Leading Change

By Natasha Dragun

Leading Change
Helping others overcome poverty and hunger is just one part of the role Cathy Burke plays as she aims to change how we look at wealth and leadership today.

You have travelled widely and seen first-hand the long-lasting effects of hunger. Your campaign is not only designed to end poverty but also to inform the world about the issue. What do you think we, globally speaking, are still oblivious to?

We oblivious to 2 things: firstly that hunger can end. It rally can. When we have this knowledge the actions we take are different. Secondly, it is the hungry themselves who can and must play the key role. It’s not up to us in more developed countries to ‘do things to people, or fix things for them. With the understanding of who the key players are – namely women and men in villages affected by hunger – we crate an authentic honouring partnership that empowers them to make the changes they need to be able to end their on hunger.

For many it seems unheard of to help those in poverty without “hand-outs”. How do you plan on ending world poverty by 2030?

Ending hunger by 2030 will be a global collaborative endeavour. Millions of actions and millions of actors will be involved. The Hunger Project will bring what we do to the global efforts: making sure we mobilise around empowering local people, women and ensuring the mindset we bring to it is powerfully transformed.

What is the correlation between the status of women and poverty, especially in villages in South Asia and Africa?

One of the root underlying causes of hunger and poverty is the social structure of a community. In too many places we have a situation where women are 100% responsible for feeding, caring, protecting and educating their children – but they are systematically denied the ability, education, freedom of movement and voice to be able to do that. Having both women and men create a social structure that values women and girls is key to the work we do.

You have two children yourself – how did this intensify your need to help other children in third-world countries?

Certainly holding my first child in my arms was a wake up call to me. I could not imagine the pain of seeing my baby die of diarrhea, or the common cold – or me having very real fears of not surviving child birth. How is it that this is true for so many women – purely by accident of birth?
I started to give small amounts of money to THP and get involved, and then really stepped this up over time. I feel very strongly that hunger and poverty is the biggest human rights issue on the planet. I felt disconnected from my full humanity whilst I knew this was happening and did nothing. So my involvement is good for me too!

Your work settings are wildly different: sometimes you will be working in the impact-site itself and other times in a boardroom or running leadership programmes. Where do you think you can create a stronger impact?

I create the biggest impact in the developed world. We have the money, resources and ability to change the world – and yet we feel alienated and disconnected from our ability to really step into this. This mindset is so similar to a person living in Africa! Changing our mindset is key, and my area of influence is confronting and transforming this mindset in my own country. I love waking us all up!

I have been most impacted by the developing world. But I have had many interactions where I know that my being on the ground and truly connecting with a woman or a man has been hugely meaningful and impactful for them too.

You have been working with The Hunger Project for more than 20 years and have gained enormous support from many, including the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS and the Chair of the ANZ Bank. How does it feel to have had such advocacy?

It’s terrific to have such passionate partners for our work. They really ‘get’ what we do. It makes sense! Invest in people’s innate capacity to change their world. Putting this into practice for such a goal as ending hunger is really attracting leaders, thinkers and people wanting to make a lasting positive contribution.

The world is set on the idea that CEOs and global entrepreneurs are our leaders, but you feel strongly about the belief that every single person is equipped with the fundamental power for extraordinary transformative change. How do you believe we can give those with a potential for leadership, equal opportunities?

Firstly we need to really live and breathe this – that all of us are capable of leading profound change. That really means all of us. It doesn’t have to be global, it can be very local and personal. Part of the issue is redefining what we mean by leader and leadership. Lots of people say tom e ‘oh, I’m not a leader’, because there is a preconceived cultural mindset of what being a leader looks like. They tend to be men, white, in positions of power. They have to have lots of followers- that’s why you’re a leader, right? Well no! For me, being a leader is an existential thing.

At the moment you have more than 4000 local volunteer leaders and 300 staff. How do people become involved in The Hunger Project? (There are 400,000 volunteer leaders and 350 staff globally.)

We run a powerful workshop called Rethinking What’s Possible. It goes for 90 mins and a good introduction into our concepts on leadership and global change-making. Details at http://thp.org.au/communities/rethinking-whats-possible.

You can give money through our website and start the journey that way, like I did. We have local events too so like us at Facebook or Instagram for details there.

For me, after reading Unlikely Leaders, my perspective of “wealth” changed. I now – as you have also stated – believe wealth involves having a purpose in life. How do you plan on transforming the entrenched belief that all wealth is financial?

(Oh that’s great!)

Little things help – for instance I don’t say ‘that person’s wealthy’ as a catch all for saying they have money. Because you know, they may have all the money but crappy family relationship, unhealthy etc. So I caveat it by saying they are ‘financially wealthy’ – as money is only one aspect of being wealthy and successful in your life. I focus on what being wealthy really means – happiness, an experience of knowing your life matters – even if its to yourself or one other person. It’s about feeling connected to the earth and all who live on it. It’s about richness and love.

Unlikely Leaders explores the influential power of vision in which you run a Commitment and Action Workshop. What obstacles do you have to overcome when a village is expected to envision themselves free from hunger?

It starts with overcoming the old beliefs and creating the right mindset. When you have always been hungry, then your future looks like more of that. So overcoming resignation (nothing I do will make any difference), fear (for example of losing power if you’re a man, or fear of violence if you’re a woman), dependency (you’ve been used to food drops or hoping to be saved by an outside force), and a belief that women and girls have no value.

It is of widespread belief that for us to truly change the world we have to work together. How do you suggest we move from “I can” to “We can”?

The first change is from I can’t to I can. What beliefs do you have that have you think you can’t? Confront them and root them out – this is own old mindset running unexamined in the background. For instance, I thought I couldn’t write a book! From I can, moving to we can means having a bigger project or purpose in mind. What are you up to that you can’t do on your own? What mindset do you need to overcome to work effectively with others? Is it you believe ‘no-one does it as good as me? Or that ‘people let me down’? Hold a light up to these and find examples where this is not true – and then make the choice to step in the direction of partnership, collaboration, leadership and love. That’s the key to We!

How can “The Nine Steps of Transformation” not only be applied to developing countries but for us as well?

I wrote the Nine Steps knowing they can be applied equally to personal as well as social change. These steps which include right mindset, creating a vision, and overcoming obstacles, are skills we need in our own lives too! What’s beautiful is that the outer is reflected on the inner – and vice versa. I am passionate about all of humanity awakening into the power we have to live full, beautiful lives that matter. My book and these nine steps give us some pointers in how to do that, using leadership examples of people who had all the reasons why it wouldn’t work, yet made the impossible happen.


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