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A changemaker for the changemakers


27 October 2022 at 2:43 pm
Danielle Kutchel
Changing the world can be exhausting, but Steve Williams, founder of Mind Flow Grow, wants to relieve that stress and burnout. He is this week’s changemaker.


Danielle Kutchel | 27 October 2022 at 2:43 pm


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A changemaker for the changemakers
27 October 2022 at 2:43 pm

Changing the world can be exhausting, but Steve Williams, founder of Mind Flow Grow, wants to relieve that stress and burnout. He is this week’s Changemaker.

Steve Williams is a changemaker with a twist: his change is helping other changemakers to be at their best. 

Williams wears a few different hats. He’s the Social Innovation Program Manager at CQUniversity, where he runs programs to upskill people looking to create their own social enterprises. He’s an accredited yoga and meditation teacher. But he’s also recently founded his own social enterprise, Mind Flow Grow, which works with leaders in social enterprises, not for profits and corporates to improve their mindfulness, happiness and productivity.

Williams studied social policy in the UK as a mature age university student around the time when Tony Blair came to power in the UK. He quickly realised he needed to work on the ground with those who are affected by policy change before beginning to write policy. He then worked on a public housing estate as a community worker and discovered he had a passion for community work. After emigrating to Australia, Williams worked in the homelessness sector in a social enterprise. The potential of social enterprises to address social problems fascinated him and for the next 20 years, he ran social enterprises and not for profits and worked in management in the sector.

“My passion is working with people, using business models. Mind Flow Grow is just a natural expression of that,” he said.

Tell me a bit about Mind Flow Grow and what the catalyst was behind it.

I’ve been working in the not for profit  space for well over 20 years, and the things that I’m most passionate about in the nonprofit space are community development and social enterprise, working with people and helping people to come up with solutions to address the problems that they’ve identified themselves.

But in that process and working on the ground in grassroots organisations and also managing at state level for large organisations. I’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of people and have just seen this terrible kind of toll that the work takes on people’s mental health. Stress and burnout is just so real in our sector. And yes, we’re getting better at addressing it through things like wellbeing offices such as what we have at CQUniversity, but it’s still missing a lot of people.

And combined with that experience of being a yoga practitioner and teacher and meditation teacher for quite a few years… I just realised that actually I can put the two things together, these two passions, to help changemakers address stress and burnout.

Why do you think that burnout is such a problem in our sector?

I think the type of people that work in our sector are often really empathetic people who just want to help other people and they deeply feel other people’s pain. Some of the roles in this sector are extremely difficult roles. And then you look at people in management positions trying to juggle competing demands and working 50, 60 hour weeks. People pretend they don’t really do that, but we all know that they do, and that takes its toll too. We can’t continue to care for others if we’re not looking after ourselves. 

How did you get the skills and experience that you needed to set up your own business and start addressing this problem?

I’m a yoga teacher and meditation teacher, and I’ve been doing some coaching as well through Whitebox Enterprises with some of their managers. And I was on the lookout for some further education myself. I discovered a course online that was a blended model online and with a coach to help yoga teachers and people with that kind of practice to to develop their offerings for whatever market they wanted to serve. So essentially, I’ve just spent the last year taking on that further education myself to help me get to this point.

Your first program in Mind Flow Grow targets men. Why is that, is it because men tend to not talk about their feelings as much?

Yeah, absolutely. You may think men who are working in this sector might be more aware and more able to reach out for help, [but] that’s not always the case. And we do know that statistically that men are more likely to die by suicide, for example. So if I can offer a small solution that might help people before they get to that kind of catastrophic point in their life, then I’m really happy to do so. And once this program has run, I will be working with a large nonprofit in Brisbane to develop some staff training and that will be obviously for all genders. And then I’ll be rolling that out to the public as well.

How are you developing other social enterprises through CQUniversity?

At the moment I’m leading a course called IActivate. And that was a partnership that we’ve done with Impact Boom. And we’re using a lot of their content from their Elevate Plus cohort model. And we’ve put it into our own system at CQUniversity. The unique thing is because it’s at a university, we’ve been able to accredit that. It has a digital badge, a micro credential which is unique in Australia for an online social enterprise course.


See more: Australia gets first social enterprise university


Now, there’s two ways that people can access that, either as an individual signing up… or via a cohort model. That cohort model is generally funded or co-funded by an external partner. We take through between 12 and 24 social entrepreneurs in each location. And then at the end of each of their cohorts in each of those… places… we work together to develop a roadmap or vision for social enterprise in the sector in that region. For that, it’s not just the people who attend the course; it’s a really broad cross-section of people from across the region come together in those sessions to really help craft a vision and a roadmap for the future of social enterprise in the region. It’s really amazing. 

 

Steve Williams, wearing glasses and a blue button up shirt, is teaching a class.

 

With all the hats you wear, what does a typical day look like for you? Where do you start?

Strong coffee! Well, I do practise what I preach in that every morning I start my morning with some breathing practices, meditation and then body movement whether that’s yoga or some other form of movement like strength training, because that just helps me set myself up for the day. And then as I go through the day, I really do practise mindfulness and mindful awareness of exactly what’s happening at any one time, because otherwise, because I do have so much going on, it would easily unravel.

A typical day is — well today, I’m designing a workshop for Thursday for [teaching in] Bundaberg… then next week myself and my colleague are going to be in Gladstone to work with a group of organisations to help them with some human-centred design stuff at work. The week after, I’ll be in Cairns. It’s a busy time, but it’s like that saying: things shall pass. It won’t be this busy forever.

What are some of the challenges facing social enterprises at the moment?

It’s really interesting. I think that the sector has exploded. Witnessing the Social Enterprise World Forum last [month], 2000 people in person in Brisbane to celebrate social enterprise was incredible. But I did hear many people talking about the same struggles: the difficulty in selling, like how do I get people to buy my product or my service? And yes, procurement has completely taken off, and this is what we’ve been advocating for in the sector for so long, for a good social procurement structure within corporates and within government. But there’s still… difficulty in senior procurement officers who really understand this stuff, getting their junior procurement officers to actually make the purchase off the social enterprises on the ground. And it’s still difficult for those small social enterprises to sell into the market, even though Social Traders are doing a marvellous job of onboarding and certifying social enterprises. There’s still a gap and I think I think that’s probably one of the biggest issues.

And social enterprises are still started by essentially people who want to change the world and who want to make a difference whether that’s in climate change or a cultural sense or a social sense, [but] they don’t often have the best business knowledge. So there is still a gap in that sense that people are kind of still mission-led and not business-led, which can cause all sorts of problems. It makes it even harder when you’re trying to create social, cultural and environmental benefit as well as turn over a profit. People need to have access to courses and cohort models of accelerator programs such as what we’re running [at CQUniversity]. I think state governments, local councils, really should be pumping some money into these accelerator models. 

How will you define your impact and success in all these roles?

For Mind Flow Grow, it’s the feedback that I get from people that I work with. The impact is hearing that feedback… from people who are saying ‘this process that you’ve helped me with is really making a difference in my life, I’m less stressed, I’ve got more space, my relationships are better, my career’s in a much better place’. That sort of feedback… spurs me on to keep doing it. In terms of CQUniversity… luckily we have impact researchers that are actually measuring the impact that we create through our programs. But being able to see the growth in the social enterprises that come through the program, for me is the proof of the pudding. To be able to sit back and see that growth and just know that the university and the education component has played a small part of that is really, really important and valuable.


Danielle Kutchel  |  @ProBonoNews

Danielle is a journalist specialising in disability and CALD issues, and social justice reporting. Reach her on danielle@probonoaustralia.com.au or on Twitter @D_Kutchel.


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