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Finding the simple solutions

30 November 2020 at 8:20 am
Maggie Coggan
Carmen Platt is the founder of The Generous and The Grateful, an organisation connecting preloved donations to vulnerable people to help them rebuild their lives and get them back on track. She’s this week’s Changemaker. 

Maggie Coggan | 30 November 2020 at 8:20 am


Finding the simple solutions
30 November 2020 at 8:20 am

Carmen Platt is the founder of The Generous and The Grateful, an organisation connecting preloved donations to vulnerable people to help them rebuild their lives and get them back on track. She’s this week’s Changemaker. 

If you asked Platt 10 years ago if she thought she’d be running a charity today, the answer would be no. 

But the professional photographer and Mums4Refugees volunteer found there was a need for household goods to help set vulnerable people up in their homes and get their lives back on track.

She started out by collecting free household items such as sofas, fridges, bunk beds, TV’s, warm blankets, and bicycles from generous people in Sydney, and working with caseworkers to arrange delivery to those in need. 

It wasn’t long before she gathered a large community of people wanting to not only avoid throwing unwanted items into landfill, but helping those less fortunate turn their houses into homes. 

So in 2017, The Generous and the Grateful was born.

Despite having no experience running a charity, Platt has surrounded herself with a team of experts to deliver real results. In 2019, they turned 406 empty rentals into safe, inviting homes; redirected 94 tonnes of unwanted items from landfill; and furnished two new properties for Women’s Community Shelters. 

In this week’s Changemaker, Platt discusses the importance of collaboration, the challenges of starting from scratch, and the importance of connection.  

What kind of impact are you trying to have through The Generous and The Grateful?

It’s really just about doing something common sense. There are some things that are really difficult to organise for yourself when setting up a home, almost impossible. And so our intention is that people being assisted into housing should have access to basic essentials so that they can get back on track with their life. There are so many different organisations that do incredible work managing the complex needs of people who are highly vulnerable to homelessness and harm, and I just found this little narrow gap that nobody else was really looking at or solving. I’m really passionate about people understanding that if we just sort out these really simple things in a clever, commonsense way, then everything else is possible. 

What were some of the challenges of starting your own NFP?

I’m just an everyday person who thought, hang on a second, that doesn’t make any sense. I looked around, asked a bunch of people, asked caseworkers, asked other organisations, how come these people can’t get what they want quickly? How come there are people sleeping on the floor in their own home? I just kept thinking I would find the answer or find somebody else to help do it with and solve the problem. And then I ended up floundering around and realising that nobody was actually focusing on this issue.

I didn’t really plan to start the charity. I certainly didn’t have the knowledge and the language at the time to explain to organisations that already existed what I thought was possible so that I could just align with them, because I don’t think we need a bunch of new charities. If I can still find a way to align with others and eventually merge our work, then I’d be really open to that. I didn’t even know who I could go to to get advice on how to do that. I’d never been on a board before either, so I had to create an amazing board because everybody tells you that’s an essential foundation of an organisation. 

And since starting the organisation, what have been some of the major learnings? 

Partner, partner, partner. I just can’t be more emphatic about that. I observe so many organisations doing work that fits really well alongside each other and complements each other. I am interested in looking at how we could think differently and collaborate better for good, because I think any gains in efficiency means more people are helped.

It’s worth us having tricky conversations and challenging the way things have always been done, because our bottom line is humans with better lives. Whatever your purpose is – it may be environmental, it may be helping animals – the alignment to that and the outcomes and impact can be great if we work better together. 

What do you love most about your job?

In the beginning, I thought it was all about my primary purpose – the beneficiaries getting what they need. And actually it took me maybe a year to realise that the most beautiful part of my job is all of these amazing, different people that have come together to be that connection between the supply and the demand of products. There’s so much supply and so much demand, all I’ve done is create the connection between the two with my amazing co-founder Davida, our incredible volunteers, and our amazing board. We also have alignments with a couple of developers who have shared their empty warehouses set for demolition, which we then use as pop-up warehouses for one to two years. 

The best thing is that everybody is sharing a whole lot of heart. And I get to receive that and look at how to bring it all together and help all of them with their contribution to make the lives of human beings, who are just having a really crap time, immediately better in a tangible way that makes sense to all of us.

And when you’re not working, what do you like to do to relax?

So I’m not sure about winding down, but I have two awesome sons, Oliver and Hugo. They are still little kids, so we are still very much hands on deck with them, but spending time with them is so fulfilling. My idea of relaxation though is hanging out with my dog, sitting on the couch looking at the garden with a cup of tea. 

I also love listening to podcasts, especially Brene Brown. She’s a life changer. Listening to conversational podcasts is so intimate as well, and I really think that connection is something that helped me get through 2020.  

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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