Amy Churchouse On Creating A National Community of Positive Changemakers
Amy grew up in Wellington, New Zealand, and being outgoing with lots of interests, she has done lots of different things over the years.
By the age of 30, she had a BSC in sports science and psychology and explored a number of different industries and roles. Then at 31, Amy decided to follow her childhood dream of becoming a vet, and after five years of vet school, moved to Melbourne and in 2015 started her career as a vet. After experiencing some challenges in her own life and seeing a lot of suffering in the lives of others around her, being a natural problem solver Amy decided she wanted to try and make a difference to help people have better lives, and she wanted to give others the opportunity to do the same. She started KGKN, Kensington Good Karma Network to help people, help each other and the ‘good karma effect’ was born.
Amy discusses what led her to creating the Good Karma Network; a community of caring neighbours who help each other solve problems, whilst sharing insights and giving advice on creating positive social impact.
Highlights from the interview (listen to the podcast for full details)
[Mikaela Stephens] - Could you please share a bit about your background, your journey through many careers pathways, and what led you to creating social impact within local communities? [02:16]
[Amy Churchouse] - I'm pretty outgoing and I've been involved with lots of things over the years. As a child my mother told me that I could be anything, and I don't think at the time she thought that there was a possibility that I could have wanted to be everything. So, over my working career, I started in the fitness industry and moved through - I was a representative rugby player, I was a tour guide internationally, I was a sales consultant, a sales training manager, a zookeeper a... What else did I do? A stepmum, a business owner, a house owner, a whole lot of roles over the years. And then of course, I went back to the drawing board again at 31 and thought, what do I do now? Well, I've always loved animals and I want to do something with animals, after being a zookeeper as well. I decided to try and get into the vet school... got into vet school on the first attempt, and then went away and studied veterinary science. And then at the end of that I decided I wanted to move out of New Zealand for couple of reasons. One, I was really interested in shelter medicine; I tend to want to help things. So I got a job here in Melbourne in shelter medicine - there’s not a lot of shelter medicine in New Zealand. And, I also wanted to meet more people like me. That was something that I felt. Out of New Zealand, you know, there are the same amount of people in Melbourne as there is in my whole country. So there's bound to be more people like me here. So that was how I ended up here.
And how have I ended up doing what I do?
I like solving problems and there are lots of problems out there to solve.
I think everywhere you go, you can see people suffering and I'm really empathetic, which is a challenge, and it’s a great thing for me as well. But, the suffering of other people actually is more burdensome for me then actually my own suffering. I really want to make a difference for other people. And so I'm like, 'well, let's find a way to solve these problems. Let’s just try and solve problems, left, right and centre, it doesn't matter what I'm doing. You got a problem? Let me see if I can solve it.' So that's how I sort of ended up doing what I'm doing, it was all about problem solving.
Two years ago you launched the Kensington Good Karma Network, which has now expanded to 33 more Good Karma Networks! Would you be able to tell our audience more about the Good Karma Network, its effect, how you started it, and its social impact? [5:31]
Well, at the time that I started it, I was aware that a lot of people will suffer from a lot of different challenges. Life's really hard, and we live in the most privileged place on the planet. So it doesn't seem right to me that we should be suffering so much. We've got terrible mental illness, we've got major problems, but also we have day to day first world problems. I believe that if we actually could sort out some of those first world problems, then we'd have some more energy and resources for the problems that really need solving. So, I wanted to try and figure out how to empower people, because we're disempowered by media, by our governments.
Everybody thinks it's too hard to make a difference, or they don't think they're worth it or they've got the skills or the resources or the energy, and I don't think that's right. I think that everybody's got something to offer.
So essentially it started with a couple of problems that I had, which is always the way. The first one was I lost my cat, and he went for a bit of a run around the neighbourhood and didn't come back and I was a bit concerned after three days he hadn't eaten a food out of his bowl. So I took a day off work, delivered some flyers around the neighbourhood saying, ‘I've lost my cat, have you found him.’ He had a very weird hair-cut at a time because I shaved him, because he had long hair. But, I sat down on the couch after doing this flyer drop and sat there going, ‘it doesn't matter that I'm a vet, that I'm earning good money, that I'm quite connected, that I'm confident and outgoing, none of that can help me right now’. And I was beside myself. The only thing that was going to help me was other people's eyes. And so luckily the phone rang and this gentleman around the corner said, ‘Hi, I hear you’ve lost your cat.’ And I'm like, ‘yeah’. ‘Yeah, he's at my house’. Anyway, I got my cat back.
Oh he just had a holiday.
Well... that's another story. Anyway, he wasn’t very happy about where he was. But I came home, but he's a bit of an adventurer like me and he wanted to go straight back outside when we got home. For the next two weeks I received phone calls from around the neighbourhood saying, ‘Hey, have you found Bear? He's down here’. ‘Hey, have you found Bear? He's at my house today’. And so I found out where he went during his days, but also...
what occurred to me was that when people knew I had a problem, and they knew how to get a hold of me, they were very happy to help me. It didn’t matter that we were strangers, they wanted to help me.
That was the first problem. The second one was that I had one tree on my property and it was growing over the footpath to the point where it was obscuring people's walking. In order to get it sorted out, I had to call the property agent, who called the landlord who organised three quotes. And, two months after I contacted them, it got cut. So at the time I was like, 'well, there's a much better way to do this,' which is: just borrow somebody's clippers. But, I didn't have any family or any friends nearby that I could do that from. But there's a whole lot of solutions in the houses around me. I just didn't have access to them. And I'm sure that if I had been able to pick up the phone and go, ‘hey neighbour, Jane, can I borrow your clippers?’ She would've said, ‘yeah, sure’. So I thought, well there's got to be a better way. Let's see if we can figure this out. I obviously didn't have the money to create a huge technological solution, nor did I know how to do that or anything. And I was like, 'well, most people are on Facebook. I’ll just start a Facebook group for us to help each other.' And so I started a Facebook group, and I was obviously quite excited about it because there was so many things that it could do if we just got together and started helping each other out. Number one, I get to meet a whole lot more people, and there was something I really like doing.
I was talking to people in the streets and going, ‘hey, I started this thing, and would you like to join, it’s neighbours who help each other out’.
And a lot of people were quite perplexed that, you know? Sort of like, well, ‘what do you do there?’ And I said, ‘well we just help each other out’. And it was kind of quite a novel concept, but people were like, ‘that sounds like a nice thing to be a part of, I’d like to join that.’ And so they joined, and the numbers grew.
I threw some money at it, just to do a flyer drop. The second one we actually managed to get sponsorship from the local Officeworks to promote the network. So I slowly did flyer drops around the area. I was busy at the time, and obviously being busy it was really important to me that it didn't take up the whole of my time. I really wanted it to be impactful but I didn't want to have to manage the typical things that you deal with on social media, like people being negative and bitching and moaning about things.
And so I thought, how do I design this group so that we don't deal with all those things that people dislike.
People are always trying to avoid advertising, right? Hate all the ads, right? So, no advertising on this group. People are always trying to get something for themselves: ‘I'm going to sell all of this stuff, so I can get something for me.’ This isn't about that, getting stuff for you, this is about helping the people that need help. And so I made no advertising, no selling and anything that is offered is done so with no expectation in return. Number three of the guidelines. And the other major guideline was no negativity. So basically if somebody decided to have a go at somebody else, or judge them, that was grounds for removal. Which I thought was really important. I think a couple of reasons why that was really important to me, number one, was the group is designed for people to be able to ask for help. People are not going to be vulnerable if they think other people are going to judge them or have a go at them, or be negative about it.
So for me, encouraging people and creating safe space was more important than people being allowed to do all those things that they can do everywhere else.
That model of using Facebook, and framework established for the Good Karma Effect is simple, but obviously very effective. How did this model come about, and have you found that it’s evolved much since you started? [10:20]
I guess it has evolved; yes and no. There have been challenges that have come up that I've had to deal with that have helped me to realise that some of the things that I set out to start off with were incredibly sound and incredibly important, which is fantastic. And also be aware of needing to be able to create some solutions for those challenges. The constant challenge is that people come from other groups and they're like, ‘oh, I know what Facebook groups are for.’ ‘I’m going to tell you about these Muslims that are attacking people in, you know, Kahnee, or something’. That's not appropriate, not helpful, not anything to do with or even relevant to our people. I hate that stuff, and it's so detrimental to our psyche as much as to our wellbeing, to our ears, our eyes to our children. And I really want to challenge the status quo on that. Everybody said to me, you know, ‘oh, that's just what people do on social media’. I'm like, ‘no, that's not okay’. And if we did that in other areas of our lives, we'd have much more positive working environments, much more positive families, much more positive relationships.
We need to be able to stand up and go, ‘Hey, I understand that you're upset or I understand that that's difficult for you. But, what we do here is: we work together to solve problems, and we’re positive about it’.
If you don’t have something positive to say, don't say anything at all.
Did you hear your mother say that when you were a child? I mean, it's basic stuff, you know. Because there's so much energy that's wasted on fighting, and conflict, and I'm right and you're wrong, and none of that is getting us anywhere. It doesn't matter whether you're right or wrong. We're not going forward if you're arguing about it.
There’s a nice clear framework there.
Yeah, a clear framework and it has evolved. I've had to create solutions for political discussions, for people who are wanting to support local businesses, but the platform doesn't support it, we can’t. But, people are allowed to put recommendations on that sort of thing. But to advertise your businesses is not what it’s for. I've created solutions outside of that group for the things that people want to use them for. There's a public affairs group for people that just can’t hold themselves and want to spit the dummy about the politicians and stuff. It's just not beneficial to the people, and it alienates people. They will look at that stuff and they go, ‘I don't want to be here because you are horrible’, to the people. And you'll never even see them. Those are people that are listening day-in, day-out that never say anything, that where it's really valuable. They check-in for perspectives, they check-in for learning, they check-in for the compassionate exchanges, and those people will walk away when somebody comes in and goes, ‘I'm going to tell you what to do’.
The rates of engagement and diversity of impact the Good Karma Network has been able to achieve is absolutely incredible.
I understand there have been lots of interested parties such as local councillors and political parties - all interested to find out how your reach, and your levels of social media engagement. As we know ‘Social Media Engagement’ is such an important factor to establishing a solid community engagement, so how might government most effectively engage communities in order to tackle these complex problems? [13:41]
It's a really difficult question to answer because trust in government and many other organisations has been eroded on a massive scale. So, you have to get the community on side - for them, it's a very uphill battle.
It's pretty fundamental: if you want engagement, show them that you care about them.
Show them that, you want to support them to do what they want to do. Find a way to work with your community. The irony of the situation is that these councils are supposed to be looking after us. And we also fall into it, and we go: so they are responsible for everything and then we’re angry that they don't do it, and then they don't do it, so we don't trust them. Whereas if the council went, ‘Hey, we’ve got resources, what do you need, or what do you want, or can we actually sit down together and work this out. What is the best thing for everybody?’ And get them thinking about each other as well. I'm all about the collaboration, because in a community, and this is the thing with the Good Karma Network is, in the community there is everybody. There are the drug dealers, and there are all the different ethnicities, all the different sexual orientations and, and all the different religions, and they're all really valuable parts of that community. If we can actually crack it open and go, ‘hey, let's just check out what everybody else thinks about this problem’, then we'll get all of the perspectives and be able to come up with a solution that works for everybody. That's gold, and everybody feels valuable and part of that, caring about whoever is important. So that would be my recommendation for the government.
Could you please tell us more about the growth of Good Karma Network, and potential future for community impact engagement in Australia? [15:48]
So the Good Karma Networks started with the Kensington Good Karma Network, and at the end of the first nine months there were 2,500 members. Then people started to contact me from around the different parts of Australia and said, ‘Hey, I'd really like one in my neighbourhood’. And I thought, ‘oh well of course, here's the model, go for it.’ They started to pop up. By June there was nine networks, and then it grew again after there was an article in ‘The Age’ on the Kensington Good Karma Network. Now the growth, and the experiences that people are having on these networks is really fostering a desire to want to be involved. It's this huge potential in this project, and I've just realised that this year; now with 33 networks. Some of them have not gone well at all, and over the past year I've been analysing the success factors. We've got some pretty clear success factors that involve the administration, the model. It's not just, ‘you started a Good Karma Network, look how everybody plays nicely and solves problems together’.
It’s a bit more complex.
It is, and you know, it's very straightforward, but...
it's very important that we're consistent with our guidelines and that we stick to our purpose.
As soon as somebody sees that, it's, ‘I want to use it for this’. It's kind of like, don't use it for dating. Actually, the Coburg Good Karma Network ‘singles group’ has just started. A lot of groups have come out of the networks that are for special interest. Which is great because it is the ground for connecting people with similar interests. An interesting thing about the singles group is that people love the values, they love what we stand for. And that's the really interesting thing, is that people are being attracted to this, because it's nice, we're solving problems and people respect each other. People are not judged, obviously, that's what we encourage those are our values. That we don't assume anything. When somebody is behaving badly, we think, ‘are you okay’ first and foremost, we don't think you're a horrible person. Because usually when something's wrong, I should say, when somebody's behaving badly, there is wrong with them.
So with this growth over Australia, is it more in the sense that there's an urge for the community to find a way to engage, and this is facilitating that. Is that what you're seeing? [17:55]
I think the interesting thing about the interest in the project is that people want to be connected. And there are a bunch of different reasons why people are interested; to solve problems, to connect with people, to feel good. And there's so many places where you're not feeling good in our workplaces, in our families and in our streets. The trust in the community is not high. there's a lot of judgment, there’s a lot of challenges that people are experiencing. And when you see something nice, it makes your day better. So that's where it starts. But there's so many more possibilities in there. So the interest in that is that, I think essentially that we're social beings and we want to be connected and things are much more fun when you do it with people. It's really interesting watching two people who had their little one square metre plot of garden. And I've seen them go, ‘I've got this plot and that's great, and I go and I garden there. And then three weeks later I took Mary and Jane down there and some brought some soil, and then we've had some cookies’. And so they did the gardening, they had a lovely time, they shared the resources required to garden, and had a really good time together so it was more efficient, more enjoyable, and it's what humans like.
For our audience, and people at home, who might be wondering how they could create positive social impact networks within their own communities, what tips and experiences can you share to inspire them in this process, and collaborate? [19:12]
The obvious answer to that is to start a Good Karma Network, isn’t it? Obviously that is one solution and it has been a solution that I've given to lots of people, because it creates the possibility for anything.
And this is the thing that to me has probably been the most powerful; this can be whatever you want it to be, and it gives you the opportunity to test your ideas.
‘Hey guys, I'm just wondering what you think about this idea. I was thinking about doing a march for the dogs. Does anybody want to join me?’ ‘Yes, I'd love to join you!’ says 42 people. And then you know you’re onto a winner! Another one is, you know, ‘let's go to the park and play soccer’. Great! Let's join a group. One of our groups actually started with a gentleman who came onto the network and said, ‘Hi guys, my partner and I like playing board games. Would anybody like to join us?’ Boom! 130 people in our group and now they've got a regular Wednesday night session at the local RSL. That's amazing.
Just try stuff, do something, try something to see what happens. Ask somebody, ask people for their opinion and see what they think. Don't be afraid, because the things that we're afraid of are so small compared with all the possibilities.
That we don't react because we're afraid, outside of the sphere, there's all these things that are just magic. And I just think that we should believe in ourselves.. And I think that's one of the things that I really wanted to show people in the network is like, hey if you want to make a difference, just make it to the neighbour, just help them with their kid, just helping them with a cup of sugar, whatever, and then people can realise that they can make a difference. And then they go, wow, what else can I do and what else is possible? And now I'm just going, wow, we've got 27,000 members across all of these networks. I'm just sitting here going, what else is possible? What can we do with this? What kind of positive change can we create? And I want people to go with me. Yeah, let's do it!
Sounds like a call for action. I like it. So what are the next steps for Good Karma Effect? [21:20]
Well, it's an interesting question. Obviously with the rapid growth, we've been trying really hard to keep up with the demand for new Good Karma Networks. At this stage, it's just me and I'm doing this entirely voluntarily. So I'm creating resources. I am supporting our administrators to deal with the challenges that they're facing on their networks. I'm connecting with people who are interested in what we're doing. I'm looking for opportunities to create greater impact, and all of those things take a huge amount of time now. So obviously moving forward, we really need to secure some funding to employ two people. I believe that it won't take much more than that at this stage to run the organisation and really be able to facilitate much more positive change. With the number of people we've got involved, the potential is just huge at the moment. It's very much limited by what I have to offer and I'm still working at my job as well. So it's, it's really hard work. It takes a lot of energy and I really need some support. We are looking for partners of any size and shape and the nature the Good Karma Effect, is any contribution is welcome and is definitely important. So it doesn't matter how big or small, or even in a few other ways that organisations feel like they might be able to support us. We've been supported on a number of scales by lots of smaller organisations, but we need to go to the next level now. If we get that support, we can just lift the impact that we're creating on a much greater scale.
In terms of your knowledge, with your myriad of experiences, what local or global initiatives have you come across that you believe are leading the charge when it comes to social innovation? What are they doing that you think other countries could adopt? [23:05]
It's a really hard question because there's lots of stuff happening around the world. And to be honest, I don't know many of them. I would be guessing to be saying this one is more impactful. And it’s not more or less, it's just like, I want to engage with as many as I can to learn the things that I can bring back to my project and help the people that are involved for me. Because for me, this is about empowering people. This is about grabbing the knowledge that everybody else has and making things easier, making things better, making people happier. That's what I want to do by sharing knowledge. And if you start doing that, it's amazing. Number one, you just start to hear people's stories and they're amazing. Then you've got solutions that have never even thought about that make things easier, faster, heavier. Most of my life has been thinking about my problems and when I think about my problems, I am continuously going; how do I make this better, this project? How do I make things easier for the administrators, how do I share the learnings that I've learned so they don't have to go through those challenges? And how do I communicate to the people that are joining the network what this is all about and deliver it consistently? So I don't have a lot of time thinking about those other initiatives. But you know, I have connected with lots of people that are doing lots of amazing things.
To finish off, could you please recommend a few great books that you think would inspire our listeners? [24:27]
[Amy talks about the books listed below.]