What kind of Australia do you want to live in?

Sausage or steak? Chicken or lamb? Veggie burger anyone? Typical questions asked around barbecues on any given night when friends or family are around. Barbecues are the watercoolers around which conversations about life take place. What’s hitting our hip pocket. The difficulty of securing suitable childcare. The complexities of navigating the aged care sector for our parents. And so on. Life may be pretty dandy for one barbecue guest while another may claim that we are no better off now than 10 years ago. And so on.

When we assess our quality of life I’m sure the answers we’re looking for are less about ‘numbers’, and more about the quality of our lives. Admittedly these things can be really hard to gauge. We’re accustomed to being fed measurements of our country’s progress through economic indicators such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – annualised, quarterly. 2% – “Is that good”? we may ask. “It used to be higher, but it is now trending up, albeit slowly, so that must be good. Shouldn’t it”? Maybe…

To be sure, if our economy were a car, the GDP odometer would be one of the main indictors to watch, going some way to tell us how well our journey is going. That we’re nearly ‘there’. That we’re making good progress. Economists and governments will continue to track our economic wellbeing using the stable of measures – GDP, inflation, employment levels and interest rates – that’s managing the economy well. But such rudimentary indicators leave us unsure of their relevance to our daily lives.

BBQ friends selfie

I’m pretty sure we all want to leave Australia a better place for our kids and for their kids, in our own families, and also more broadly as a community. But what does that look like? What do we actually want to change or improve? How can we be sure we’re making progress? Black and white economic indicators alone can’t and don’t capture the full colour of our lives. If GDP is weak, we’re bound to feel the effects early on in our job security, in our ability to pay mortgages and rent, and stagnation of incomes. But a single economic indicator says nothing about our quality of life – social inclusion, responsible global citizenship or trust in each other or in our public institutions.

But back to the barbecue and the conversations around how life is, and more broadly, how Australia is going and whether we’re making a good go of our lot Down Under. I’ve noted for a long time the disconnect between our presumed progress, extracted from sets of economic indicators, and our day to day lived experience. The cost of living, the quality and access to health and education services, and how, if at all, we are experiencing life in the workplace, in our families, in the community, and the progress barometer of more existential conversation topics such as justice, equity, fulfilment in life, and an understanding of how Australian society is improving or declining.

ANDI, the Australian National Development Index, is a holistic measure of national progress and wellbeing, and although still in its formative years, could very well find itself shaping barbecue conversations in future years. The index reflects the values and priorities of Australians and will seek to tell us how we are doing as a nation.

The index is being developed by a coalition of leading community organisations, peak bodies, businesses, faith-based organisations, researchers, and independent, non-partisan grassroots citizens. The initiative is coordinated by the University of Melbourne. Importantly, input is being sought from Australians mainly through workshops where tables of five participants, using an electronic meeting system that captures input from each group using a wireless keyboard, respond to questions in groups, with contributions shown on a screen and then captured, sorted and delved further into later.

I participated in one of these workshops in Melbourne recently, impressed with the nature of the contributions, and equally feeling empowered and exhilarated through the participation in such a democratic process. ANDI is in pilot phase, with many years of refining to come, including ensuring fair and equal contributions from across the breadth of Australia’s diverse communities. For those of us that yearn for public policy debates to be civil – to be a real contest of ideas, rather than the polarising clash of ideologies, helping shape policy settings relating to health, educational, indigenous and environmental matters, to name a few, just got more participatory and engaging.

In a promotional video, ANDI board member Rev. Tim Costello AO says, “The real work of what a just society is… we intuitively know but we don’t measure it.” Fellow board member Professor Fiona Stanley says of ANDI, “It’s an attempt to get beyond the financial measures to say what do we value as a society, what are our real values? What do people on the street think about our values? Can we measure them?”.

If developed well, ANDI’s goal to measure what matters to Australians, will hopefully play a key role in helping us better understand the kind of Australia we want to live in, and importantly how we track progress on reaching the qualities of the life we aspire to.

Quality of life

This fledgling tool brings a human element to the human condition. While it’s impossible for any one measurement of wellbeing to uniquely reflect the lived experience of any given household, ANDI strikes me as an important step to move away from relying only on government and indeed commentators’ quality of life assessments through a limited economic lens, to accommodate the elements of life such as wellbeing and life satisfaction, environment, sustainability, justice, fairness and human rights, that I’m sure are closer measures of what matters to each of us.

ANDI is worth checking out and I encourage you to follow its progress and to participate where possible. In doing so you will play an important role in helping shape our country’s future, and importantly, know where we’re going and ‘are we there yet?’ You’ll also have new barbecue conversation starters as you tuck into that steak or vegie burger.

Feel free to share with me what’s important to you when thinking about the Australia you want to live in.

 

I am contesting the next federal election in the electorate of Chisholm in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. If you’d like to meet up or have me speak in your networks, workplace or community group, please contact me on campaign@antclark.vote or call 0422 939 200. Website coming soon.

If you’d like to receive campaign updates including blog posts, visit http://eepurl.com/c0lvXf 

Authorised by Ant Clark, Independent Candidate for Chisholm, Unit 1/167 Surrey Road, Blackburn VIC 3130

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It’s possible.

I usually embark on a new project or adventure having done reasonable due diligence – my eyes open to the possible risks, opportunities and rewards. I say ‘reasonable’ because I am also attracted to an element of the unknown – the prospect of being outside of my comfort zone, that place that challenges me to improve and demands me to step up and forge a way forward.

Joining the team at Opportunity International Australia in early 2011 was a bit like that. Opportunity, being a leader in the social microfinance space, resonated with me as an employer of choice where I could be part of a team of international development practitioners and fundraisers, committed to help families that had been left behind in society and the economy, to have a brighter future, to thrive again, or for the first time.

My nearly seven years at Opportunity has been all of that. I have rubbed shoulders with the best in the business of tackling poverty. Smart people in Australia and around the world who grapple with the complexities that lack of access to life’s basics throws up for hundreds of millions of people. Colleagues who are up to the challenge of providing accessible solutions for families living on just a few dollars a day. A CEO, Board and management who are committed to stewarding supporters’ donations in smart ways that manage risks effectively, prioritise accountability and seek to demonstrate and measure the changes possible for communities struggling to face each day.

Professionally, I have challenged myself and been challenged by others. Embarking on projects where the starting point was often unknown, let alone the end point, but I knew were worth pursuing because the effort was worth it. Worth it because it mattered to families living in grinding poverty.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting with dozens of families in India, Indonesia and the Philippines, who, other than their circumstances, share the same aspirations as my family. They want the safety of a secure house, the predictability of three nutritious meals a day, and the ability to apply their skills and experience to earn a living to provide for themselves. Pretty simple.

I remember one mother in the slums of Delhi telling me that she couldn’t think about the future until her business started to make money. She shared that an additional few rupees a day would mean her kids could stay in school, and hopefully not lead a childhood similar to hers. Just four months earlier she had accessed a small loan to build a brush-making business which she hoped would earn enough to give her family much needed financial security. Her tiny house, with its corrugated roof and rough concrete floor, was barely wide enough for the double bed in which the whole family slept. The small teddy propped up on the bed, in similar fashion to that when my own kids were younger, reminded me how similar families are regardless of their living arrangements.

I’m pretty sure adequate housing is an aspiration of everyone around the world. We all want privacy, safety, functionality. For most of us in Australia, that’s our experience, although there’s much more to do to ensure this is a reality for all Aussies. Families in places like the slums in India have lean-to houses, often made from sacks and heavy plastic, with walls paper thin. Families laugh together and cry together. They are born together, and they die together.

I continue to be inspired by the tenacity with which families like those I have met, approach life. Resourceful, hard working, striving to be productive and to give their children a better future. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Opportunity’s model of helping families access opportunities and services so they have choices and greater freedom to achieve their dreams is one that motivates staff, supporters and volunteers alike. It’s the reason why, as I take my employee hat off in December and put my Opportunity Ambassador hat on, I will continue to be part of this movement of Aussies that knows it’s possible for families, who are struggling, to turn their lives around, not because of charity, but because someone believed in them enough to give them a hand up. It’s possible.

I’ve been similarly humbled to hear how the building of a toilet near a modest house, has helped families feel safer, no longer faced with risky walks in the dark to defecate in the open. Let alone the positive health benefits they begin to experience.

My volunteer experience in earlier years at a Salvation Army youth refuge in North Fitzroy, and my youth outreach work with the City of Banyule in Melbourne’s Northeast, confirmed for me long ago that it’s possible for people battling life’s blows, to take brave small steps to turn their circumstances around, especially when they feel valued and listened to. I saw this also when, as a twenty-year-old, I volunteered with Do Care, a Wesley Mission service that helps elderly people participate in and reconnect with their community. I learnt that a twenty-year-old and an eighty-five-year-old have much more in common than not.

I’ve given my all and my best while at Opportunity. The needs of the families we serve demands it. I’ve seen the number of families on the path to have greater control over their lives increase by the millions. Opportunity’s work is even better than when I started, not because of me, but because of my colleagues, and the supporters and volunteers who are stepping up to meet the ‘last mile challenge’. For every family living in desperate poverty in or on the outskirts of a large Asian city, there’s many more living in remote and rural areas, whose journey out of poverty will require even bolder and more innovative solutions to achieve. This is where Opportunity excels and I’m emboldened by developments like digital finance solutions that will mean previously difficult to reach communities can also know someone believes in them enough to offer practical pathways to help them thrive in their communities. They will know it’s possible to provide for their families, make choices, access opportunities and be rewarded for their hard work.

That’s what I want for my family also.

My due diligence when joining Opportunity paid off. I was attracted to the organisation’s strong record of helping families living in poverty to gain control of their lives. I discovered and then have been part of an effective team that uses finite resources in ways that change lives today and for generations to come.

For much of my time at Opportunity, I have operated outside my comfort zone. The pressing needs of families facing adversity demands it. In my discipline of marketing and fundraising, which involves mobilising Aussies to be inspired to donate so a family can free themselves from poverty, the task always seems insurmountable. Too big, too competitive, too abstract. But too important not to be part of.

As I wind up and hand things over, and reflect on my time at Opportunity, I reckon operating outside of my comfort zone is the only place I needed to be to make a contribution that would matter. It’s been possible because I felt supported and believed in. I have been enormously blessed and I’m as grateful for the twists and turns along the way, unknown at the outset, as I am for the ‘knowns’ when I first did my research on Opportunity.

I can’t imagine a better life than working with others to see communities strengthened, living with increasing dignity and purpose, free of poverty. It’s possible.

In 2018 I will be preparing my campaign to contest the federal election in 2019 as an independent candidate in Victoria. If you’d like to receive campaign updates, visit http://eepurl.com/c0lvXf