RK Ronni Kahn
AL Andrew Leigh
RK So we were driving to see this AIDS clinic, but as we drove in, Selma said to me, oh, and yes, yes, one of the things I did was get electricity into Soweto. And it’s a city of millions of people. And honestly, the hairs on my arms stood up, and all I could think of, is what can it feel like to know that you’ve made that sort of impact on that many people. And somehow, it translated for me in saying, I want to know what that feels like.
AL My name’s Andrew Leigh and welcome to The Good Life, a politics-free 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 chat with musicians and athletes, CEOs and carers, about making the most of this one precious life. If you like this podcast, please take a moment to tell your friends, or rate us on Apple Podcasts. Now, sit back and enjoy the conversation.
Ronni Kahn is the founder of food rescue charity, OzHarvest. Born into a Jewish family in apartheid-era South Africa, Ronni moved to a kibbutz in Israel at age 18 and lived there for the next decade. In 1988, she moved to Australia, where she worked as a florist and event organiser. Frustrated by the waste of food, she founded OzHarvest in 2004 and now oversees its operations across Australia.
OzHarvest works with a thousand charities and distributes around 20 million meals to those in need every year. Ronni was the 2010 winner of the Australian Local Hero Award and is helping people in other countries to establish food rescue organisations, like OzHarvest.
Ronni, welcome to The Good Life Podcast.
RK Thank you so much for inviting me.
AL So tell me about what your parents did and give us a flavour of your childhood growing up in one of the most racially segregated societies the world’s ever known.
RK Well, I think what was fundamental to my childhood, or what shifted or changed what could have been a very ordinary childhood, was that at the age of six… When I was six, my dad was involved in a very serious car accident. Now, in South Africa, white middle-class women didn’t work because the system allowed for nannies and maids, which we had. But when my father had the accident, there were three of us, three sisters, my mum had to go back to work.
AL He was an architect, was he?
RK He was an architect. So fundamentally, what shifted and changed, was he was in hospital for a couple of years, came out probably seriously disabled. And I say probably, because he never considered himself disabled. Nor did we. And really, only when I was giving his eulogy, did I actually realise that my father was a disabled person. But he climbed up ladders with a stiff leg and a caliper. He had a car re-purposed so that he could drive. And never considered himself disabled.
And my mother never once felt sorry for herself. She started working immediately and one of the things she did, which actually cemented both my food delivery life and my food life… She was a gourmet cook but I was a very fussy eater. But she started baking cakes. She baked about a hundred cakes a day for sale. From an ordinary home, a very small kitchen with one MixMaster. And only 40 years later I met someone who told me she had heard about my mother and gave her a second MixMaster, a MixMaster she wasn’t using.
So why do I share that? Because there was generosity in people who helped support my mother. My mother’s attitude was just one of positivity, and we get on with it and do our job. My father never complained. So the role modelling that I got as a child was just one of, first of all, nothing’s impossible. But it was all subliminal. It’s not that anybody ever said that, it’s just that they lived it. And that we’re grateful, and we wake up and get on with the job, But that didn’t mean that I wasn’t a spoiled little white South African girl growing up.
AL Were your family quite devout religiously?
RK Not at all. But what happened when my father had the accident was that my 12-year-old sister made a pact with God that if he survived, she would become a devout religious Jew. So my parents, who weren’t at all, had to run a kosher home because part of being a devout Jew was that there’s certain rules around what you eat and what you don’t eat, and how you manage the kashrut kosher facility of the Jewish religion.
We weren’t religious but I was assigned… There is this beautiful expression in Yiddish that’s called the shabbos goy. It is the non-Jew who supports a Jew who’s religious.
AL You were a shabbos goy?
RK Yes, I had to walk with my sister to synagogue because she wouldn’t drive, but it wasn’t safe. Not that a six- or seven- or eight-year-old girl could have saved a 12-year-old girl. But the point is, we’d walk together on Saturday mornings to shul and I resented it immensely. And I had to switch on the lights on for her if she’d walk into a room and do all these ridiculous things. And take messages for her on the phone because she was a very popular teenager.
AL And yet, it’s you who ended up at age 18 moving to a kibbutz in Israel. Given that you say you weren’t particularly devout, what drew you to move to Israel?
RK So the other part of my growing up was that I was part of a very liberal Jewish youth movement. And a youth movement that instilled in us the values, both of equality, non-discrimination, the fact that everyone is equal. But also, the fact that actually, the promised land for Jews is Israel, given that we’d gone through a Holocaust, given the Jewish history of antisemitism, that the establishment and the existence of Israel was a very important part. Whilst I was not in any way religious, I was and still believe that there is a purpose for the state of Israel.
Politically, I have huge challenges with Israel today but, in terms of a safe place and a safe haven for Jews, a very important part of the Jewish culture.
AL Yes, that original Ben-Gurion vision.
RK Absolutely . Of a democratic state, a state for all the people of Palestine then, a state where all the Arab and Jewish Israelis could live a safe and democratic life. Yes. So I went to live on kibbutz. But actually, so did the rest of my family, ultimately, come and live in Israel.
AL But you were the first?
RK No. My older sister was the first, but by the time I went she’d already come back to South Africa to study. Then the sister who was religious went, and then I went. My sisters didn’t live on kibbutz, I did. And actually, only for ten years. And after ten years, I moved to live in the city.
AL The kibbutz you were living in was in the Jezreel Valley. Give us a flavour of what it was like? Mostly agricultural, I understand.
RK Beautiful. Mostly agricultural. Exquisite. Literally, a biblical valley with hills and vales and fields, ripe fields. And sunshine and beautiful weather. A glorious place. A glorious, physical space and a very experiential time in my life.
AL You got married on the kibbutz, I understand?
RK I did get married on the kibbutz.
AL What does a kibbutz wedding look like?
RK Oh, it’s a lot of fun. First of all, you’ve spent a lot of time planning what the meal will be. But it is special because in the Jewish religion, you normally get married under a canopy of some sort. On the kibbutz, you could either get married under the Israeli flag or under a tallit, the Jewish prayer shawl. But on the kibbutz the symbols of the poles are not just four poles. There would be a pitchfork. There’d be a gun. There’d be elements that represent a physical life, a spiritual life, as well as the wisdom of life. It was a beautiful affair.
My family came from overseas. My aunts, my uncles, who still lived in South Africa. And yes, it was special. It also meant that my then husband could get out the army because one of the reasons we got married was it meant he would have more leave.
AL That’s interesting. How socialist was the kibbutz that you were involved in? Did you have private property? To what extent were people sharing roles and property?
RK The kibbutz system is a socialist system. You don’t own anything other than you are allocated a home. And that is your home. You can decorate in whatever way you like. In terms of the socialist aspect of the kibbutz, our children lived with us which… There were some kibbutzim that the children, from the day they’re born, actually live in a children’s house.
On our kibbutz, for the first six weeks the child was with you. And then, during the day from six weeks in, one day, the child would go to the children’s house from six in the morning until four in the afternoon. And then, from four ‘til the next morning, your baby was with you.
AL Is that hard as a parent?
RK It was the reality I knew. It was very hard, but the good part was you’d still go and visit your baby. You were working very close. But that was my reality. I didn’t know anything else. When my second son was born here, I loved being with him and didn’t put him into kindy until he was older. But that’s what I knew. I cried a lot because I wanted to be with my firstborn, Nadav. But you get used to it because that’s the reality. And it was safe, and it was… You knew that they were with four other little babies and were being looked after. It was beautiful but it was hard.
AL Are there things about the kibbutz system that make you reflect differently on how we organise society in Australia today? How we raise children, how we share, how we engage with neighbours?
RK Absolutely. I mean my vision now, today, is to create a village based on the elements of multi-generations all living together because there’s something very special about, I guess, from cradle to grave living together and experiencing life to the full. That aspect of kibbutz was wonderful. There were old people. There were all different shapes and sizes. Everybody working according to their ability and getting equal share and according to their need.
But for an entrepreneurial independent thinking person, it’s quite a challenge. And that is what ultimately led me to leave. I didn’t want to be told where I had to work. And I felt that the society and kibbutz worked so well I wasn’t going to change that. It would be better for me to leave that. Accept the benefits, and leave it intact in a way that I wasn’t able to really partake in.
AL You then moved to the city and set up a florist with your sister, is that right?
RK Yes. Well, my sister’s husband had bought a florist. He was a Doctor of Economics and had some fantasy about a florist.
AL I greatly approve.
RK And after about a week said, really, this is not for me, so called in his wife, and said, okay, this is going to be yours. Now she’d never run a business. She’d never run a florist. I certainly had never, but the timing was perfect. When I left kibbutz she said, well you’d better come and work with me in the florist. And it actually turned out to be a medium that I both loved and was good at. And running a business seemed to come very naturally to me so that worked very well.
But living in Israel at that time, we’d been through the 73 war. We’d been through parts of the Intifada. I have two sons. And I decided that actually, I did not agree so much with the way the politics of Israel was going. And I had two sons and wanted them to make their own choices about whether they wanted to go to the army or not. In Israel, there’s compulsory military conscription.
And economically, although the florist was doing very well, and on a day-to-day basis we were living well, in Israel, to buy a house at that point, if it was $500,000, you didn’t get the keys to the door until you had $500,000. Mortgages and things like that were very, very challenging and difficult if you hadn’t built up capital. After living on kibbutz for ten years, we left with $3,000 to start our new life in the city. So we looked to where else we could go.
My sister, by that stage, was living in America. And I knew that I didn’t want to bring up my kids there. My brother-in-law had moved to live in Australia, and we had spent a couple of years here because my husband had been sent to work here as part of the Jewish movement to inspire people about living in Israel. And so, Australia was my most favourite place and I think that I landed in the promised land.
AL You came to Australia in 1988 with not very much capital?
AL What were…
RK Two boys, no work.
AL And so you did the thing that you knew which was setting up a florist in Australia. Where was your first florist?
RK In Lindfield. Yes, I wasn’t going to do that at all. I was never going to touch flowers again, but somebody offered me that opportunity and so, yes, Lindfield, and then Willoughby, and then Rose Bay. There were three florists and for a while that worked really well until it was just really hard. And I figured I didn’t need the florists, that I’d been doing more and more events and thought I’d just set up an events company. Yes.
AL And presumably this was doing a lot of weddings? I’m guessing that’s how you segue from flowers into events?
RK Weddings and bar mitzvahs, which slowly got me into a lot of corporate events. Excuse me. Because a lot of the clients that I had also had businesses and more and more I was doing corporate events and did get a break in that the Star City was opening. And I got a call one day to say, would I like to pitch for the opening of Star City for the event side of that business, and I won that job. So, from my garage I moved out into a warehouse in Alexandria where I spent the next 20 years.
AL Which must have made you very good at logistics and planning, presumably. Skills you use today in OzHarvest.
AL Do you look back at your time running a florist and think about the waste there? Some of my progressive friends regard the whole business of buying plants, cutting them off from their roots and sticking them in your house, knowing they’re going to die in a week or so, as being extremely wasteful. How do you think about florists in the florist business, in general now, as somebody who cares a lot about waste?
RK Totally. At our events what we would try and do… We certainly made sure that, if we used flowers, every arrangement would go home with somebody or go to a hospital. And so, when I started OzHarvest, one of the things I definitely thought of was repurposing flowers. But you can’t put flowers and food in the same vehicles, and concentrated on food. But somebody did approach me and, for a while, tried to start rescuing flowers.
So yes, of course it’s terribly wasteful but it’s just part of all the wastefulness in our society today. We’re over-consumers. And, yes, that’s resulted in these enormous, shocking figures.
AL So 2004, you create a thing called OzHarvest. What sparked it?
RK A couple of things sparked it. Number one, I had kept seeing food going to waste. I was creating food going to waste at my events. I didn’t want anyone to ever leave hungry, so I over-catered. And I needed a solution at the end of those events because my caterers wanted to rush out, get home. You’d been on the job for a long time and so, when I could, I would save some food and drop it off.
I needed a personal solution for that. But I wasn’t galvanised into action until, while thinking about it, I went to visit… Back to South Africa. I hadn’t been back, not since Nelson Mandela had been released. And I hadn’t been back for years and years but had family friends there who were like my god family. And thinking about earning a living, because I still needed to earn a living, and thinking about how I could take this notion of food and helping hungry people and wanting to find purpose in my life and went to visit South Africa.
And this wonderful friend of mine, Selma, who I knew had been a changemaker and activist, a thought leader, but didn’t really know how or what because I hadn’t lived there. When I arrived, said we’re going to go to Soweto. Now, I’d never been to Soweto. Soweto was this great big scary place. It was where millions of people lived, where growing up, terrible things happened, and wasn’t a place for a white person to go to.
But the world had changed in South Africa now and Selma said, we’re going to Soweto. I was filled with fear, trepidation, but also huge excitement. And as we drove into Soweto…
And the reason we were going was because Selma, as a radiologist and medical person, had set up neighbourhood clinics to teach about AIDS. Because she felt that by teaching women, women would share that message in the best possible way with their friends, their neighbours, rather than clinical classes when you had, at that time, the Prime Minister of South Africa saying, you got AIDS from brushing your teeth. You got AIDS from ridiculous… From talking to someone.
We were driving to see this AIDS clinic, but as we drove in, Selma said to me, oh, and yes, yes, one of the things I did was get electricity into Soweto. And it’s a city of millions of people and, honestly, the hairs on my arms stood up, and all I could think of, is what can it feel like to know that you’ve made that sort of impact on that many people. And somehow, it translated for me in saying, I want to know what that feels like.
And so, by the time we’d got to the AIDS clinic I actually had decided that I would come back and start this food rescue organisation that had been flopping around in my mind. And I came back like a woman possessed saying, I’m going to start a food rescue organisation, with no notion of what that would look like or what that would take, to tell you the truth.
AL I’m fascinated by these transition points in people’s lives. I wanted to probe into something that may be a little uncomfortable. Your first marriage had also broken down some time before that.
RK Yes. Absolutely.
AL Reflecting on that, to what extent did that also play a part in you being willing to make such a seismic change in your life?
RK Fundamental. I’d lived with him, We’d been married for 30 years. We separated, not because we didn’t love each other but it just wasn’t enough. And, in searching for purpose and meaning after that, got into a different relationship where the value of money was very different to what I’d ever been brought up with. There seemed to be an abundance of it. And thinking that there was all this money, and me starting to think about these problems, I thought, wow, what if we could do something. And that partner said he didn’t believe in charity, so that was the end of that relationship.
And there’s no doubt that those changes were what spurred me on to wanting a meaningful life, really. Not knowing how to find that, and not really knowing that this would bring that to me.
AL What were the first steps in establishing OzHarvest? What do you do when you come back with an idea like that?
RK You tell everybody that you’re going to start a food rescue organisation. And then…
AL So then you’re committed.
RK So you’re committed. You’ve told people you’re going do this, so therefore you have to do this. And then you get some people saying, that’s crazy, that’s nuts and, you know. And then you just realise, well, okay, those people don’t belong in your world anymore.
AL Wow, that’s harsh.
RK It is harsh. But the truth is you could either buy into other people’s negativity or you can say, no, actually, I have a vision and I’m going to do this. And that is really what I… I don’t actually know where that strength came from, but it came from a place. And through telling people, people started… I was a little bit like the Pied Piper for people who… Passion is very, very attractive. Passion is sticky. People want to be part of that. And so people started joining me.
I kind of went like, okay, what do you need? I said, well, I think I’m going to need money because I need a vehicle. And I don’t think it will be a good idea to do it out of my office because, if it did grow quite big, it would be messy. I had that vision. That was good. And so, I knew I needed an office, and I needed some seed funding.
But honestly, my plan was still on a napkin. It wasn’t like I’d said, I’m going to need this, and I’m going to need that. But some amazing people joined forces and opened doors for me.
AL There’s almost a yin and a yang sense in which OzHarvest seems to parallel the way in which the modern supermarket is set up. I don’t go to Woolworths thinking, I’m going to buy whatever apples they have. I go to Woolworths to buy Pink Lady apples, and I’m disappointed if they don’t have Pink Lady apples. And if they don’t, I might go to Coles tomorrow.
The corollary of that is that Woolworths has to buy way more Pink Lady apples than its customers are likely to need. And you, just another food rescue organisation, seem to just sit so neatly alongside that, in making sure that excess food goes to a good place. There must be a deep satisfaction in that. I know, thinking from a pure efficiency point of view, let alone what you do for equity, it’s enormously rewarding to know that that food isn’t just being thrown away by society.
RK Absolutely. But to tell you the truth, I didn’t even realise the scale of the problem when I started. I had seen my problem, and was trying to solve my problem. When I delved deeper and started realising that a third of all food goes to waste, that it equates to billions of dollars, and that the challenge was distribution, among other things. And societal issues, obviously.
I had a sense that this was going to be big. But I worked for the first seven years full-time in my business while setting up OzHarvest and running it, because I didn’t set up OzHarvest because I was a rich bored housewife. I set it up for a need and a purpose, but I still needed to make a living.
I was still doing these extraordinarily ridiculous events where people were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in, really, the epitome of waste, for one night, for three hours or for five hours, or for whatever, whilst getting OzHarvest set up. And realising, this is big, and this will be… This is something that’s needed.
It became way more fascinating, interesting, fulfilling than any single event I ever did. And the lucky part was, I won an award that made me make a choice, and said, if you win this award, which was the Vodafone World of Difference award, you got to work in the charity of your choice for a year. You got a salary of $50,000, and you had to leave whatever you’d done, for that year.
AL So that was the key break?
RK I closed the doors of my business. I didn’t even try and sell it. I was so excited to get out and take that risk. And I thought, I’ll worry about after, after. And during that year, the board saw the difference between when I was fulltime working with full focus, to previously. They asked me to stay, and I am now on a salary. And that was a challenge. I had to ask my spiritual teacher, is it okay to take a salary for something that brings me so much joy and is the gift that I am meant to give. How do I take a salary to do that?
AL And you now, across Australia… The local food bank in my suburb of Hackett has its yellow OzHarvest vans pulling up. You’ve changed laws in various states in order to ensure that they don’t prevent food being repurposed. What do you wish you knew when you were starting that OzHarvest journey?
RK I don’t think I could have changed… Yes, well, I do. I wish I’d known the purpose of a board. Because I created a board that turned out to be brilliant, and the lesson I needed to learn, but was very challenging. I’d never been accountable. I’d run my own business for 20 years. I had purposely chosen to keep it boutique event management business rather than build it up to many layers of management, which I could have done. But I figured I would make the same amount of money, just I’d have way more headaches.
And now, I started this thing that I loved, but had a board that I was accountable to. And they were harsh and tough. Six times a year I cried from pain, not from joy, at my board meetings. And so that took me a good few years to learn, to understand, to cope, to shift and change. That was a big lesson. And my first lesson to any up-and-coming entrepreneur when they tell me they’re about to start a venture is, understand the value of the board. Understand how a board works. Understand why there’s a board, and your role working together with that board. Big lesson.
AL You mentioned before your spiritual teacher, Amma Narayani. How important has he been in helping you through this journey?
RK Oh, he is the reason… I mean, the divine. And it’s not about religious divine, it’s about spiritual divine. The divine is what has fuelled OzHarvest and made OzHarvest so very different to any other charity that exists out there. And most independent people say that, but I know that I’m fuelled in a way that this is my gift. This is the purpose that I was created for. The humility and the message that my teacher, Amma Narayani, has taught me is, our purpose in life is to do good, to do good for others. Tapping into that all the time is hugely important.
Amma came into my life literally in the first year of OzHarvest, and I do believe that it’s fuelled that spirit that OzHarvest has of love, joy, hope, giving, sharing, caring, comes from that. I grew up, as we’ve mentioned, Jewish, and it’s not about a particular religion. It’s about understanding that we are all the same. We are all one. And that ultimately, we are here to serve. And it’s not serve God that looks like a man with a beard, or someone who’s on a cross, or someone who’s holding the ten commandments. They’re all the same fused into something.
AL How does one use a spiritual teacher? Do you meet for coffee? Do you have formal meditation sessions? How does he impart that wisdom to you?
RK Amma is a very… Amma lives on an ashram in India. He does travel occasionally, but he’s never come to Australia. He’s travelled to the Americas, not here, yet. One visits the ashram and there are many people who are devotees of this Amma and of many, many different gurus. A guru is just a teacher, and one finds a teacher in the right place in one’s life. And some people might never and that’s… There’s no value judgement. Some people are privileged enough to find something that enriches their life.
I visit the ashram, sometimes maybe once a year, maybe there’d been times when I haven’t managed to visit that often. And there’ve been times that I’ve managed to visit twice in the year. But the teachings are really… It’s an embedded philosophy. But the ashram itself is quite an extraordinary example of somebody who was born into a very simple life and… I’m not going share Amma’s story, people can check that out. But has shifted and changed millions of lives.
On the ashram, on a daily basis we feed between ten and a hundred thousand people a day. Pilgrims that come to a temple that Amma has built, that is a golden temple. That will be one of the ten wonders of the world, is already considered an extraordinary place.
Because what Amma says about this temple, it’s a golden temple and it is like bees get attracted to honey, people need to come to something that embodies something very beautiful. And you walk on a star path when you come to this temple. And every, maybe five or ten metres, there are these beautiful messages of how we should live our life.
Hundreds of thousands of people come to this temple, from within India, simple people, pilgrims who come and then they get fed. Amma’s waste reduction, Amma’s deforestation, the hospitals that this Amma has built, the school that the village children go to, that hundreds of children go to. It’s an example, a living example, of the kind of person one could strive to be. It’s a human embodiment of an extraordinary spirit.
AL Those annual visits must be like recharging your spiritual batteries.
RK Absolutely. But during the year, I meditate. In my head, I do more yoga than I do physically. But I do exercise, I walk. And you need all those things to keep balanced, and stay balanced, in a very crazy, full, mad, magnificent, purposeful life.
AL You must have thought a lot about how we can manage better the issue of food in our lives and our relationship with food. What advice do you have for people, in thinking about their relationship with food?
RK Well, I think what’s happened is we’ve lost the value of food. We’ve lost the understanding of the whole food supply chain. Most young people today walk into a supermarket and think that lamb is four things packed on a polystyrene tray covered in plastic. There’s no connection between the little soft white fluffy thing, and what we eat. Apples come perfect on a shelf. Carrots come perfect on a shelf.
On the back of the film… And OzHarvest has never actually gone direct to consumers. We’ve been B2B for the last 14 years, dealing with business trying to get business to be more effective in minimising it’s food waste. But we have launched a campaign called Fight Food Waste, which really, fundamentally, is about teaching us how to value food better. And their four new mantras, look, buy, store, cook.
Because, if you look what you’ve got, and if you understand what you’ve got… This is really just to fundamentally shift and change our relationship with buying and managing food, not necessarily the whole food chain. Not understanding the value but understanding the value to us. You have to look what you’ve got. You’ve got to buy what you need. You’ve got to store it properly. You’ve got to cook it and eat it. And that will save all of us money. But there is a bigger picture and that is that whole understanding the cycle of food as much as the cycle of life.
And that’s where I think, whether it’s from my kibbutz life to the life I’m living today, I do envisage a much more community orientated way of living. Where we don’t shunt our old people off into old-aged homes and maybe visit them or not, but have other people take care of them. A society that is one that values the wisdom of old people and what it can impart to young people. And a community, where young… All different ages, demographics, I don’t believe we should be putting vulnerable people in a ghetto in homeless housing away from society.
We all need to live together to interact and to enrich each other’s lives and then we’d have a much richer society.
AL It’s interesting how those bits of wisdom get passed down. My grandparents were teenagers through the Great Depression, and my mother grew up quite poor, as she… Remember once asking her what lard was and she said, ah, yes. Lard is what I had to put on my bread when I was a child. It is awful, I hope you never have to eat it.
But when I scrape out the very bottom of the peanut butter jar, in some sense, I’m replicating the behaviours of my parents, who were shaped by their parents through that experience of the Great Depression. Yes, that ability to… The finish what’s on your plate philosophy, does, in me at least, root back to that period of scarcity.
RK Well, part of the reason OzHarvest has been so successful is because if I talk to a thousand people, or 500, and of all ethnic groups, if I say, did anyone ever tell you when you were growing up, eat your food because there’s someone starving somewhere, there is a certain demographic that, absolutely, that’s how we grew up.
Now the question is, what our grandchildren are hearing. And that’s where the challenges are. Because our parents, grandparents, went through a depression, went through tough times, whereas millennials, and even baby boomers, ourselves, didn’t. We experience plenty. And therefore, we think that that’s our right. And we’ve forgotten that actually if we don’t value the land, if we don’t have the best soil, if we don’t understand what the seasons look like, and footprint and miles, we won’t have this for our grandchildren. That’s the challenge.
AL Ronni, I have to ask you about the colour yellow. Your vans are yellow, but now, as I’m speaking to you, your ring is yellow, your glasses are yellow, you have two yellow necklaces on, and spectacularly beautiful yellow earrings. Why do you like yellow?
RK Because it’s so bright and smiley and happy and represents the sun. And when I was looking to start OzHarvest and thinking what colour we should have, I looked at stop signs and stop signs are yellow. And I figured, wow, if they make us stop then yellow will be a very difficult…
AL Hold on, stop signs are red.
RK No, they’re yellow. Aren’t they red? Aren’t they… Well, they used to be yellow. Signs are yellow.
AL You mean traffic lights?
RK Traffic lights. Anyway, the point is, that yellow is so visible from far. And now you can see a plethora of yellow vehicles, and they were not always. 14 years ago, there were no yellow vehicles on the road.
AL So you’re claiming credit for the preponderance of yellow cars on the road.
RK Absolutely. Harvest yellow. There’s not even any doubt.
AL Oh, the shade is OzHarvest yellow. I never thought of that. It can be a sales point for paint companies.
RK It was for a while. Now it’s just all over. It’s smiley. It’s happy. People smile when they see yellow.
AL As you have frequently, through this interview. It’s wonderful. Ronni, what advice would you give to your teenage self?
RK Well, I was probably… I was very shy. I know, no, most people don’t believe that. I think I would say that growing up is awkward and challenging while you are in that space. But don’t worry, it just gets better and better and better. Especially, when you can tap into who you really are, who you are meant to be, and that will evolve over time. Be courageous, be brave, but be resilient because you’re going to need resilience.
AL What’s something you used to believe but no longer do?
RK Well, I used to believe that there were limitations, and now I no longer do.
AL When are you most happy?
RK When I’m with people. When I see yellow vans. When I see the kids that come through our Nourish Programme. When one kid has told me that their life has fundamentally changed for coming through the OzHarvest programme. That their life will never be the same. When I think about knowing that I’ve changed the life of one person, I am enormously happy. And when I’m holding my grandchildren, that is joy. Joy.
AL Yes. You’re onto your third country now. Is travel part of your happiness?
RK No, because I found my home. And travel over the last few years… It’s so funny, you should be careful what you wish for. When I didn’t have a charity, when I didn’t have money, I thought what I really wanted is the glamour of being able to pick up and travel. And now that I get to travel so much, it’s a magnificent thing to be able to do but it’s not an aspiration anymore. Being settled and in one place, absolutely is.
AL What’s the most important thing you do to stay mentally and physically healthy?
RK Gratitude. Wake up every single day with gratefulness. Gratitude for every part of my life. The things that I need to learn from, and the things that I gain from, and the things that I can give.
AL Do you do a journaling exercise to express gratitude or it’s just a thought that you consciously have?
RK It’s a visual and it’s a thought. For Christmas, I bought everyone of my staff a yellow notebook, and it’s their gratitude book. I’m not that good at doing it physically in writing but I am absolutely, fundamentally grateful everyday many times during the day.
AL Yes. I keep a diary and one of the things I always do at the end is a gratitude exercise. One thing I’m grateful for, which could be as simple as a good meal or a nice run, and then one way in which I might have treated people better during the day. It makes a difference. It’s interesting.
RK It does make a difference. I think it changes your outlook. And exercise is hugely important. I absolutely try and move as much as I can and do some form of exercise, whether organised or not, because I think that helps the spirit flow.
AL Do you have any guilty pleasures?
RK Chocolate is really good. Yes, I don’t… Because I don’t deprive myself, I don’t… Indulgence happens a lot. Massage.
AL Ah, yes. I’m not sure how guilty you need to feel about that, given how hard you work. Any finally, Ronni, which person or which experience has most shaped your view of living an ethical life?
RK Mandela. Selma Brodie. The leaders I had in my youth movement. I couldn’t give it an ism, but I think my parents. Living… Trying to be the best they could be with what they had. I think Amma gave me that point where, when spirituality fused with my everyday life, I realised that had been missing. Yes. And that’s a big piece.
AL Ronni Kahn, social entrepreneur, lover of spirituality and fan of the colour yellow, thank you so much for being part of The Good Life Podcast today.
RK Thank you so much for grilling me and pulling emotions and things out of me that I didn’t know I was going to share.
AL My pleasure.
Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of The Good Life. We love getting feedback so please leave us a rating or a comment on Apple Podcasts formerly known as iTunes. Next week I’ll be back with another inspiring guest to discuss living a happier, healthier and more ethical life.