Q and A: Holley Somerville Knott on disrupting old paradigms and destructive practices that harm the planet and its beings
Susanna Bevilacqua, CEO and Founder of Moral Fairground interviews a young entrepreneur dedicated to disrupting old paradigms and destructive practices that harm the planet and its beings.
Holley Somerville Knott, 16 yr old CEO & Founder of social enterprise Tell Someone Who Cares and a Charity Foundation, has been presenting keynotes and performing to thousands of people all over Australia at Festivals, Conferences, Schools & Universities to inspire others to co-create change for our planet, themselves and future generations. Her motto is:
The world is not on remote, you have to get up and change it yourself!
Q. Holley – can you tell us a bit about yourself and your passion about sustainability and social enterprise, We would love to get a personal honest view here (family, cultural background, challenges, etc)
When I was 7 I became passionate about the environment and I entered my first school public speaking competition with a speech on environmental consciousness. It was my first time having a platform to share my message with people and I actually managed to win. Then when I was 8 I started finding out about issues like poverty and homelessness. So I decided to do something about it. I used my passion for singing and started busking on the streets to raise money for homeless people and endangered species. I made my first donation to the Byron Salvation Army Homeless Shelter, I got to meet the people using the service and the mayor of Byron and newspapers came to cover the story. After that, I decided to start my charity and keep raising and donating money to those in need.
I found really awesome organizations doing great work and donated thousands of dollars to them. I started bringing all my passions and experiences together and traveling around Australia singing and speaking at schools, festivals, conferences, and events. I started advocating for all kinds of social and environmental causes and went to protests and rallies, like the Bentley blockade, which I’ll talk more about later, and I was even featured in an HBO Documentary for New York called Saving My Tomorrow. Soon after I became passionate about slam poetry and start writing about homelessness, palm oil, climate action, etc. I grew up around Byron Bay which has a very rich performance culture, and I’ve met some other amazing artists like Luka Lesson and Prince EA who wrote the viral slam poem “Dear future generations: Sorry” which now has over 25 million views and he’s made tons of other incredible videos.
Then around age 12 I started becoming interested in sustainable business as a way to create change as I believe business can be one of the biggest contributors to the global social and environmental problems we currently face, or it can be one of the biggest tools in creating positive impact and solving these issues. So I started a company called Tell Someone Who Cares and right now I’m in the process of changing the business model – I’m just about to launch a range of shampoo bars. The new model is that there will be five different types of shampoo bars people can purchase and each one will be aligned with a different charity partner, so when you make a purchase, a percentage of the profits go towards that bar’s charity partner. So every single one supports a cause. For example one of our bars is called Mint Condition and profits go towards rainforest projects, our Be Happy Bar supports children with disabilities, etc., so by choosing a bar people are choosing a cause.
“I started becoming interested in sustainable business as a way to create change as I believe business can be one of the biggest contributors to the global social and environmental problems we currently face, or it can be one of the biggest tools in creating positive impact and solving these issues.”
My business has always been focused on giving customers the opportunity to create change with their purchases. I’m really interested in business for good as a way of using consumer purchases to drive social impact and providing solutions to things that have in the past been destructive to the planet, or people in some way. I aim to do business in a way that fits within our planet’s boundaries and creates positive change. And I’m really excited about the shampoo bars – they’re a really innovative and environmentally sustainable product as there are 3 bottles worth of shampoo in just one bar meaning they’re way more cost-effective for people and they last much longer, and in turn, save 2-3 plastic bottles from going into landfill or the ocean. And regular shampoo can be made up of 80% water and conditioner can be up to 95%! This is kind of a waste since you get water in the shower anyway, but shampoo bars are basically the shampoo minus the water, compacted into a concentrated bar of ingredients, so by buying a bar you’re saving a lot of water too. And my bars contain amazing 100% natural real salon quality shampoo ingredients, so it’s not just a bar of soap for your hair, they’re made with functional botanicals that really cleanse your hair as a regular shampoo would and they’re totally all-natural, vegan, cruelty-free and palm oil-free. So I’m hoping to launch that in the next few months.
I have faced some challenges, earlier in my life both my sister and I were diagnosed with autism as well as a range of other health problems. It was a difficult diagnosis to receive and as a family we had to make a lot of adjustments To the way we lived. We received a lot of help from many amazing different organisations and people. It was through that experience and the support we received that I first learned that people are kind and people can change your life. My sister and I would not be the people we are today if it wasn’t for the help we received. Which is why I decided to dedicate my life to giving back to others and making the world a better place, because those people made my world a better place. And even as I got older it took a while to accept my differences and the fact that my brain works differently to other people and sometimes I have different needs. But that’s okay! Making an effort to learn more about autism and understanding myself really helped. Autism doesn’t define me, but it is a part of me and it took some time to understand that.
“Which is why I decided to dedicate my life to giving back to others and making the world a better place, because those people made my world a better place.”
When I started my business it wasn’t easy at first – it took a lot of work to start my business as a teen. At first I didn’t know how to start, and gaining funding and investment wasn’t easy either. Not many people wanted to invest in a kid with a big idea. It was an obstacle for sure.My age was perceived as a hindrance, limiting me financially but I saw it as an opportunity. My age made me different from most CEOs and made people take notice of the work I am doing, it gave me an edge. Which gave me access to different platforms and allowed me to find other opportunities. It also allowed me to share the message that age shouldn’t be a barrier when it comes to achievement. I have found that in life it’s not always about overcoming adversity, it can be about embracing it. And I’ve learned that as a teen entrepreneur you’re obviously younger and less experienced than your competitors so you have to be enthusiastic about learning, competitive, dedicated, resourceful, passionate. And the most important part of starting a business is your why, your cause, the thing you care about so much that you build your business around it and inspire your customers care about it too. In order to actually succeed you have to be willing to throw yourself into your business and give it 100%.
“When I started my business it wasn’t easy at first – it took a lot of work to start my business as a teen. At first I didn’t know how to start, and gaining funding and investment wasn’t easy either. Not many people wanted to invest in a kid with a big idea.”
Q. Do you think schools today are preparing youth for the future?
Honestly no, I don’t. School does teach students some important things like how to read and write for example, but there’s so many essential things students need to know and skills they need to learn to become an independent adult that schools don’t teach.
There are so many subjects with course content that we’re never going to use in our adult lives that’s prioritised over teaching us things we actually need to know. Math is mandatory and covers things like trigonometry but we barely cover personal finances and we don’t learn anything about the credit system, learning how to solve for ” x “ or use the pythagorean theorem is mandatory but learning to buy a house or do taxes isn’t, we learn science and we learn about igneous and metamorphic rocks but cooking class isn’t mandatory? There are so many teenagers who barely know how to cook and end up buying take out frequently as an adult which is bad for their health and is very costly.
There’s also no class about emotional maturity, managing anxiety, time management, self-awareness or communication, how is that not a class?. It’s at the centre of everything; we need to be able to communicate with our friends, family, classmates at school, colleagues at work, and a lot of people really struggle with it and with social intelligence and with maintaining relationships. And there are many introverted and socially anxious people who need help developing social skills, and some disabilities make communication challenging too. Also we aren’t taught about politics for example, the voting system, about the parties we can vote for or different forms of government. There are so many young people who don’t have foundational knowledge about their voting power, how our political system works or that of other countries.
And the way schools teach is incredibly outdated. In fact, it hasn’t been changed in 100 years. It was designed to train factory workers and train people to work in jobs that will be automated someday. We aren’t taught how to start our own projects and businesses or work for ourselves. We’re also taught to memorise information and regurgitate it for a test and then we forget it. That’s not real learning. Also, memorising information should not be the priority – we have siri and google for that. We should be taught about how to use that information to be creative and innovative.
Often there’s also not enough funding to tend to all students with disabilities and there’s also the issue of the gaps in terms of managing mental health. In one particular survey, fewer than half of thousands of government school employees said they believed their school had access to appropriate mental health services. School and study pressures take a massive toll on student’s mental health especially as we are overworked and not taught time management skills to deal with the massive workload. Also there’s often no support groups or places for lgbt+ students to talk and receive guidance and meet other lgbt+ students, and lgbt+ sex education is not included in the curriculum.
“In one particular survey, fewer than half of thousands of government school employees said they believed their school had access to appropriate mental health services.”
It’s not a coincidence that Finland’s education system is regarded as one of the best in the world. Their schools are much less strict compared to other countries, they have longer breaks, give less homework and the focus is less about passing tests and getting good grades and more on learning and gaining a real education with a broader variety of subjects to choose from. Younger children spend time going to “forest schools”, which has been proven to boost overall health and mental health. Additionally education there is free and they can learn and grow without student loans hanging over their heads and dragging them into debt as soon as they join the workforce. All of these factors benefit students’ mental health and boosts their performance in school and they graduate with a richer and fuller education than they’d receive in most other places around the world.
At this point I’d like to mention Prince EA who is an incredible slam poet and a good friend of mine. He’s released a lot of amazing slam poems about a range of social and environmental issues, including the poem “Dear Future Generations: Sorry”. He’s an incredibly wise and inspirational person and he’s written a few poems about the school system including “What is School For?” and “I Sued the School System”. They’re absolutely phenomenal and I recommend anyone reading this who is interested in this topic watch them.
Q. Often young people feel like they do not have the power to make a change, not everyone is an eloquent speaker and not everyone has the resources available to have an impact, what can young people do to voice their concerns and start pushing for change.
Young people have advocated for child labor laws, voting rights, civil rights, school desegregation, immigration reform and LGBTQ rights. Through our actions, the world has changed. We have the resourcefulness, passion, creativity and courage needed to actually make a difference.
A great place to start is to educate yourself, know the facts and information. Watch interviews, ted talks, speeches, documentaries and read books, articles and social media posts. There are plenty of places you can find new information and further your knowledge about the social and environmental issues of our time. At the same time don’t put pressure on yourself to know everything, you don’t always have to have all the answers. The goal is just to have an understanding of the topic you’re passionate about because if you don’t have an idea of what’s going on now it’s hard to know how to change things for the better.
Then start conversations – with your friends, your family, your classmates or colleagues, with people through social media, write to politicians, start a conversation about something and raising awareness about what needs to change is crucial in facilitating lasting change. You can also support local projects and organisations who are on the ground working with teams of volunteers, researchers, filmmakers, campaigners or whoever it may be to create a positive impact. You can even start your own project, organisation or business, or you can get your school involved. Talk to the student council, start clubs in break times sustainability clubs for example or host a fundraiser day!
You can also use art. Art is about passion, creativity and sharing a message with people. It can be used to call for profound change in bridging the ecological, social, cultural and the spiritual divides of our time, whatever the medium may be, whether it’s singing, songwriting, performing, street art, paintings, drawings, speaking, slam poetry, etc. Art creates this discussion on how artists and activists engage in voicing their unique point of view and can challenge others to see things in a new light which can speak truth to power.
Art activism is a dynamic practice that uses the creative, empathetic and emotionally stirring element of the arts in combination with the strategic planning activism has in facilitating social change. And to effect real change, activists need to work through cultural means. Art presents reality in a way that may change the vision and perspective of the audience towards the world. I think that art works as a catalyst that separates real situations from assumptions and fuses these with imagination so that a different perspective can emerge.
Use your purchasing power – buy from sustainable producers and encourage the brands you buy from to make sustainable and ethical choices. Use your purchase as a vote for goods and services that don’t harm the planet, and do some good in the world.
And lastly walk the talk. It’s about people looking at what they can do in their own lives – so make that change in your own home. If we’re talking about reducing your carbon footprint and reducing waste in your household, going completely zero waste can be daunting, so it’s important for people to look at small changes and shifts they can make and gradually transition to bigger ones. As Anne Marie Bonneau once said “we don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” In short, don’t think you have to cut out all the waste tomorrow. Think twice about saying yes to straws and plastic cups, invest in a water bottle that will last and a reusable cup for the coffee you buy in the morning. You can start by buying fresh fruit and veg that is not covered in plastic or grow your own food, get a compost bin, and for those instances where that is impossible, be sure to recycle it properly, buy clothes from op shops or brands that use biodegradable or recycled materials (there’s plenty out there), refuse to buy unnecessary single-use products, reduce your production of general waste and reduce your food-waste, reuse tins and jars that you can, recycle as best you can, and make sure what ends up rotting in landfill, you can even purchase carbon offsets. Look at where you can make a change and just start.
“Lastly, walk the talk. It’s about people looking at what they can do in their own lives – so make that change in your own home.”
I know a lot of people want to speak up and create change but they feel hopeless about the state of the world and feel like they don’t know where to start. But honestly there’s so much you can do! It’s okay if you don’t have a lot of money or resources behind you, all you have to do is be resourceful – look at where you are, what you know, what you’re passionate about, the opportunities you have and use that.
Q. In your opinion, what impact has COVID on young people
I think the future was already not looking very hopeful to the younger generation given the current political climate and inaction on climate change, the bushfires across Australia and now this outbreak, the decade isn’t off to a great start and it’s affected our lives in a lot of ways. We’ve done a lot of online classes earlier in the year and in that time there wasn’t as much of a sense of gratification or accountability with school work as you weren’t actually there in the classroom with a teacher and it was easy to become unmotivated about work and just phase it out.
Social interaction was very limited so we couldn’t hang out with friends as much, most ambiverted and extroverted people were definitely having a hard time without being able to be around others. According to Psychologist Tegan Cruwys:
“Often the stereotype is the opposite, that loneliness is something affecting older people living alone … what the population data shows is that actually it’s young people who are the most lonely.”
For many it was a time of chaos right at a crucial point where a lot of teens were transitioning into adulthood. A lot of people lost their part or full-time jobs and their mental health was greatly impacted. That being said, the opposite was also true. Some people thrived in quarantine, spent a lot of time at home with their family and pets, got a lot of things done that they had been meaning to do for a while, spent a lot of time on personal interest projects and hobbies and got a lot of rest.
While there were many factors that caused uncertainty and anxiety for many, for others it was a chance to take a step back from a lot of stress – the bright side of corona was that it was a break from being busy all the time, constantly rushing from one place to another. And some more socially anxious or introverted people really enjoyed a break from socialising all the time and enjoyed more time at home. We aren’t the ones most at risk of contracting the virus or dying from it but corona has still had a profound impact on us quarantines.
And even though this has been a time of separation and isolation for us I’ve seen people come up with a lot of ways to connect with each other and do things to support each other and keep each other happy through online platforms and technology. There’ve been a lot of amazing initiatives and videos of people playing music together, dancing and making videos, talking, calling and keeping each other company, sharing tips about how to maintain your mental health and take care of yourself in these times. It’s situations like this where people have to be resourceful and creative and we have to find resilience in places we never thought we could. And I’ve seen a lot of examples of that over the past few months and that definitely gives me hope.
Q. In your opinion, what impact has COVID had on the sustainability/social impact agenda?
Although COVID has made it a lot harder for many impact-driven organisations to run their daily operations, receive funding, work with volunteers and employees, and grow their impact, there are also many organisations and businesses that are experiencing growth in this time. Many businesses in online retailing who are offering ethical and sustainable products are experiencing growth. Now that it’s possible for just about anyone to start their own business we are in a new era surrounded by indie microbrands reaching out to customers primarily through social media marketing. A lot of whom are focused on ethics and sustainability, and they are now getting a massive boost because online delivery is skyrocketing.
Within the impact agenda this crisis has also really highlighted inequality. In developed countries, frontline workers in the service economy are among the most exposed to the virus and the least able to absorb its financial impact. And the hardest hit will be the poor in developing countries, where already-struggling workers will not have the benefit of social safety nets and stimulus packages. The G7 must immediately help these countries to finance the flattening of the pandemic curve. Longer term, we must focus on increasing efforts to foster sustainable economic systems in a humanitarian sense as well, with fair trade and investment.
The earth is finally getting a break, but this is temporary. In the past when emissions have fallen sharply after recessions for example, there’s usually a rocketing rebound that wipes out any short-term progress that was achieved. This is an opportunity that offers the possibility of building a sustainable economy based upon long-lasting positive environmental change after lockdown is over. But only if we chose to act wisely. The most important thing in this very painful time is that we as individuals understand that our actions have societal consequences. Now more than ever that has been made visible. Even though the virus is not directly related to sustainability, it has brought attention and new emphasis to it.
Practically speaking, countries will have to rethink their productive capacity for local sustainability and to meet the greater manufacturing demands of an unpredictable future, so focusing on what we as a family, as a community can do to sustain ourselves without the reliance on multinational corporations will be important. Governments around the world are administering economic stimulus packages and support packages to help people, businesses, and economies. And at the same time we must ensure these procedures pave the way to a low carbon future and don’t lock us further into an unsustainable economy. Times of high unemployment and lower interest rates are the right time for new low-carbon investments and infrastructure, that includes the kind required to support the transition to renewable energy.
Q. What does Re-think mean to you?
To me rethinking means questioning and looking for a new approach. This could mean rethinking your approach to life, taking a step back and questioning the way you’re doing things. Ask yourself, is there a better or more efficient way to get something done? What have you previously said no to that you could possibly reconsider? What is the motivation behind your actions, is it fear or is it because it is something you truly want to do? What changes would you make if you knew no matter what things were going to work out? Being open minded and having personal awareness is such an important thing. It’s also a good idea to reassess things in your life other than just yourself, think outside the box and question things. At work try to rethink your role and what kind of team member you want to be. Think about how you can go the extra mile and offer complementary skills, see where else you can help out and don’t be afraid to jump into other roles or take on new opportunities in your career, even if it’s not something that’s inside your comfort zone or something you would usually do.
“What have you previously said no to that you could possibly reconsider? What is the motivation behind your actions, is it fear or is it because it is something you truly want to do?”
On a global scale more than ever this is a time we must rethink -we need a radical paradigm shift in thinking! One of the things most dangerous to our entire species is the lapse into believing that everything was fine before this crisis happened, and that all we need to do is get things back to normal. Our “normal” before the pandemic struck was already a catastrophe of desperation, exclusion and inequality for too many people, and the rapid degradation of our ecosystems. We need to stop and rethink the way things are, have been and how we can move forward in a completely new way -look at what countries, states, local councils, communities are doing around the world and what is working. We need to gather the best minds, technologies, tools and rethink and reshape every system we currently have.
Q. What does Re-Set mean to you?
I think resetting is a stage before you adopt new principles and values or a new view, it is the stage before change. It’s when you consider what needs to be done differently and take things back to the beginning. It’s when you reset your perspective and start fresh. Resetting is making room for new thoughts and beliefs to come to the surface. Basically what I’m saying can be summed up in this quote:
‘It’s not only moving that creates new starting points. Sometimes all it takes is a subtle shift in perspective, an opening of the mind, an intentional pause or reset, to create a new route to start to see new options and new possibilities.”
– Kristin Armstrong
Q. What does Re-Boot mean to you?
For a robot or computer the definition of this word means
“to switch off and then start again immediately, if this doesn’t work, close the application and reboot the system.”
For a human it’s basically the same, if something doesn’t work you switch off, then close that system of behaving or mentality and start again. So basically, I see rethinking as a way of reconsidering how we’re doing things and looking at things differently, resetting as in pausing and making room for that change, and then rebooting as in enacting that change and creating a better version of yourself. Constantly rethinking, resetting and rebooting and pushing a newer and better version of ourselves forward in the world and reshaping our society. Because before we change the world, we need to change ourselves.
Q. Words of wisdom/reshaping the Impact Economy, what do you envisage?
As the definition of the impact economy suggests, it is essentially built on a holistic theory of how we create, exchange and distribute value, and recognise the necessary interdependence of social, natural, human, manufactured and financial capitals in generating wealth and wellbeing.
The underlying logic is that a thriving and sustainable economy relies on a functional and stable society, which is in turn dependent on replenishable natural resources and healthy ecosystems. The impact economy signals it is time for our economic systems to ensure that what we value is directed towards the impacts we know will enable people, places and the planet to thrive into the future.
This is consequential now because we have created and entered ‘the Anthropocene’ – the first epoch in history where humans are fundamentally challenging the integrity of Earth’s geology and ecosystems.
For humanity to thrive in this epoch, the full costs and benefits need to be better accounted for in all productive activities. We need to establish new economic systems, and this needs to be reflected in governance structures, legal principles and policies.
To this point, the impact economy provides a strategic direction and an economic model that could enable us to address the big challenges of our time, and realise the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – 17 interconnected outcomes that, if achieved, offer long-term safety and prosperity for humanity.
Around the world, and in Australia, the movement toward an impact economy is unfolding through a dynamic and organic interchange of ideas, missions, mechanisms, strategies and alliances. When we hear reference to the green new deal, impact investing, inclusive growth, purpose-led business, ethical consumption, social entrepreneurship, circular economy, community wealth building, or wellbeing budgets – they all represent approaches that feed into a broad intent to integrate economic activity with improved social and environmental outcomes – an ‘impact economy’.
This movement is unfolding within a context of unprecedented and accelerating global change. It is easy to overlook the scale and pace of the change that we’re living through, but by reminding ourselves of two points – population growth and economic output, we can see how the current period of development is nothing less than an explosion by any geological or historical timescale.
Policymakers will create stimulus plans to boost the economy. The question, though, is where should we focus those recovery efforts, there is a risk that we respond by doubling down on fossil fuel use and promoting carbon-intensive industries, but that is a very shortsighted approach, because this is an opportunity to not only rebuild the economy but to build it back better than before. Investment into the economy to create new jobs and to help us be more environmentally friendly.
Taking all this into account, I believe rather than pursuing one overall measurement system, priority should be given to increasing impact literacy across professions. This would raise the collective capacity to design, track, evaluate and value impact in any number of situations, while also increasing the potential for more integrated impact management approaches to evolve over time, and focusing on innovation and entrepreneurship can build inclusive and sustainable economies, and creative and cohesive communities.
“Around the world, and in Australia, the movement toward an impact economy is unfolding through a dynamic and organic interchange of ideas, missions, mechanisms, strategies and alliances. When we hear reference to the green new deal, impact investing, inclusive growth, purpose-led business, ethical consumption, social entrepreneurship, circular economy, community wealth building, or wellbeing budgets – they all represent approaches that feed into a broad intent to integrate economic activity with improved social and environmental outcomes – an ‘impact economy’.”
Holley will be speaking at this year’s conference, centred on Re-Think, Re-Set Re-Boot: Reshaping The Impact Economy.