The Leap Stories #89: Loretta Bolotin from human rights advocate to social enterprise food entrepreneur

Even when you’re working in a field that’s aligned with your purpose, career trajectories don’t always go to plan. Pivots are going to be necessary. Loretta Bolotin studied international development earning her jobs in the humanitarian sector across the world.  At the age of 24 she also became mama to Koan, and a juggled a full-time job working in gender justice in The Hague. As you’ll read, Loretta believed that this would give her right balance of career, purpose and parenting.

While husband Daniel became the primary carer for their son, ironically the human rights organisation Loretta was working for offered very limited flexibility for working parents (and not even a breastfeeding facility!), and delivered a punishing workload to boot. The reality of ‘balance’ didn’t measure up, and Loretta sharpened her sense of what really mattered in her life. And change needed to happen.

Moving back home to Melbourne, Loretta and Daniel took the leap to start of Free To Feed, a social enterprise that:

“recognises the entrepreneurial characteristics and existing skills of refugees and new migrants, as well as the significant challenges that they face in gaining meaningful employment and/or starting enterprises in Australia. Free to Feed engages refugees and new migrants in a range of innovative food-based enterprises. To date, Free to Feed has equipped refugees and new migrants with skills, training, mentoring, career guidance, connections and hands-on paid work experience in the competitive Australian food industry.” 

In my study of leap takers, it’s those who stay connected to themselves and what matters who embark on creative career re-generation. Because when you know what you care about and why, working out your ‘what’ and ‘how’ gets clearer. Sometimes this means bumping up against a pile of what you don’t want, before you can define what you do want – before you can become free to feed yourself and in turn, those around you.

Announcement: We’re delighted to have partnered with Free to Feed for our annual Give Thanks Dinner in Melbourne on Sunday 26 November. We’re grateful for you and would love to have you sit at our table. Tickets are selling fast and close 20 November (unless sold out prior). Grab yours here.

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Loretta Bolton, Founder of the Melbourne-based social enterprise Free to Feed with some of the amazing women she works with.

What did you want to be when you grew up and why?
I flunked maths for many years and I was drawn to humanitarian campaigns and initiatives from early high school. I thought Bono and Coldplay and all their Make Poverty History concerts were so cool! From about 13 years old, my idols were people doing good things for the world. I was involved in a youth organisation called the Reach Foundation and encountered some pretty inspiring young people who were pushing boundaries. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to be but whatever it was I knew it needed to be purpose-driven.

What did/do you study?
I studied a Bachelor of International Development at Latrobe Uni and later did a Master of International Security at Sydney Uni. But it is the people I have met through my work in the refugee sector who have been my most influential teachers. They bring international politics to life and their journeys reveal so much more than textbooks.

What has been your most scary/courageous leap you’ve ever made (preferably in your business/career/life direction)?
I worked in Cairo during the revolution, while Daniel was at home planning our wedding, I even missed our wedding food tastings(!). That was brave but I think starting Free To Feed was a courageous leap into the unknown.

What were you doing before you made your leap?
After years of working in the refugee/charity sector, I was set on a career in the international humanitarian circuit. I wanted to work in a refugee camp somewhere in the Middle East and was on that career trajectory. However, when I had my son Koan I instinctively started to reprioritise. I still wanted to do good, wholesome work but I wasn’t really interested in putting us in harm’s way or compromising our safety. When Koan was a few months old we decided to leave sunny Sydney and relocate to The Netherlands, where I took up a pretty full-on job in high-profile human rights organisation (more on that below). This job was supposed to be the right balance of ‘career, purpose and child raising’. It didn’t’ really work out that way.

Who have been the biggest 3 – 5 influences in your life, in terms of your career and doing work?
Rae and Yuri Bolotin (My husband’s parents): Rae and Yuri came to Australia in the 1970’s as refugees from Uzbekistan. They worked hard and built a successful design company, later Daniel’s mum transitioned to being a full-time artist. They so delicately managed to balance powerful careers with a wholesome, connected family life. They instilled in their children a deep sense of curiosity and resilience. Today, they run an artist residency in the bush and the ‘‘retired’’ husband and wife still work side-by-side. They do amazing grass-roots environmental advocacy and also provide a nurturing program for international artists. To me, these guys epitomize the power of migrants and refugees to contribute to this beautiful country. They worked so hard to create a life for themselves from scratch and now they continue to so selflessly give back. These guys are so ingrained in their little bush community it’s hard to imagine they once fled persecution.

Daniel Bolotin (my husband): Daniel is the yin to my yang, he is the most balanced person I’ve ever met and he’s such a gentle and nurturing daddy for our son Koan. Daniel encourages me to continue to grow and is always ready to explore and support me.

What did you have in place before you made the leap?
I had a solid home base, Daniel and my son Koan!

What was your defining ‘I can’t do this anymore’ moment that led you to the leap?
It wasn’t really one moment but my whole context. I was a new mum, working in The Hague (The Netherlands) for a pretty high-profile human rights organisation. I was working in women’s rights/gender justice and despite being a new mum there wasn’t any flexibility in the role or the organisation, ironic huh?! I was expected to work 45-50 hour weeks and wasn’t given anywhere comfortable to breastfeed my son (I still have nightmares of pumping breast milk on the toilet cubicle!). My husband used to bike my son over at his meal times and being able to cuddle him twice a day was the only thing that kept me going. I was coming home more and more exhausted every day and my son, missing his mamma, was glued to me throughout the night. All the while, refugees were flooding into Europe and the crisis in Syria was worsening and here I was, sitting at my desk, in a toxic work environment, missing all the precious moments in my 6 month old’s life and feeling really disconnected from what matters. During this perfect storm, my husband I started to think creatively about what the next steps were and that’s when Free To Feed was born.

How did/do you overcome/work with the fear that comes with leaping? How do you decide to choose courage?
I’ve always felt supported by my husband in all of my decision making. I think that’s a critical ingredient for me. The timing was right too, it was more painful to remain in an exploitative job than it was to create my own.

How did you fund your leap?
Savings. You can moderate/adapt your living expenses (to a certain extent) to whatever you can afford. I don’t really empathise with people who continue to work jobs they don’t really like, for money or because they don’t want to compromise their lifestyle.

What other leaps have you made?
I leapt into a trip across East & West Africa when I was 21 and I met my (now) husband Daniel!

I leapt into motherhood on the 1st of November 2014 at the age of 24.

Pretty much all the most incredible things in my life have resulted from stepping out of my comfort zone into the unknown.

What leaps didn’t work out? What did you do about it?
I probably prematurely quit a few jobs and I probably made a few ego-centric decisions along the way too.

What are you most fearful of? How do you deal with it?
Living a life without purpose or passion ( I fear this not only for myself but for those around me). And losing my curiosity.

I check myself, often. If I am not checking myself, Daniel (my husband) is checking in!

Loretta Bolton and her husband, Daniel, founders of Free to Feed.

How would you rate your level of happiness about making your leap?
1 being sad, 10 being rad.
It fluctuates from 7 -10.

What’s the biggest upside to making the leap?
Free To Feed and the inspiring work that we do is definitely contagious! Free To Feed attracts the most genuine, empathetic, creative and curious people, businesses, initiatives and opportunities and I feel so lucky to be able to be a part of this ecosystem.

What’s the biggest downside to making the leap? And how do you get through it?
Lots of late nights on the laptop on the couch and that feeling of being constantly switched on/ responsible. There are also challenge of working with your spouse, it can sometimes feel like we’re colleagues, we go on day dates and try not to talk about work so we’re able to reconnect outside of a work context.

What might be your next leap?
For now, I will continue to nurture and grow this baby.

What are your favourite words to live by?
“He not busy being born is busy dying.” Bob Dylan.

Who do you admire who also made the leap?
I think I’ve officially run out of brain capacity.

A piece of advice for someone with an itch to leap?
Surely, inaction is more difficult?

Right now I’m:
Hearing: I’ve been enjoying listening to Shantel, Planet Paprika. It’s Baulkan, gypsy and it really helps me to get active and get shit done!
Eating: At pretty much any opportunity I get, I like to head down to Moroccan Delicacy for of their delicious plates of goodness. It’s delicious and it’s inspiring to be in the presence of strong women.
Drinking: Coffee, around 3 cups a day at the moment.
Reading: I am actually reading a collection of Roald Dahl’s stories at the moment with my son Koan. They’re refreshingly light and funny!
Loving: How open-minded my son and curious my son is

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2017 Give Thanks Dinner Banner

Just a reminder: We’re delighted to have partnered with Free to Feed for our annual Give Thanks Dinner in Melbourne on Sunday 26 November. We’re grateful for you and would love to have you sit at our table. Tickets are selling fast. Grab yours here.

Lovingly,

Kylie x

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