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Kylie: Today we’re in the company of Zione Walker, a former social justice lawyer, founder of Change Architects and co-founder of the Incubate Foundation. Zione is a global citizen having lived and studied in England, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Russia, Japan and Australia. Having worked as a lawyer for over 15 years and with deep experience in law and policy reform, her business focuses on empowering individuals from diverse backgrounds to thrive and helping organisations engage in positive social change. In this episode, we talk about building sustainable businesses, knowing your unique value proposition, how to co-design products and services and the importance of creating a culturally diverse and inclusive community as business owners.
Kylie: Welcome, Zione. This is great to have you with us on the podcast. I’m excited to be spending some time with you, but before we jump into exploring the work that you do in the world and the incredible businesses that you have, I’d like to just ask you what you did as a child, what do you like to do as a child and how that might impact what you do for a living today.
Zione: Thank you very much for inviting me to this podcast. I’m really looking forward to our chat today. When I was younger, what I really enjoyed doing was watching movies. I could watch movies back to back to back, any type of film. Until this day I’ve never been bored with any single film. It doesn’t matter what language it’s in, whether I understand it or not, so I think storytelling was something I’ve always been passionate about, but my mother also tells me that I’ve always been passionate about fairness and that I had an innate sense of what was fair and what was just, and so how I think those two things connect for me is that I’ve always been interested and I’ve ended up following a path as a lawyer and more particularly as a social justice lawyer. I think that’s because fairness has always been an innate or inherent value in me before I could actually articulate it.
Zione: The storytelling component did lead me down a pathway as a filmmaker very briefly but there wasn’t that much money in documentary filmmaking and I really struggled, so I’ve sort of imbibed that into my work, so I use storytelling to help people understand sometimes the legal system or challenges or case studies, I build that into my practise.
Kylie: So many lawyers I know of go on to also become writers because I think that they have such rich exposure to human stories that don’t often get a broader audience.
Zione: That’s exactly right. It’s so true.
Kylie: So, one of the things that we ask all our guests is to let us know about a few things that they believe in and I would love to dig into a little bit of your beliefs, a few of your beliefs to see how they might guide the work that you do.
Zione: Okay, so one of my beliefs is that representation matters, that it’s actually important for people to see themselves represented in the societies that they live in, and particularly for young people, seeing themselves represented makes you feel visible, you know? You see it and so then you think you can be it. It expands your imagination when you’re represented throughout all of the cultural realms in the society or community that you live in.
Zione: The other belief I have is around hierarchies. I actually am anti very entrenched hierarchical systems. I look at that within the context of, say, the patriarchy, so a man is more important or valuable or validated, much more so than a woman or adults and children or any other context. Racial contexts around hierarchies and hierarchies around supremacy and so on, so I very much believe in a much more circular structure when I’m thinking about human beings and societies. We all exist in a circle, so I’m starting to unpack hierarchies and my feeling at this point in life is they’re probably not the most ideal way to view humanity.
Kylie: That must be a very interesting place when you find yourself in a legal system that is very hierarchical and very process driven in terms of going through exactly the right channels in the right way.
Zione: So very true, and it’s … Well, I’m not a lawyer anymore. I mean, I still am a lawyer, but I don’t practise as a lawyer so maybe there was some inherent tension in that because the system is very hierarchical. Having said that, there is a lot of scope to explore and to do your own work and it’s also modernising in its practice and in its context as well.
Kylie: So let’s talk about that then and how you have taken your extensive background in family law and how you’ve gone about creating the work and the businesses that you have now. Would you mind giving us a bit of a background about how you went from a lawyer to becoming a business owner of your own right?
Zione: Sure. So, very quickly, I became a lawyer not because I actually wanted to be a lawyer, even though I always had this inherent sense of what was fair and what was just. There are many ways to be passionate about those things without having to be a lawyer, but I did because I like to say my parents had a somewhat, how can I say this, limited imagination on professional careers that were out there, and their imagination was limited to medicine, engineering and law, and so those were the only three options that I was provided with. I was given a microscope to really encourage that journey when I turned five, so it was all about science.
Zione: So when I went to university, I actually started off studying medicine and it was in a different country. When I moved to Australia, that was my chance to actually change from medicine and do something else, which meant I only had two options, engineering and law, and so I chose law, really just because that was the only other option. What I really wanted to do was study art, and so I did law and at the end of my course I ended up working as an intellectual property lawyer. Again, that was really around working with filmmakers and storytellers, so it was fantastic. I absolutely loved it.
Zione: After my two years, I thought, “Well, I’ve done my penance. I’ve studied law. I’ve worked as a lawyer. I can now go straight into art and storytelling.” I went to the VCA to study documentary filmmaking as a postgraduate diploma. Loved that to bits. Came out as a graduate documentary filmmaker and worked with other people on their projects for free, primarily, because you do that in the hope that you can then sell your product and earn money that way. Well, basically, bought a house prior to that. Making all these films for free, tick, tock, tick, tock, no money in the bank, and that actually forced me to conduct a really in depth self audit, and without going into the detail of the matrix that I then created, I was able to understand that for me, storytelling, which was my passion, and my skill set was law, actually had some sort of link.
Zione: The link led me down social justice, because social justice was all about listening to people’s lived experiences and then using your legal skills to assist them, and so it meant my options were somewhat limited once it became social justice. The options within that context were sort of family law, family violence, child protection … Of course you could do tort and criminal law but I chose those three areas and I just cold called. There were very few organisations that were on my list at the time. I’d cold called the Aboriginal Legal Service and I said, “My background is an intellectual property lawyer. I know you don’t do that in your organisation, but I’m happy to volunteer as a lawyer for your organisation. If you like me and you have an opening, you can keep me on, and if you don’t, fine, I would have learned some valuable skills and I can thin leverage off that to seek employment elsewhere.”
Zione: So those were the terms in which I started working there as a volunteer. I showed up every day and worked 9:00 to 5:00 like any other lawyer or beyond 5:00, really, in my suit and so on and so forth, and I did that for many months. Then the family lawyer left. There was an opening and that’s how I got that job. So now, how does that link to becoming an entrepreneur? The long and short of it was I worked in those three areas and I moved into law reform and legislative reform and then I also moved into legal education, so sort of training community members and also training other lawyers and other professionals around those areas of the law.
Zione: I wanted to get into much more senior management but there wasn’t a lot of scope in a lot of community legal centres. Once you get to sort of managerial level, the next level is CEO. I was really interested in sort of systemic change and change management and an opportunity presented itself at Victoria Police around change management to basically help change the culture of the organisation, which was a big undertaking with a lot of other people, of course, and I joined Victoria Police. That was a fantastic almost three year experience. While I was there, however, my work also exposed me to a lot of people in the community and I could see that there were some challenges and struggles around creating policies and practises for community, but how do you then bring community into the room to actually help you co-design a project or a policy or a programme that would benefit them?
Zione: You know, like you needed their voices at the centre, designing those type of projects. So I ended up forming … I left Victoria Police and I formed the business called Change Architects and that, in essence, is what we do. We help organisations co-design in a sort of collaborative way with communities, particularly people from new and emerging communities from Africa, the Middle East or just different parts of the world. Southeast Asia. Projects, programmes, et cetera that work best for those communities, so that’s one business. The other one is incubate foundation, which is a social enterprise and that’s more around mentoring young African Australians and we deliver mentoring services to organisations who then pay us for that service and then that helps us provide free one on one mentoring to young people who need that. So that’s pretty much it.
Kylie: Along the way, what has been some of the biggest challenges in jumping from a professional service provider to being a business owner?
Zione: Yeah, it has been a real challenge. So, with Change Architects, a lot of it is based around my skill set and then I invite other associates or affiliates for certain programmes or projects that need other hands or other lenses or contexts, for instance. So, like, evaluators and others. So, that’s worked relatively seamlessly because I jumped into it knowing that it had to be a business, so it’s registered as a business, as a PTY limited and my job is to go out there. Because I’m also bringing my lived experience to that work, it’s somewhat unique and specialist and so it means that when people are coming to me, there isn’t a lot of competition, let’s put it that way, for that particular type of work where you have that expertise but you also bring a lived experience. Those two things make it quite unique, so it hasn’t been too hard in that sense.
Zione: What’s been difficult has been incubate foundation because that’s registered as a not for profit even though it’s a social enterprise and it’s meant to be profitable to be sustainable. The challenge has been sort of navigating an organisation within a community context and then having to find out what’s its unique value proposition? Because you trying to serve community and then you look at your “market,” quote-unquote, and you say, “Who are my stakeholders? Who is the market?” The market are people who can really pay for the service that you want to deliver, but if your market are young people who are new to a society, they don’t have a lot of disposable income, so it’s not really the pool from which you can derive that level of sustainability.
Zione: So, that’s really been a challenge for us to actually start to look at what are the products and services that we can develop and who are the people who can pay for them and how can we develop an organisation or an entity that still allows us to do the good we want to do for the community that might not be able to pay for this particular service or need and yet deliver a high value service at a higher price point to people who can then pay. I think that sort of mismatch has been a challenge, but I think we’ve finally hit the sweet spot.
Kylie: How have you done that?
Zione: Well, we put ourselves out there for starters and we just started doing the work. The organisation was primarily funded by my husband and I and we were just like, “Do it, survey, do it, survey.” Always collect the data so that you start to understand and test your own hypothesis, right? So, our hypothesis was we were both lawyers. We were interacting with people and we could see the demographic of people who were interacting with the justice system change and we were starting to see more Africa Australians and younger people. What we were also seeing was that those younger people would talk to us afterwards and they would say, “I can’t believe you’re a lawyer. I didn’t know you could be black or African and a lawyer in this country.”
Zione: They had Aussie accents which meant they were born here or they certainly came here as children, so it felt like a disconnect for me because in my professional life I knew highly skilled professional African Australians and then in the other side of my life, I was meeting young people who thought it was impossible to have these type of aspirations or careers, so Incubate just started as a mentoring organisation really just to network people. Link these young people to these other older people that were from their context and background so that they knew that it was possible to pursue these paths. That was really it.
Zione: Then that grew to several types of events and then more sophisticated programmes and on and on. We couldn’t stop because it had momentum but we also know that it wasn’t sustainable if we were just going to keep funding it ourselves. I did a programme with a different incubator around sustainability and looking at markets and looking at your UVP and looking at your customers, looking at ways to engage them and monetize activities and services and so on, and it took us a while but then we created a hackathon for young people to actually explore some of their social ideas and to help turn those social ideas into sort of using business models to turn those into sustainable businesses or programmes or projects.
Zione: That was highly successful. Academia got involved and they sponsored it and Launch Vic got involved and they sponsored it. Next thing you know, something that we normally would have run by ourselves with like a 3,000 dollar grant, we got a 20,000 dollar sponsorship from different people without having to beg or grovel or do anything extra for it. So we recognise that there was value in some of our programmes to other stakeholders that we hadn’t actually considered, but more importantly high schools started to get in touch with us to say, “We like the fact that you actually train your mentors. Do you have a pool of mentors?” We’re like, “Yes, we have a database of mentors.” They’re like, “Oh, can your mentors mentor our students?” We’re like, “Yeah, but we traditionally mentor people from 18 to kind of 30 years old. You’re wanting younger people.”
Zione: They’re like, “Yes, but we also want younger people to mentor them, sort of university students.” We’re like, “That’s our biggest demographic of people, is university students from 18 to 30 who are being mentored and who always tick the box to say they also want to mentor somebody else but we haven’t been able to offer them that value.” So, it was just the sort of “ah-ha” moment where the need out there in the community matched our organisation even though we hadn’t yet identified how to serve that particular segment of our membership. So, it was just serendipitous, really, where we had this large segment of our membership who wanted to go out there to mentor people and then we had a market saying, “Well, we’re looking for people to mentor young African Australians in our high schools whose parents are new and might not have a whole range of networks or capabilities around these type of professions.”
Zione: Then they’re prepared to pay for it as a service. So, that’s been really useful and helpful for us.
Kylie: There’s that circular economy or that secular idea that you talked about earlier coming back and being lived in a business context, in a social justice context.
Kylie: It’s wonderful. Also, I was very interested to hear that it was something that you just said, “We want to do this. We’re gonna do it and see where it gets us but we’re going to be very mindful about collecting the right kind of data to know what’s working rather than just kind of keeping on, going on without having that frame of reference or information to power forward and also to, then, tapping into other existing resources and frameworks to help you identify pathways to making this a business. That’s an important thing for business owners, I think, to understand what’s out there, to help them.
Zione: Yes, absolutely. I think going back to the drawing board, one of the things we’ve always done is we’ve always had a strategic plan. We sort of go back. Incubate will be five this year and Change Architects will be two, and so certainly with Incubate, we’ve had two iterations of our strategic plan and we’ve always gone back to that to say, “Is this serving us? Is this really the direction we want to go? Does our membership say this makes any sense to them or is of any value? So on and so forth.” It’s been a really useful guiding tool for us to have that strategic plan and to say, “These activities, they sound very exciting and they’re really interesting but they don’t align with our strategic plan. They don’t align with what our members say they want or they don’t align with the capabilities of the organisation,” you know?
Zione: It also forces us to keep asking the question, “Who are our members? Who are we serving?” And to expand that membership base when we’re thinking around sustainability, so we’re thinking about not just members but who are our stakeholders? So, our stakeholders, at the very beginning we only thought about them in terms of our members in the community and now our stakeholders are everybody, because even though a lot of our language is targeted toward African Australian, 5% of our membership, maybe more, we haven’t looked at the data recently to see, is not African Australian, so we have people from every single background. Anglo, Celtic, Italian, a lot of Eastern Europeans as a demographic in and of itself, some indigenous, some Pacifica people.
Zione: So, it cuts across the whole gamut and sometimes people will send me an email and say, “I really want to come to this programme but I’m not African Australian. Can I come?” Or, “I attended the programme and I met a mentor and I really like that mentor and we’re really aligned but I feel like I’m taking the spot of somebody else. Is that okay?” I always say, “Our goal is social inclusion. We’re trying to build an inclusive society but we tend to think about that in an advocacy sense of advocating for the society to include us, but in reality it’s also about us practising inclusion to include everybody else, so that in the end, that conversation becomes redundant because we’re all inclusive everywhere, right?”
Zione: So the answer’s always a resounding, “Yes, absolutely.” It just gives me great joy when we have people from all backgrounds who might see the messaging and see that helping African Australians reach their fullest potential, but it doesn’t sound exclusionary for them. They’ll still come to the programme either as a mentor or mentee or just register for an event and participate like anybody else and have really, really great value and great connection, so that’s been fantastic for us too.
Kylie: Terrific. I want to talk about the social inclusion aspect of your work later on, but there were a couple of really interesting things that you’ve mentioned just in the discussion we’ve had just then. One was about the concept of co-design and what that looks like and perhaps there are listeners in our audience who don’t understand what that is, and the second part is also I know so many people in small business who don’t have a strategic plan and kind of get a bit terrified by the idea of thinking about strategy or that putting together a business plan or a strategic plan is somehow this big, complicated, in depth document that is maybe a bit beyond them and they just want to kind of get on and do things.
Kylie: You mentioned a lot about referencing back to the people that you serve in putting together your strategic plan and in the co-design. Is it always about making sure that you’re keeping in mind who it is that you’re serving?
Zione: I think that’s important but I think there’s also value in flexibility, in terms of saying, “Well, either the market’s changed or we were very limited in our thinking, in thinking these were the only people we served,” whereas in reality, the product we’re bringing to the market or the service we’re bringing to the market has high value to all of these other people, you know? So for instance we were thinking about African Australian young people only, but in reality there’s a lot of value to their parents or to other older people who wanted to mentor. There’s a lot of value to people from other demographic backgrounds who wanted to participate in these programmes, so I think while you might say, “Well, this is our core audience,” having the flexibility to say, “but it could actually be anybody,” I think the key thing is actually your value proposition. So, what’s the value you’re bringing to the market and really understanding that?
Zione: Because when you understand that, you can start to unfurl or unpeel or unpackage that and say, “Well, this is of great value. Why is it only of value to this particular cohort? It could be valuable to this person if it’s packaged that way or that group of it’s packaged that way.” You know, and different price points, different packaging, different messaging, and all of a sudden you’ve got a whole suite of products and services simply because you’ve expanded your notion of all the people that you can serve, whereas it’s still actually the same value proposition that you’re offering.
Zione: So yes, I do think it’s important to identify who you want to serve but then to have the flexibility to say, “But can this value be iterated or expanded to other people and why not?” It might be that you’re not the person to deliver that value to them because maybe your expertise does not lend itself to that. Well, then, maybe that means there’s a partnership opportunity for you and somebody else to say, “Well, let’s deliver this value. We can bring the content, expertise or the IP and you can bring maybe resourcing or something else to provide that value to that segment of the market.”
Kylie: Yes, because so many people who have aspirations to start a business also feel that they have to have it all worked out and have kind of it all locked down before actually even starting and that actually prevents a lot of people from even doing anything.
Zione: So true.
Kylie: It sounds like in your experience, you had an idea. You had a hunch. It started small and actually by doing it, you were able to then identify where the other opportunities existed that you couldn’t see by just standing on the sidelines taking a punt, you know?
Zione: Yes. Exactly, exactly, and I’ve had other business ideas that were really close to my heart and so close to my heart that I didn’t pursue them. No joke, in the last two years somebody else has the same business name doing almost exactly the same thing, but a level that I would describe as not quite up to my standards, but they’re doing it and they’re learning and getting better all the time. Yeah, somebody else is a different business name but is delivering the product that I would’ve liked, and obviously they’re gonna grow and they’re gonna learn and iterate and so on, so there’s also that, which is it’s great to just jump in there small and learn and improve and grow because, A, you could miss the opportunity to be the first one or the opportunity to even do it at all, because you don’t have to be first. Other people could be first, second, third. You learn from their mistakes and then you sort of develop a whole product that’s an improvement on everything that they’ve done.
Zione: So, yeah, jump in small. For some time where we were intimidated by applying for grants and we were funding things ourselves and we didn’t actually have formalised partnership structures either, but we wanted an injection of cash that would help us do all these magnificent things, but I look back and I’m actually grateful that we didn’t pursue that because then we didn’t have to be accountable to all these funding buddies and have all of that administrative burden because we were just doing small things, checking it out, iterating, collecting data and then improving somewhat in the shadows, and so we were able to fail if we had to fail and then just get a little bit better and a little bit better each time and so on. Yeah, before we were ready for the song light, as it were.
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Kylie: I wanted to just go back. I mentioned the word “co-design” just in that conversation at the beginning. Could you explain for some people in our audience who might not understand what co-design means how you use that in your business?
Zione: Yeah, sure. So, there’s so many sophisticated explanations for co-design and I’m not gonna use any of them. Really, co-design is really collaborative design and it’s just respectful design, so it’s a respectful practice. It’s a practice that says when you are designing, say a policy or a project or a programme, you think about it from the context of the people most impacted, so like maybe the end users, for instance, of that particular service or product or project and bring those people into the room so that you’re co-designing with them. You could also do it by saying, “Who are all the stakeholders?” You could co-design with all of those stakeholders, and it doesn’t mean every single person, but just one or two people that represent those different stakeholder groups.
Zione: The idea is you end up with a better product, not just because you’ve got more people at the table thinking about the problem and designing the solution but you also have different perspectives, so the perspective of the person who’s going to use this product at the end, or service, is super, duper important, because from your vantage point, you imagine that this is the value. A person might say, “Well, that’s actually not the greatest value to us. The greatest value is A, B, C, D, E, F, G,” so having them involved in the design process becomes really powerful in ensuring that your product is as best as it can be, at least in that sort of early stage or early iteration.
Zione: You also get buy in too because people have now bought into your idea and your process and the respect that you’ve accorded them by involving them in the thinking and the designing of this particular programme or product, so it’s useful on so many levels. It’s useful even on a marketing context, right? So, all of a sudden they become your early adopters, your early testers, if you want to pilot the product or project, they become your early spokespeople because they’re basically endorsing it, you know? I’ve been involved in the design of this project. It accords with my design ideas. I know, for instance, why they chose to go down this path and not that because this other stakeholder made this suggestion that made sense, and so you’re basically creating an initial community for that particular project or service.
Zione: So, there’s spokespeople, there’s buy in, there’s legitimacy, there’s understanding. All of those good things, plus a better product.
Kylie: It’s not what people might think of in terms of a focus group. That’s quite a different experience when you talk about using it in marketing. That’s kind of after the horse has bolted a bit, isn’t it? This is actually about bringing people in from the very earliest seeds of the idea or the programme.
Kylie: Can you give us some insight on … One of the things that’s on your website is the programme that you did do with the police force which you mentioned in your opening that you’ve created a programme by police, for police, of which you help facilitate and it was a package around human rights issues. Can you talk us about that project at all?
Zione: So, when I joined Victoria Police in a particular division, which I would just broadly refer to as a sort of change management division, because I was the … I think I was the only lawyer on the team, I was given the human rights portfolio. There were several portfolios. The thinking around that department was that this department or division was going to help the organisation transform or do things better or evolve or whatever that was, and that the way to do it was to think about it from the context of all the different communities. Maybe a way to describe it might be communities that we might not have had the best historical relationship with or that we were having challenges with and so on. From whatever context.
Zione: So, the portfolios were youth, seniors, mental health, disability, aboriginal and then human rights. The human rights portfolio was meant to sort of underpin sort of like a value or principles and so on that underpinned or supported the other portfolios. So, on the one hand, that was fantastic. Sorry, LGBTQ was also the other portfolio, so it was six and then the human rights portfolio. Six community based portfolios.
Zione: The challenge for me was all the other portfolios were built around community cohorts. It was easy to understand what you meant when you said the LGBTQI portfolio and who that community was and who the stakeholders were. When you said human rights, it was complicated. Who is that exactly? Well, every human being. What does that mean for a police force? So, it forced me to go back to the drawing board. I should say that I had a predecessor who was a human rights manager, so it was a slightly different context to me, but she’d really led the way in a human rights acculturation in the organisation. So my role was really to sort of embed human rights as a practise in every facet of the work that we did.
Zione: So, an easy way to think about that is policing is a 24 hour, seven day a week service and we interact, or they interacted with every single person in the community at some point in their lives, right? So what does that mean when you’re talking about policing or provide safety and security for a state of four and a half heading to five, yeah? We’re almost at the five million number mark. What does that look like and how do you ensure that you’re always fair, that your service is equitable so that everybody can receive that service in a way that responds to all of their diverse, varying needs. Can’t speak English, don’t understand what you’re saying or I’m autistic, I have different learning needs, different communication needs. I have a historical relationship, my community has a historical relationship with yours that is highly fraught, for instance, because you were enforcing laws against my community that were unfair when you think about the indigenous community or even women or LGBTQI communities.
Zione: What does it look like, then, to police in the 21st century, right? That was really the question I was trying to help unpack. So, we created a whole range of resources and tools and one of them was a human rights package, and that involved all of the different departments in the organisation being part of the co-design process, so that was police officers who were involved in managing a riot, who were involved in equipment, tasers, guns, any of that stuff, senior police officers, frontline police officers, corporate police officers, policy people, the whole shebang in the room, sitting down, first of all, understanding and learning what it meant when you say “human rights” in the state of Victoria because we actually do have a charter.
Zione: What it meant as a public service organisation … Then they helped co-design the package and the policies and the resources and the tools, and I, then, helped them go to their various departments to then deliver a human rights training package adapted to their specific needs. Real adaptation was really around just changing the case studies to reflect the type of work each department did, so if you’re in the academy, all the case studies were relevant to you because you’re training all of the future police officers, but if you’re in sort of riot and … I can’t even remember what all those departments were called, but anyway, the case studies would then be those type of case studies, so the key thing for me was sustainability.
Zione: How do we keep this product or this training package going when I, as the human rights expert, if I leave the organisation, how do you make sure that it keeps going? That there’s buy in, that there’s credibility. The people who are now trained as facilitators feel confident to train others, so it’s a “train the trainer” package to ensure continuity.
Kylie: Again, I can see the connection there with the case studies that you talked about being very specific. That’s drawing back in your interest in storytelling because it’s taking the very academic or potentially the very legal kind of way of framing information, but making it personal and human centric, because we tend to remember stories much better than remembering facts or figures or …
Zione: Yes, exactly.
Kylie: I wanted to just move into talking about your work specifically with people from different backgrounds, and also, we haven’t mentioned, you have had an incredible background yourself, before landing in Australia. You’ve lived in many different parts of the world and speak many languages. That gives you a very unique perspective on the world.
Zione: Yes. So, I’ve never valued that and I think it wasn’t until I created Change Architects and then I had to describe myself and keep describe myself and drawing links that I finally felt comfortable to say, “Yes, I did live in these parts of the world.” Part of the reason for the discomfort was I thought it made me seem odd and be … I’ve forgotten a lot of the languages that I used to speak, so there was the embarrassment of saying, “So you lived in, say, Japan, and you could speak Japanese. Well, I can speak Japanese. Let’s speak Japanese together.” I’m like, “Well, my Japanese is really poor.” So, yeah, I had to overcome that hurdle of just saying, “Look, I can’t speak Japanese anymore. I left Japan 30 years ago.”
Zione: My father still lives there, so yes, the connection’s still there, and yes, from time to time, we might communicate in Japanese but that’s because he appreciates my limitation so I don’t mind speaking it with him. Why did we move to these countries? My father was an academic. That was really more the reason why at the beginning, but then my parents separated, so then we moved back with my mother, but then they were living in different parts of the world, so then we had to move wherever my dad was. It was almost like a sort of international custody arrangement if you want to call it that, even though I don’t think they ever wrote anything. I think it was just an informal agreement or arrangement that just played out that way.
Zione: So, that’s pretty much how it happened. It wasn’t any sort of exciting life, you know? I don’t know, somebody asked me, “Was your dad an ambassador or something?” Nope. “Were your parents secret agents?” Nope, nothing nearly that exciting. They were just academics and moved to countries that would employ them to teach at university. That was it, and so we hung around them.
Kylie: So moving quite frequently would’ve given you an insight into what it would be like to start somewhere new more than once potentially, by the sounds of things.
Kylie: How does that play out in what you see in helping people who have newly arrived in Australia, getting a foothold into establishing themselves here? What are potentially some of the blind spots that people who potentially lived here all their lives don’t see?
Zione: Yeah, yeah. That’s such a powerful question and I’ve never considered it until very recently, so really, thank you for asking me because it also forces me to sort of reengage with that. I’ll give you an example. When I moved to Japan, I must have been 13 … My sister was 12 and my baby brother was 11 and we flew there ourselves and lived there for a few years. We went to school in Yokohama and my dad worked in Tokyo so he had another house in Tokyo, so he wasn’t always physically present in the house but he was totally present in our lives. We always had money and no issues there, but, if, say, he didn’t spend that weekend or day or whatever with us and we had the money, you have to now go out to buy food.
Zione: Every single thing in your environment is written in Japanese. This was the ’80s. Things weren’t written in Japanese in English, so if you go to the shops, you’re like, “Well, what’s milk? I don’t know what milk is. I’m just going to guess.” I remember buying a million and one different things and we thought, “This kind of seems like milk because it’s got a cow on it. I think that must be milk. I think these are sanitary napkins, I think. I don’t know why there’s blue there but maybe. I think this is …” A million and one things were just total guesswork, and so we started learning about what to do and what was what from watching TV, which was, again, also in Japanese.
Zione: We watched the ad and you get a sense of, “No, that wasn’t milk. That’s dish washing detergent. Ah, okay, note to self.” So there’s that. Then there’s also the kind of social capital, right? That if you know nobody, every single thing you do, you have to create yourself. You have to create your own networks, and when you live in a society your entire life, you completely take for granted how a community of people that you know have helped you with a job, with a school application, with knowing where to go, who to talk to. A million and one things that you totally, totally take for granted, but because I lived in environments where I didn’t speak the language and knew absolutely nobody, I can appreciate what it feels like to stand in an environment where everything physically looks foreign.
Zione: I’m not talking about people, I’m just talking about the environment itself looks foreign, and then the languages and writing and all of that, you completely cannot decipher and you don’t even know enough to ask for help, so you’re just gonna have to figure it out bit by bit by bit until you get to a certain point of, “I think I know enough to shop and not kill myself by drinking poison instead of milk.”
Kylie: Dish washing liquid.
Zione: Yeah, dish washing liquid, or I know enough to ask for help without feeling embarrassed or ashamed that my accent or my language is not grammatically correct. Basic things like that. So Incubate tied into that, because it was that understanding of networks can really transform your life. That social capital can make a huge difference, because when I think about my life in Nigeria, I know that if I needed a job, it was a phone call away. It actually was. I was never gonna write applications. My mother would call somebody. Myself and my husband, we work as lawyers and we have other people who say, “Can my daughter or son do work experience in your office?” It’s just a phone call. It’s a yes, but what happens if your school requires that but you don’t know anybody? Your parents don’t know anybody, because they’re new.
Zione: So then all of a sudden that’s a missed opportunity for you, and then there are layers and layers and layers of missed opportunities until you get to a point where you’ve missed so much you have no connection points and you’re just like, “I couldn’t be bothered. I just don’t think the society is designed for me to thrive,” and you give up, and people do.
Kylie: So, how could we be more inclusive, be more socially aware of some of these issues that exist, and for our listeners, who, a lot of themselves would be small business owners, what do you think that they could do to help foster stronger social inclusion?
Zione: Absolutely. I think if you see yourself as a resource and as a network to other human beings … So, if a young person comes into your shop to apply for your job, usually if they’re from a visible minority background, they might be really awkward because they’ve applied so many times and they’ve got many rejections. So they might come in and I had a conversation with somebody yesterday, actually, who said to me that she feels like she’s thriving, and her brother, who’s five years younger than her, is at a critical turning point in his life where he has now decided that he can’t get a job in this country and there’s no point, and she’s very worried about him. We just talked, sort of commiserating about this type of experience, that we’re seeing more and more people talk about.
Zione: We were wondering why and she said, “Well, he’s been applying for jobs for ages. He didn’t get anything with his peers when he was 15, 16. Your basic McDonald’s jobs. He didn’t get anything there, and now he’s finished high school and he’s not getting anything, and he just thinks that the society’s against him and so he’s not gonna bother.” So if you’re a small business owner and you meet a young person like that, just give them a go. You might be the primary network to that young person and an opportunity or a world that awaits them beyond the position that you’re offering them. Just give them a go and just see yourself as that resource for that young person. That faith building exercise for that young person who’s really just coming and dropping their CV and thinking, “I know, I know you don’t want me. I’m just gonna try because I promised I was gonna try.”
Zione: Then all of a sudden you enliven that faith in that person by saying, “Well, I am gonna give you a go because I trust that a person who will get up and drop their CV at my desk is a person who needs something that I can help them with. So I’ve only got three months, but I’ll give you a go.” That becomes something they put on their CV all of a sudden, and all of a sudden they’re confident and standing straight, and that little story that they had in their head that said, “There’s no room for me in this society,” all of a sudden has been turned on its head just because you’ve given them a chance. That’s something I would deeply and strongly encourage.
Kylie: Because employment is often exactly the intervention that is required …
Zione: Oh gosh yeah…
Kylie: … To turn somebody’s life around and not just because of the monetary rewards. It’s the social and the confidence and the self belief that carries beyond that.
Kylie: So, in the Incubate foundation, you have three principles that drive the business, and that’s growth, gratitude and giving. How does that express in what you actually do?
Zione: So, we put that there for ourselves and our members. It’s just to remind us, but we also put that out there for our members, so not just like board members or our coordinators or any staff but the membership, broadly speaking. So, we say if you’ve had any opportunity through Incubate, remember, growth, gratitude and giving. So, remember those three principles, that you use that opportunity to grow yourself, you remember to be grateful, just to have a sense of gratitude. So, it doesn’t mean come back to Incubate and say thank you or give a testimonial. It means that you present from a space of gratitude and that you also give. So then that’s that circle that you’re giving back to other people anywhere in your network or anybody that you meet that you’re giving back so you complete the circle of, “I’ve received something wonderful, I’ve used it to grow myself and I’m now giving back to somebody else,” so it’s the sort of pay it forward. That really is what it is.
Kylie: It’s so powerful. I feel like it should be at the heart of every organisation that exists, but where can people find out more about your work?
Zione: Yes, so they can follow me on Twitter. I’m not a great Twitterer but you can come onto our website. If you go on to Incubate Foundations, it says … IncubateFoundation.org.au, it says “join.” Anybody and everybody can join, and I think there’s even like a little box within that that says, “In what way would you like to participate,” for instance. So you might say, “I have a small business. I want to employ somebody. I want to offer an internship. I want to be a mentor.” Whatever it is, whatever context you think you can make a contribution to the organisation or its membership would be absolutely welcome.
Zione: I do want to add when we talk about mentoring, people usually think about it as long term. Some of our mentoring is just a day, so you can just be on a panel. It could be like a small business panel or a particular careers panel or career forum and you’re just there as a panellist talking about your pathway or your context, and you’ve given two hours of your time that’s of significant value to our members and that’s all that’s required. So, it could be as simple as, “I just want to be a guest mentor on a panel.” That’s good enough. “That’s what I can contribute,” absolutely would be welcome.
Zione: So that’s certainly something that you could do, or you could just email. The email address, again, is also on Incubate Foundation’s website, and through Change Architects, if you want me to assist you in creating a strategic plan, I’ve mastered the art of helping you do that in three hours, super duper quickly, and I will also help turn it into a visual one page map, so you’re not there leafing through pages and pages and pages of documentation. You just have it on one page. Somebody starts in your company or your business or they want to join you in any other type of context as a partner. You can just send them this one page and they get a whole sense of who you are and what you’re about, what your services are, what your values are, what your mission is, all of that. One page, beautiful picture, designed in your company logos and you’re good to go. I’m happy to do that with organisations as well.
Kylie: That’s Change Architects, is that just dot com dot AU?
Zione: Yes, that’s correct. Thank you.
Kylie: Fantastic. We’re going to wrap up our conversation. What three things would you like people to take away from our chat today?
Zione: My three core messages would be the underlying principles from which we work, which is growth, gratitude and giving. So, growth, keep growing, keep learning, keep evolving. Be prepared to shift your mindset. Gratitude, always remember to be grateful for what you have, what you can give. Gratitude is a practise. Every day, remember five things that you’re grateful for. Actually articulate them in your brain, and your day magically transforms. Giving, complete the circle and give to other people. Remember that you have value. From whatever vantage point you stand, you have value and contribute that to others. Those are my three key messages.
Kylie: Fantastic. That’s brilliant. Now, we’ve got our final part of our chat today, which is our 10 by 10, so we have 10 questions and 10 second answer for each question. Are you ready to roll?
Zione: Oh my God, okay.
Kylie: Let’s see where we get to. All right.
Kylie: Zione, what I like about myself is …
Zione: That I love, love, love, love people.
Kylie: I beat procrastination by …
Zione: Curling in a foetal position and beating myself up and then realising, “Oh my goodness, I’ve got to do it anyway.”
Kylie: A song of my life soundtrack is …
Zione: I love “Happy” by Pharrell.
Kylie: Oh, and the film clip that goes with that is amazing.
Zione: Oh no, I can’t think of it. Oh, okay, that’s not a question. Okay, great.
Kylie: I will send it to you.
Zione: No, no, I’ve seen it.
Kylie: Number four, the world needs more …
Kylie: A phrase I live by is …
Zione: I love people.
Kylie: Something everyone must do is …
Zione: Go somewhere totally different and challenge yourself. See if you can survive in an environment that is completely and utterly unfamiliar.
Kylie: A book that changed me is …
Zione: Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning is a really powerful book.
Kylie: Fear and I …
Zione: We’re friends. We’re acquainted, actually. Fear and I are acquainted and I know how to beat it.
Kylie: Something that always makes me feel good is …
Kylie: Our number 10, our last question is my legacy will be …
Zione: That I love people and I told them.
Kylie: Zione, we’re gonna wrap our chat up there. Thank you so much for all of the insight that you shared with us today about your own business journey and also what your businesses do. I think it’s been really insightful and helpful for a lot of our listeners, so thank you so much. We will wrap it there.
Zione: Thank you so much, Kylie, for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity. Thank you so much.