actually has issues that come from my other area of importance which is my family. So, if I’m doing something hard over here, that generally suffers, so now when I do hard things, I set rules around the timing around that hard thing.
So, I wish I could go back to my younger self and tell myself that.
AL Are there particular donations that have come in that have especially warmed your heart and kept you going?
JW Oh, that’s… You know, it’s funny. People ask me my favourite donation story a lot, and I have changed. I’ve got two, my two favourite donation stories, but I think my favourite is that there was a young man. I think he was in young seniors, so Year 6 or 7. And he had come out with his brother and his mother from Eritrea, and the charity requested a pair of football boots for this boy, and it was a lovely simple story, boy requires football boots. Doesn’t have any so can’t join. The charity will help him get the club fees together.
So, it was a lovely story, and obviously, some mum, dad, donated the football boots, and he received them, and I got this story. It came through from the volunteer who was managing that charity at the time and said that that boy ended up being an actual football star. And within a day of getting those boots, he had a team, he had a coach, he had a community, and he, no doubt, had a huge number of fans in a team. And I even extrapolate that about two weeks’ time later, he probably had a girlfriend who thought he was a superstar.
So imagining that small pair of football boots just opening that whole family up to a beautiful community where they gathered two or three times a week to train and play and compete. And everyone was so proud of him within a day. So, simple things make a massive difference to people’s lives.
My other donation story was impactful to me because it completely made me let go of judgement, so that’s big because I would often go through the list of what’s needed on the website charities would put up. And I would say, oh, that sounds a bit like an I want rather than an I need for that person, and so I had a filter like that where I just made sure people got what they needed.
Anyway, a boxing bag had come up for a mother in Western Australia, and I was, I’m not sure if that’s an I want. I think that’s an I want. I want a boxing bag at the back. Anyway, so I went to my Western Australian volunteer, and I said, oh, I think we should take that down. Anyway, she came back saying, no, this is a really good charity, and this is a really good social worker.
She just hasn’t told us the big story, and I said, okay. See how much power I have, Andrew? Everybody just supersedes my ideas. Anyway, I got a message from the charity from the mother who said, thank you so much for the boxing bag. I have received it a couple of weeks ago, and since then, my boys have been using the bag and they have not hit me once.
AL Oh, wow.
JW So, I just went, right, charities, from now on, can tell us what they need and what it looks like they want, and I will leave it to them to tell us the story, but I will no longer judge those items. Now, look, if there’s a… What’s an essential item? A non-essential item for me is my beautiful iPod or my iPhone, but an iPod or a MP3 player is an essential thing for a boy or girl with schizophrenia. It just keeps the voices out of their head. So, what’s an essential item for me might be non-essential for someone else.
So, I’m leaving it to the social worker. We have over 5,000 registered across Australia, and I’m just going to leave it to them to be honest with us. It takes them a couple of minutes to make that request. They’re not doing it for nothing. They’re doing it because it’s important, so I trust them.
AL And for anyone who wants to get a flavour of what you do, it is just extraordinary to go givit.org.au and just have a look at what requests are out there. I remember when I flicked onto it recently, there was a request for a chicken coop for a facility supporting teens with mental illness, a ride on lawnmower for a farmer who’d just lost everything. I know you’ve auspiced [?] donations of a wheelie walker for a rehabilitation centre, teddy bears for young kids, shampoo, bicycles. It’s a real tapestry of the needs that communities have.
JW Yes, and don’t make light of the teddy bears because that’s probably for children at Westmead Hospital who are recovering from cancer and surgery and something else. So, yes, it’s just such a beautiful variety of different things that communities need, but then there’s the flip side. It’s funny, when you said that list, I got sad because people cannot afford what they need anymore. Cost of living and…
Anyway, thank god that GIVIT is there and there are ways for charities to request these essential items. And I’m really glad that I did it because it is now the way that charities across Australia are making sure that they get those urgent, individual grants met. They don’t have to go through arduous fundraising, sausage sizzles, to raise those items now, and we can connect the people who’ve got stuff underneath their stairs, the haves, with the have-nots in a really easy way.
AL So, one of the things that struck me about my dealings with GIVIT is that all the people I’ve met at GIVIT seem to be quite like you in the sense of just having that extraordinary sense of optimism but also to be really organised and really positive. How do you go about attracting really good staff and volunteers to the organisation?
JW I think the only thing I’ve ever done right in recruiting is finding people that always just seem to go above and beyond, and I don’t know. Is that a… I don’t know. I never ask them, do you go above and beyond? I just… They always do.
AL How do you interview people? I mean, we know that in most cases, interviews don’t tell you very much, so do you rely more on references, or how do you vet people, and how have you put together such an impressive team?
JW Rate them on one to ten on how enthusiastically they treat me. No, not at all. I mean, like every business, there’s HR. You know what you really want to demonstrate to the board, and you really want to demonstrate to people who didn’t get the role why they didn’t get the role. I give people feedback about why they didn’t get the role. I’m a bit honest.
I think that when you can tell in the meeting, in an interview, why do you want to join GIVIT and what appeals to you, a number of the people who come in will say, your values are very similar to mine. And that’s just the language I speak, and I will say, okay, and I’m like, I’ll follow up okay, so have you ever had a conflict in values? And you can see they’re really articulate and really knowledgeable about what their values are, and you know that there’s no BS there because they can articulate what their values are and when they’ve been in competing priorities or something like that.
And then, of course, you’ve got to make sure that they can actually do the role, but like any employee, we always put people on probation and make sure that they fit. And sometimes people haven’t fit because we all go above and beyond, and someone who doesn’t go above and beyond quite quickly doesn’t get promoted. Anyone any good around here just gets promoted, by the way.
AL How have you gone about forming your board? How have you built that cadre of trusted advisers?
JW To me, it’s always been what is the needs for the next three years. So, in 2001, after we demonstrated that the GIVIT model can do disaster recovery really well, I built a board of disaster brothers, which there wasn’t a lot of women in disasters then...
AL This is 2011 you’re saying?
JW 2011, I got on Greg Goebel, the ex-director of Queensland Red Cross of 13 years, Jim McGowan, the ex-director general of the Department of Community Safety who had overseen a number of huge and catastrophic disasters hit the coast including Yasi, and built up this board. I needed governance really. I needed all the policies perfected and things like that because I always wanted people to know that GIVIT was always best practice. So, I bought on a board that could support me for that.
And now I’m finding that I need less of a transactional board and I need more of a transformational board, so I’m now bringing in dream people. I’ve always wanted the marketing manager of Wotif. Remember when Wotif was just a little Brisbane thing, and then it went to global and then suddenly, it was doing your whole holidays for you?
JW I got the marketing manager of that.
AL You just cold called?
JW I got her ten years later, but I still, eventually, always get what I want.
AL So, that was somebody you just… You admired the business model, and then you just found a way of getting in touch with the marketing manager?
JW Yes, no. Yes, well, I can build a community of support. We could find them, but yes. I mean, it took me a while, but she signed on last year. So now, I’m building a board of transactional, but I’ve still got disaster, governance, transformational.
But I think I’m going to be moving more into transformational because GIVIT, essentially, I know it’s doing good and it’s all very hearty and yummy, and it’s doing such great work in helping people’s lives, but it is a digital platform. And it’s a digital platform that could even be more improved and more improved, so I need people who can help me do that because I’m still the feely type, and I’ve built seven websites, but I still cannot build one. I need smarter people all around me.
AL So, you’re looking for people on the board who are different from you and that’s it?
JW Yes. Yes, so I’m thinking people who can help me build the Amazon of giving.
AL And what about for you personally? Do you find that, in terms of trusted source of advice, that family and friends are enough, or do you have formal mentors that you draw on?
JW Both, but I would always come back down to myself quite quickly. I’ll always ask people’s advice, but if I wanted to do something, I would, I always sleep on it. I would sleep on it, so if I had a major decision, I would sleep on it for a couple of days, and I would talk to the kids about what would happen if I returned to going full-time, and they all know full-time’s full time, seven days a week.
And then they’re saying, no, that’s too hard, and then, okay, and then I would say, well, look, if I was to take on a bigger project, would that be okay if I only did it in school hours, that being from eight till four? And they said, no, eight until 3:10, so we do that kind of negotiation now. And then, my husband’s like, so what does that mean for us? And I say, well, you might have to fund me for a while, as a volunteer for a while. I don’t know.
So, there’s all those discussions, and then, of course, I speak to my board who I really trust, and they also, quite lovely, always care about me as well. So, how’s that going to work? How are you going to cope? If you did that body of work, how is that going to be for you? We don’t want… Because I’ve stepped back to doing 16 hours a week, so if I do take on a project within the business, that I step up a bit, they’re like, well, is that what you…? No, that’s not what you wanted to do, remember?
So, they always do that different line of enquiry, which is really good, so it’s always personal, isn’t it? Hey, we want to achieve a goal, but how are you going to do that? How are you, personally, going to do that? So, yes, you’re right. I’ve filled myself with a whole community of people that care about people and care about me and care about each other but always go above and beyond as well.
AL So, let’s talk about the challenges and some of the setbacks that you’ve faced. In 2015, you had a bit of a challenge with finances for GIVIT, didn’t you? Tell us about that period.
JW Well, I mean, no one signed on. GIVIT was growing. It was after the Australia Day Awards when I was getting all these accolades where I just couldn’t finance the next year. There was just no money, and I think that’s why I burnt out a few times during the Australia Day Awards because I really thought that that profile would give GIVIT this legitimacy and attract people to fund GIVIT. But no, it didn’t attract anybody. I had to do the hard leads, hard called, hard ask. It was tough, and I just don’t think I’ve ever been so terrified.
It’s like your baby’s… Well, it’s like my third child was literally going to end its life. So, I know that every small-business person out there or every large-business person out there who’s ever started something, it gets scary, particularly in a not-for-profit where there’s no product. We’re just asking people to support our work, and GIVIT had never been done in the world before, and we weren’t a direct service provider, and it looked like it was easy and just a click of a button. So, why do you need this admin team? So, yes, it was really challenging.
I was really lucky IAG, Australia’s biggest insurance group, rang me, and I don’t think they’d mind me saying, but they rang me, and they said, hey, we’re either going to build our GIVIT version and replicate it or we’re going to support you. And I laughed. No, I laughed. I said, go ahead, it’s the hardest thing. You could go ahead, do it. It’s so hard. Go ahead. You do it. You do it. I enjoy watching your journey. I’ll be on your advisory board. It’s going to be really hard for you to do that.
And they went, oh, why’s it going to be so hard? And I said, this and this and this and this and that and that’s really hard. Even though you’ve got money, it’s still really hard, and then they said, oh, well, we’ll support you, and they funded us, and they kept us going, and they have been an incredible provider. So, really, they considered us a start-up at that point and a high-risk venture. Anyway, now, obviously, we’ve got service agreements and work in partnership with all of the governments on the east coast and from Queensland all the way down to ACT.
And they’re really proud of us, and so they should be because I don’t think GIVIT would be here without them.
AL Yes, your comparison with Amazon before makes me think of how you’ve created something that looks very, very simple to the user. I’ve made a donation through GIVIT and it couldn’t have been more straightforward, but clearly, on the back end, there’s a whole lot of complexities that you’ve managed to solve. I wanted to ask you…
JW We have two full-time people, two full-time, two full days a week of just charity authentication, making sure that those charities are indeed charities, so yes, and that’s just one part of the big pie.
AL So, I’m fascinated by your decision in 2019 to take a significant break from running GIVIT. What led to that?
JW It was my long-service leave, and I wanted to take some significant time off, particularly the last term of school. So, I went off in September to really focus on the kids and making sure that I was that full-time mum, and their grades went from Bs, Cs to As. That was really enlightening for me.
And then I wanted to have a great Christmas break because, as you know, most natural disasters hit Australia in the storm season between November and January. So, I wanted a storm to roll in and not be terrified that I had to leave my holiday, or I had to leave my kids for three months and go work on that.
But I also realised that I was a little bit over being CEO. And look, I mean, it was a great honour and I love being CEO, but I was a little bit over the HR because I had over 20 staff, and I was a bit over not being… I didn’t want to be boss anymore. I know that that sounds really weird, but I love having conversations with people without an agenda, but when you’re the CEO, there’s no conversations without an agenda. No, I’m sorry, there’s not.
You can’t have a conversation with someone from your admin team and talk about something because it’s something they’re going to pick up, and they’re going to go, oh my god, she’s going to sack me because she’s making a change in the administration. Because I’ll be just talking to her about making something automatic, and she goes, oh, that’s my role, and I might not have communicated it clearly enough, but anyway, two days later, she comes in crying because she thinks I’m… And I’m like, but I don’t want to be that person anymore.
I just want to be me. I just want to… And I actually now work a contract. I’m here with GIVIT, and I work 16 hours a week, three or four hours a day, absolutely love it, but what I feel like is I’m not on the planet doing the rates and the rubbish like a mare. I’m out and I’m off the planet and I’m securing funding and I’m building relationships and I’m doing television programmes and I’m ambassador. And I don’t have to worry about making sure that the bins are being taken out and that we have enough dishwashing tablets in the office.
And I know it doesn’t sound very hard, but I found CEO after ten years, it was something that I wanted to do differently. I didn’t want that level of responsibility when I returned, and I knew who would take over my role.
So, I would’ve come back into CEO had I had not got the right person, but I’d been working with Sarah Tennant for over five years. And she came in as Queensland Disaster Recovery Manager, became General Manager, Stakeholder Manager, and no one knew the business better than she did. She knew it as I did. She was in government meetings, board meetings with me. She was by my side for five years, and she had energy and enthusiasm and passion and a burning desire to take it to the next level.
And so I said, yes, and I’ll help you, and we make a good team. It’s like the mutual admiration club. We both really like working with each other.
AL You also face that founder’s dilemma right at the ten-year point of feeling that if you don’t hand on the reigns, then in a sense, the organisation becomes you. How did you think through those sorts of issues of your identity and GIVIT’s identity?
JW Well, it was funny. During the Australia Day Awards, because I would always say GIVIT in a we, but after the Australia Day Awards, they trained me to say GIVIT I. And then after the Australia Day Awards, I had to say GIVIT is a we, so we as a team do this, but during the Australia Day Awards, they had to say, no, you’ve done it. And I’m like, I don’t know.
And so, by the time I got to 2019, I just honestly, Andrew, I just had competing priorities. I really needed to focus on the kids. No one tells you that the kids actually need you more when they get older, and I found out the hard way. Grades started to slip. I didn’t notice that my sons handwriting had gone from great to really bad.
And then the other side of it is that if I was the only one who was going to be in the media, then just say I wasn’t available. People weren’t… I didn’t want them to associate the brand to me. I wanted it to be bigger than me, and I felt like it was like I had birthed it, but then I wanted to hand it over to the community and then the community raise the child.
And I’m glad I did that because Sarah’s built an executive team around her, and she’s from a marketing and science background, and so she’s built a team around her. And they’re just getting into donor analytics and all this amazing stuff that I just would never have thought to do. And so, she’s just going into data and optimising what’s happening, and, I mean, sometimes we’re doing, on average, 37,000 donations a week.
AL Geez. Astonishing number.
JW It’s astounding. So, we’ve done 1.8 since August last year, so we’re about to hit 3.8 million donations, so the system’s working really well, but I’m really glad I came out when I did. I think that I was heading for a more than a… I needed that long-service leave. I needed longer than three months. I needed two months just to stop thinking about GIVIT, and then I needed a month to think about myself and getting back into yoga and then think about what my husband’s needs were.
And then we went travelling. Went to Argentina and Musa [?] and did the most amazing holidays. There was Sundays, and I came back truly refreshed. Now, I’m not saying kind of refreshed. I came back really refreshed and came back and saw that Sarah had my planet running really well, and I could step off the planet, and I could help her with strategy and fundraising and raising the profile. And so far, it’s working out really, really, really, really well, really well. I’m really happy.
AL And one of the things too that you’ve written about or spoken about is the fact that sometimes you can make yourself too vulnerable as someone working with really disadvantaged people. Tell us the story of visiting Grantham after the floods.
JW Yes. Well, remembering Anna Bligh promoted GIVIT as the way to give items, and when I went to Grantham, there was such loss. Now, Grantham is the place that got all the actual video footage because it was very dramatic. Literally, in the dry middle town, less a [?] greenbelt, a tidal wave of water came down where people had to go onto the roofs all of a sudden, catastrophic.
And I would go to that town. I went to that town about two or three weeks later and realised that GIVIT was responsible or I felt really responsible for making sure these peoples’ lives got rebuilt. I didn’t have the website that we have now. I didn’t have the teams on the ground, and it was just me going in and seeing people who had just been absolutely devastated and were still very traumatised.
And I went home, and I couldn’t move for three days, and here I was thinking that all I’ve got to do is work, work, work, but I just went home, and I just cried for three days. I just…
So, I’m really happy that the way the GIVIT model has been born and works because the fact is that there are social workers that doing that work with the recipients, the people who’ve been flood affected, the mental health, disability people. I’m not that person. I’m better placed to go shake a tail feather and inspire millions of people to give to them. That’s my role, and so I’m best not on the field. I’m best out there hanging out with lots of generous people and getting them, inspiring them to give to real and urgent need.
And the social workers do a great job, and they make the requests, and they make the donation flow through the GIVIT website, but that’s the best way. That’s the only way that GIVIT would’ve worked, and it’s funny, the model works. The system works in the way that I designed it. The system is built around the way I want to help and the way that I can and can’t help effectively though. Bespoke Juliette Wright GIVIT service there.
AL So, economists would think of this as comparative advantage, that’s it’s really important for organisations to think about not just what they can do but what they can’t do. And it sounds like you’re envisaging that in your own role as well, recognising what it is that you’re not so good at doing and focusing your energies on what you’re great at doing. Did that take you a while to come to?
JW Oh, I’ve always known to employ absolutely smarter people than me, and I did that really well. Did I answer the question?
AL Yes, absolutely. I mean, it’s also about getting that complementary team around you and having the partners. And how have you gone in more recent years with self-care as you’ve moved into this 16 hour a week role?
JW Yes, I’m doing really well. Sometimes I even do Pilates Reformer every day. I do yoga twice a week, and I am now on another board, so I’ve got a little bit of free time to do other stuff that’s really interesting to me. And I am really focused on the kids, and everything I’m doing gives me energy back, so that’s… I’m in a really great place. So, when I was in CEO role, there was a lot of things I was doing and there was no… It was just draining, but now, everything I do, I seem to be in a good place.
I am in a good place, and I also am understanding what actually gives me anxiety and what actually can ruin my life, and I realised last week. I started having this rising anxiety, and it got really, really bad, and I realised that competing priorities undo me, completely undo me. And so, when you’ve got the kids, they need this, and then you’ve got work, and they need this, and then I’ve got this other board that I’m on, and they need this, and then my husband needs this. Oh, that’s a big recipe for failure for me.
Anyway, so it was really interesting. I realised that I need to not over-commit. I really need to not over-commit because I don’t like the feeling of having too many things that I have to do, and look, I can handle busy periods, and I can handle a lot of work. My inbox looks like a junk mailbox at the moment, and I like it very clean, so I can deal with that, but I think that the break that I took, the long service-leave break, and not coming back into a CEO role has had a significant advantage for my mental health. Yes, it’s been really good.
AL You’re a former nutritionist. What do you do that’s different in terms of how you eat from most people?
JW I think I’m… I love a fruit breakfast, so I’m ridiculous. I spend that 20 minutes dealing with the pomegranate and red papaya, and I love that breakfast, but sometimes I just have the biggest egg omelette you’ve ever seen. And then I just have meat and salad, meat and salad for the rest of the day, so I’m a bit boring when it comes to eat. There’s nothing Instagram-worthy, I’m afraid, there, but I do eat really healthy.
I think my little pleasures… I absolutely love those dried fig… No, no, they’re not dried figs. They’re dates, the Medjool dates with almonds. I just have them placed strategically throughout my world, but don’t think I’m all healthy. I get cravings for pizza from this place. I don’t know if… Am I allowed to say? It’s called Beccofino’s in Brisbane. Oh my god.
AL Of course.
JW Anyway, so I have to go there once a week, otherwise I don’t get my pizza hit, and so I have my indulgences like everybody else.
AL What other tips and tricks do you have for keeping life under control?
JW Now, this is an odd one, and it works every time for me. I read a book called Untamed by Glennon Doyle.
AL Oh, so good. I just finished it. Love it.
JW So good. She gets a bit mad at the end there, but I found the first four fifths of the book fantastic.
AL Oh my god. The best falling in love story I have ever come across in fiction or non-fiction.
JW So good, isn’t it? I love it. I love it, and I totally recommend that everybody read that book. I have played chapters for my daughter that have been really relevant to her but not the whole book, but there is a chapter in there where she recommends that you write, what is the most beautiful story about?
And I was at a point where I had come back to GIVIT and I was really developing who I was. Actually, it was a little while after, and I said, what is the most beautiful story about my work? What is the most beautiful story about my parenting? What is the most beautiful story about my children? What is the most beautiful story about my marriage? And when I wrote the answer to that, it gave me immediate clarity on who I am and what I want and my best-case scenario.
So, I have a story around my work, and I read that. Whenever I feel like I might just be a bit off grid, I actually read that back to myself, and it keeps me completely aligned, and that was maybe a year ago. Oh, no, it was in… Yes, it was in lockdown, yes.
I’ve been going by my own mantra of what’s the most beautiful story about my marriage, my work, and I’ve been… And it hasn’t changed, and it is my story, and it has made me the happiest I think I’ve ever been. It was funny. I know that sounds all very not true, but it is incredibly true. Since I’ve been writing stories about my most beautiful life, I’ve been the happiest I’ve ever been.
AL Yes, no, totally. Kevin Kelly just published 99 Pieces of Unsolicited Advice, and one of his 99 is, the simplest thing you can do to raise your happiness is a daily gratitude exercise. But it sounds like yours wasn’t just a gratitude exercise. It was also a focus exercise.
JW Yes, that’s right, and establishing my place in the world and in their world and in other’s world. And for GIVIT, for example, it feels like there’s a planet and that I am like the star or a sun, and I revolve around it, and I just provide joy and happiness and inspiration and love to the people on the planet. So, I come into the GIVIT office, I’m here today, come into the GIVIT office and I’m just happy, and I listen to them and then inspire them and make them feel connected to the purpose again if they feel like they’re not having the greatest day, and then I can leave the planet.
But also, I’m like the sun because I’m in a fundraising role and I’m on the board, and so I’m in a strategic role. So, I’m setting the vision of where that planet’s heading and how fast it grows and where it grows, and so my most beautiful story about my work at GIVIT is that I’m actually like the sun or a satellite and that I’m revolving around what it is now.
And it’s so funny, I know it doesn’t make any sense to anyone else, but when I hear that, I go, oh, that’s my role, and it can change, but that’s what I’m doing now. And the same with my marriage and the same with my kids. I mean, it’s been a year now, and that story hasn’t changed, but it’s definitely going to change between now and when they’re 50, maybe.
AL So, since you mentioned Glennon Doyle before, I wanted to ask you about another observation she makes in Untamed which is that every philanthropist ultimately ends up an activist if they truly engage with the problems that they face. Have you found yourself wanting to get more involved in policy reform and engaging in some of the big drivers of disadvantage that you’re seeing, or have you been comfortable staying in the philanthropy space?
JW No, I have. I’ve actually just joined this Regional Rural Remote Women’s Network for Queensland, and because women, who, all over Australia and families that live remotely in regions outside of capital cities, have a lot of disadvantage. And so, it’s very sad that they don’t have access to the same healthcare, domestic violence services, WiFi. Look, I mean, the list goes on and on.
So yes, no, I am definitely extending that outside of GIVIT, and I think remembering that GIVIT supports 4,000 charities, and they all have different people that they support. So, no, I do still feel like GIVIT is the main channel in which that I actually do my philanthropic work, but there’s a bit of a scoop. I would like to grow it outside of the Australian region one day, and so I’m building a community of support of people who would help me do that.
AL Well, I interviewed, on the podcast, Andrew Bassat, one of the founders of SEEK, and it’s interesting that SEEK is doing for jobs what you’re doing for philanthropy. And immediately, they saw the potential to grow outside Australia because nothing about the SEEK model was essentially an Australian product, and they’ve been one of our most successful start-ups in going global.
JW Yes, well, and also, GIVIT’s 12 years old now, and there’s no competitors globally, anywhere. No one’s done it, so maybe no one will, and well, if no one’s going to do it… And we’ve got a perfected model. We’ve got a, what do they call it, TRL, technology level rating of 9 because we’ve been doing multiple catastrophic disasters at the same time for a population of 25 million people.
So, I know that if we were to go into other regions like New Zealand, that we had a provable model that actually works, and we’ve ironed out all the bumps. We know what you can and can’t donate and why, and we know what we do and don’t do, and we’ve got huge success in terms of community recovery.
And so, I think it’s a natural progression, but I’m just going slow, but it’s a natural progression into supporting communities outside of Australia that don’t get the aid that they require after a catastrophic or a small disaster or crisis or a pandemic.
AL And would you then look at moving goods across international borders, or would you basically look at setting up GIVITs that moved goods within particular countries?
JW It would be connecting all the haves and all the have nots everywhere, in short.
AL Wow. There’s certainly an Amazon-like ambition.
JW Exactly. The Amazon of giving.
AL Let me wrap up, Juliette, by asking you a handful of standard questions that I ask all my interviewees. What advice would you give to your teenage self?
JW That was a really good question because it’s changed for me. I would say to myself, don’t worry. All the passions and the interests that you have right now seem all really disjointed and non-connected, but they will, as you grow into your career, they will interconnect. All the random things which I was interested in, actually now have a major play in my skill set. Everything from graphic design and commercial art to nutritional medicine to travel to studying leadership, that’s all come about and it’s all come together.
AL What’s something you used to believe but no longer do?
JW I didn’t think I could change the world, but now I do. I say that giggling because there’s a certain amount of work that has got to go along with that. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
AL Had you, as a child, thought that you would be involved in altruistic activities, or is that something that came upon you as an adult in that period after you’d had kids?
JW I had a clue in my mid-20s that I would do something significant. I had a clue that I had it in me, yes.
AL And were your parents a part of that? They were both medical practitioners, right?
JW Oh, yes. They were just so pleased that I landed on being a nutritionist because I had done so many different things before I’d actually settled on that, and then of course, after the kids were born, I moved to go on again. But they say people have seven careers in a lifetime. I’m certainly up to my seventh, so that means I’m probably not going to move on.
AL What was the strangest career you did before you settled on nutritionist?
JW Oh, well, I was a baggage… My first job was that I was lifting baggage up at a hotel, and I loved hospitality. I’d pick up plates and meeting people, and then I did fashion illustration for six weeks, graphic design and commercial art. I just couldn’t find it. I couldn’t find it, and then I found nutrition, and I just went, oh, helping people, giving people exactly what they need, Andrew.
That’s when I went, I love nutrition because I’m not giving people this full shake. I never gave people the full milkshake of stuff, hit and miss here, I’m sure that something you need is in that. I would give them specific nutrients, very specific, cost them $4, and make sure that they got exactly what they needed. And so, here’s GIVIT doing that, making sure people get exactly what they need.
AL What a wonderful plethora of careers. It’s a really interesting pathway you’ve taken.
JW Yes, I know.
AL Juliette, when are you most happy?
JW I love being away from the computer and emails and forgetting that they exist, and I love being on our farm. So, we’ve got three cattle properties, and we’re moving right down into the Wagyu breeding, and it’s just such a beautiful place. It’s a beautiful community. Everybody’s helping each other and covered in poo and smell like cow poo and diesel, and you’ve got a ripped coat, and it’s really different from the work that I do, and it’s still work. I’m mustering or we’re cleaning out the shed or we’re processing cattle, but you’re in the moment.
And I’m really happy when I’m at the farm, to the point where when the kids finish school, we’ll move to New South Wales to our Wagyu property and be farmers part time.
AL What’s your favourite thing to do when you’re working on the farm?
JW Well, recently, I’ve just got a new horse, and I haven’t… My horse died about four or five years ago, so I’ve been a bit reluctant to ride again, and I have a new horse. So, most certainly, mustering on the horse because when you’re mustering cows, you don’t go fast unless they start running away, which they do. But most of the time, you’re just plodding beside them and looking at them and just being real slow and calm.
AL What’s the most important thing you do in your life to stay mentally and physically healthy?
JW Oh, I love my Pilates because I do Pilates on the Reformer, and I love feeling long and strong, and I do yoga twice a week as well. So, I really am in just being in that moment, stretching, I love all that. I’m more kinaesthetic. I’m not the jogger. I’d look ridiculous jogging anyway. People would laugh at me, run me over. They would. Oh, stop it for the sake of the planet. You look ridiculous.
AL You’ve got a farm. It seems like the perfect spot to be running, but I suppose I come at this from a different perspective.
JW I’m running after cows I suppose, yes.
AL Do you have any guilty pleasures?
JW Oh, pizza. Got to have that pizza.
AL What’s your favourite type of pizza?
JW Margherita with ham, so I haven’t quite got it right, and then I love the rocket…
AL Oh, very simple.
JW Yes, rocket salad on the side, and maybe a bottle of wine, a nice pinot noir, maybe, I like. There’s some nice ones coming out the Yarra Valley, and Tasi is doing some amazing pinots now, and I’ll take a Central Otago pinot as well.
AL And finally, Juliette, which person or experience has most shaped your view of living an ethical life?
JW I don’t want to be boring, but I have to say Nelson Mandela. I remember, I’d been to South Africa a few times in my life. I’d been there as a young adult, again with my parents, and then twice as an adult. And I lived in South Africa in my 20s for three or four months, and so I watched it go from severe apartheid and through Nelson Mandela, and I watched Nelson Mandela.
And I remember when reading and learning more about when he came out and got elected as president, and he said, I want this to be a free country, and I want everyone to be equal. We will go through, and we will be post-apartheid together, and blacks and whites will be equal, and he was just on this absolutely set journey.
And unfortunately, what happened is that the tribes, because the way of apartheid was is they made conflict within the tribes as well. It was all very architecturally manifested so that they would never uprise. Anyway, so they started fighting each other, and there was deaths and murders and riots and raids, and the amount of deaths actually, after he got elected, just got worse and worse and worse.
And so, he started to lose a community of supportive people who believed in his vision. People were asking him to stop, it’s too much for this country. We can’t go there, and he said no. And so, I noticed in the writings around that part is that his leadership became really lonely. He believed in his vision, and he got extreme opposition.
You’ve got the violence, people being murdered. The people who he was trying to free were being murdered. His supporters were turning against him and saying, you’re not doing the right thing Nelson, or Mandela, and the way that they… What was that nickname they used to call him? And so, and then he was just in that vision tunnel of, we can do this, and, we can do hard things. We can do this, and he lost a lot of support, but he kept on going.
And of course, he ended up getting there in the end and pulled them together with rugby, we’ve seen the movie, and did lots of other things that a lot of people thought was ridiculous, but he knew. He had a vision, and he just kept on, and he didn’t lose sight of that, so I feel like he is exemplary in ethical leadership in that it’s not all glory. It’s actually sometimes really hard and messy and lonely.
AL Yes, the nickname was Madiba, but yes, I think it’s so easy to see Mandela at the end and forget that 27 years in Robben Island and just the sheer loneliness and that ability to push through and to still be such a beacon of courage. Such an amazing man.
JW He is such an amazing man, and that simple story has allowed me to go, I can do this. I can do this, and I know that I’m doing the right thing. And in 2015, when I had those sleepless nights thinking that GIVIT was going to fail, I thought, no. There was always just this thing. I said, if I just stay on course, I won’t bend the platform the suit that corporate or that corporate. This is the model and there’s a good reason for it.
And now, thankfully, we’ve got lots of great national partners and people who donate lots of corporate stock. We’ve got thousands of individuals who donate a day, so I’m really glad, and I think that Madiba had a part to do with that. He’s
AL Juliette Wright, OAM, Australian Local Hero, a philanthropist, and hopefully the woman who is going to bring GIVIT to the world. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your wisdom on The Good Life Podcast today.
JW Thank you so much and thank you for the amazing work that you do for the community and Australia as well.
AL Thank you. Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of The Good Life: Andrew Leigh in Conversation. If you enjoyed this discussion, I reckon you’ll love past interviews with Michael Traill and Bill Crews. Also, I wanted to ask you a favour. On June 6th, I’ll be competing in the Cairns IRONMAN to raise money for the Indigenous Marathon Foundation. To make a donation, just go to my Facebook or Twitter page to find the link. Thanks in advance. Next week, we’ll be back with another inspiring guest to discuss living a happier, healthier, and more ethical life.