At Youth Food Movement Australia, we often get asked for advice about starting a food organisation. So we decided to collate some of the lessons we’ve learnt along the way. Part 1 looks at some of the freeing awesome discoveries, and Part 2 will look at funding and staying focused while still thinking big picture.
On (not) developing the “perfect” skill set
Jo: If someone told me that my degree would lead me to building a social movement of young people, passionate about food across Australia, I’d have rolled around laughing. But now that I’ve done it – I can see how the choices I have made have got me here. Life often throws different jobs, people and experiences our way, which at the time make no sense at all but when we look back (with the power of hindsight), they are all equipping us with the tools and experience we need for the next opportunity which lies ahead. Before I started studying nutrition I managed events and community fundraising for a children’s cancer charity – completely polarised to my nutrition degree – and I can’t tell you how often I draw upon these skills and experience now. No job is ever a waste of time – life simply hasn’t revealed where it fits into your grand plan and purpose.
Alex: I agree with Jo. The person who knows exactly what they want to do and what they care about in life is a rare individual (and probably a myth). The only way you’re going to find out a) what you’re good at and b) what you are uncontrollably passionate about is to get out and have a go. Put your hand up for things both intriguing, exciting and strange. This way you’ll find out what you do like, but most importantly what doesn’t really tickle your fancy.
I have learnt way more than I could have at 4 years in any graduate position. For this reason alone I think it is worth having a stab at creating a food business – be it commercial or social. But running a start up or a small business is not for everyone. Most weeks at work I’m doing things I’ve never done before. Yes we have mentors, but they have big jobs and can’t give me a pep talk every time I freak out, which is at least once a week.
When you do finally find a cause that you care about and you want it to be your hobby or your job, you may be at risk of perfectionism. Now channelled in the right way perfectionism is a really good thing. But perfectionism taken to an extreme can actually result in contributing nothing – for fear the thing you’re creating isn’t perfect enough to share with anyone. Shake those thoughts from your mind, give yourself a deadline, and tell yourself not to worry if it is perfect or not.
On the concept of “going it alone”
Alex: Don’t try and do this on your own. I get that most of the time we see one face of a company, but the reality is that one person is only one person. It takes a team to create something that people want to buy or share, not because it is a lot of work, but because the quality of any system or product is increased with the number of brains you have working on it. Just Google the Wisdom of Crowds and you’ll read what I mean.
On capitalising strengths
Alex: We used to share so many responsibilities, and up until late last year we even shared 1 email between us! We’ve now separated out a few areas of responsibility of the organisation based on what we’re good at naturally, what interests us, and what skills we’d each like to develop within ourselves for our careers.
I would highly recommend doing a personality test on yourself to see how your brain works. Myers Briggs, disc, what is your spirit animal, whatever. But this fundamentally changed the way my co-founder and our volunteers worked, how we delegated tasks and it increased our efficiency and happiness ten fold – I love detail and I love creativity, and this meant that I handed myself these to dos.
Now for example, I am more focused on what is happening outside the organisation. This means making sure our voice is heard in conversations about food. I am good at detail and visual communication, particularly when it comes to talking about things that are complex or boring. One thing that ticks us off at YFM is the plethora of stories about other countries’ food systems, and Australians (us included) thinking this is how things are done in our backyard. Right now we’re trying to balance the conversation by sharing real stories of Australian agriculture, this might be profiling young farmers, food waste hacks, or more in-depth accounts of the food system like what it is like to visit an abattoir.
We’re also seeking out partners that we could work with to change the way we grow, ship, buy and cook our food. YFM is a small and young organisation and we firmly believe that we can create long-lasting change by working with people who are responsible for the food system (like producers, supermarkets and government). This means meeting with other organisations, government departments, corporations and understanding what their priorities are when it comes to food, sharing what YFM is all about, and seeing if there are ways to work together.
Subscribe to get Part 2, or in the mean time, check out Alex’s post on why she started Youth Food Movement Australia.
Image credit: Anna Kučera