25 November 2014

Speech to Many Rivers Microfinance luncheon


Check against delivery

I want to share with you a story of a woman with acumen and ability but not the tools to bring about the ambition that she had and a small loan enabled her to rebuild.

She would cook rice the night before and would form that rice into a bowl.  So it’s quite an emotional story and it’s very vivid and walking through these alleys in Ho Chi Minh City as part of my work looking after an aid program.

She was just bringing – she was on fire, she was talking about the joy of getting up at some spectacular anti-social hour of the morning and she bounced out of the bed and she showed me her home which was about this size, but it now had four floors on it – and ducked up through the floors and she was proud of the concrete because that meant she was above the water level when it rained in Ho Chi Minh City.

She would shape a bowl out of rice and bake it and in the morning she would get up again and she’d cook hot rice and then she’d go down to the building sites in Ho Chi Minh City and she would sell this as a package meal.

The construction workers would have the hot rice that she had just cooked for breakfast but could hang on to the bowl for lunch and the warmth and moisture out of the rice would permeate the bowl and she was living the dream.  And it was through microfinance measures that she was able to do that.

Reminding me that throughout history there has been no model to sustainably alleviate economic hardship and disadvantage other than economic growth.

Nothing else has ever worked.  Nothing.

Wealth transfer has helped us abate the harm and the hardship of disadvantage but it’s never addressed in a – and purely – in a sustainable way.  There is no other model that has worked in any time in human history other than expanding economic opportunities and this is what gets me so excited about this particular proposal.

Senate enquiries - a number of them - had said - particularly indigenous communities, there’s such acumen and business expertise if only could be harnessed and nurtured and guided, it could be transformational.

Yet operationalising that idea has been quite a challenge yet Many Rivers have done it.  And that’s why I’m a great fan of what you’re doing.

And it’s as if it’s happening organically in other areas where it’s easier.

You know, the whole crowd sourced funding piece is alive and well and you go to places like Fishburners in Sydney where there is wall to wall funkmeisters and they are there building the apps of the future and the simple idea is playing out there.

Where you have got people with business ideas working with cross pollinating programmers have been there before to share the learnings and just as resources are crucial those pathfinders that help people take sure footed action, drawing in the expertise and the wisdom of others.

It is such a winning formula, easier in communities of advantage, easier where there’s a great deal more economic activity to tap into, but a proven formula – here you are, working so effectively and more challenging areas.

And how uplifting is it to say to a person, we recognise the acumen and the enterprise that percolates within you? Let us help to nurture and flourish now.  Let us help not only to create a sense of livelihoods for yourself but – tell me? What is a greater act of self-determination than creating your own economic livelihood and your own future?  And then doing it for others as well. What a great statement that is and the thing that I would say and I’ve always been a great admirer of Ric’s work but Ric you missed a big metric mate.

It’s the impact this has on subsequent generations, please don’t undervalue that.

This is life changing and intergenerational and, nice piece of work, but add that in, please sir – because that ambition and aspiration that is created is something that I think we undervalue.

Many of you know I went to school in a housing commission estate in Frankston and it is one of the great southern hemisphere capitals of the world, Frankston.

I know you’ll appreciate that, but one of the biggest challenges we have is to lift people’s aspirations - to work with them so they can hope for something better for themselves rather than be contained or restrained about the norms of their lives that they’ve been accustomed to and this does that as well.

So, we know that being an athlete is a great strategy for improving livelihoods in indigenous communities and we know many great indigenous athletes but what another pathway this is that can and should be celebrated and encouraged.

The finance piece is very important, you know finance is the oxygen of enterprise, you take it away and you starve the opportunity to achieve those ambitions and it’s great to see Westpac getting involved in that as well.

But finally the technology piece is crucial.

Everywhere I go whether it’s in Shanghai or whether it’s in Sydney there’s an appetite and a view that the kind of philanthropy that we do in Australia is different from the United States.  People just don’t want to hand over a bucket load of money and do it entirely in their personal honour.  They are happy to put resources into nurturing the enterprise of others.  But then brining the emotional commitment, not just the cash – but their knowledge and the pathway that they’ve gone through and the wisdom that they can share and you capture that here.

So you are changing lives. You are lifting ambition. You are helping people to aspire for something better.  You’re activating those enterprise, those entrepreneurial juices that lurk within many. You are then being an ally and assisting in that journey and then you’re celebrating achievements.  That has got to be worth a lot of encouragement. I love your work, I love what you do and I am honoured to be able to share a few minutes with you today.

Thanks very much.