Avis Mulhall: makes a lot of ideas happen!

Avis Mulhall - founder of mmMule

This week on Ideas Hoist we’re profiling Avis Mulhall, an Irish girl who ditched her successful career in Ireland in 2008 to move to Africa where she lived in a rainforest in Tanzania, travelled through 15 countries, got attacked by a cheetah and ran a surf and yoga lodge in Mozambique. She moved to Oz to set up her travel startup mmMule.

I think it’s all about inspiring people to join your cause. It’s also just about getting sh*t done with no excuses.”

Passionate about social innovation, connecting people and travel, Avis is mmMule’s caped crusader who fully intends on changing the world with AngelMule – a unique way for ordinary folk to give back on their travels by using their journey to deliver supplies to not-for-profit projects in developing countries.

Avis is also the founder of Think Act Change, a Trustee of the Awesome Foundation and is founder of the soon-to-launch social enterprise Looloo Paper – which has taken on the ambitious goal of wiping out diarrhoeal disease in developing countries.

When she was small she genuinely believed she could fly. It ended badly.

What are you working on right now?

Heaps! I’m one of those people who needs to be doing a million things at once. But first up, I’m the co-founder of mmMule.com which is a social network dedicated to connecting locals and travelers around the world through a simple bartering system. Locals can ask for anything they want and travelers coming their way will deliver it to them in exchange for a local experience, like a night out on the town. We also enable travelers to give back to the communities they visit by becoming AngelMules and using their journey to deliver supplies to not-for-profit organisations in need.

My latest project is called Looloo Paper, we’re a social enterprise selling sustainable toilet paper by subscription to households and businesses and we use 100% of our profits to fund WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) projects that are fighting diarrhoeal disease in developing countries.

I’m also the founder of Think Act Change which is a series of events that run on the 2nd Tuesday of every month in Sydney. Our tag line is “We’re just a bunch of people who want to change the world” – the idea behind Think Act Change is that I wanted to connect local changemakers, entrepreneurs or just ordinary folks who are interested in doing good and to inspire and empower them to create change through hosting inspirational speakers, panel discussions and interactive conversations. In less than a year we have over 1300 members and up to 300 attendees each month.

On top of that, I’m also a Trustee of the Awesome Foundation. We give out a $1000 grant each and every month to a project that we deem to bring Awesomeness into the universe. Simple as that. All of the grants are provided with absolutely no strings attached, these are grants that aim to foster awesomeness in our city!

How do you make ideas happen?

I never give up. Ever.”

I think it’s all about inspiring people to join your cause. It’s also just about getting sh*t done with no excuses. A lot of people talk about doing stuff, but never actually get around to implementing it. I’m also a very passionate and visual person and I have a lot of drive to succeed so when I get a good idea, I visualise what it will look like down the tracks and what impact it can create. I find that always gives me the motivation to make sure it happens no matter what. That and I never give up. Ever.

What does your typical day look like?

I think networking is so important, without a network it’s nigh on impossible to make stuff happen.”

Utter chaos ordinarily. I’ve still got a day job so I usually have each and every day packed to the rafters, I work in the day job in the mornings, usually have meetings in the afternoons or am working online, typically there are multiple events in the evenings during the week or else I’m giving talks or speeches or organising events as well as working with my interns as often as I can. My calendar is booked up weeks in advance with events and meetings – I think networking is so important, without a network it’s nigh on impossible to make stuff happen. That said, it’s also important to remember to value your time and to make time for yourself and give yourself downtime. I’ve definitely been prioritising downtime a lot more of late.

What challenges have you faced when starting or growing an idea in Australia?

Most of the challenges I face are personal – I’ve got Crohns disease which really can get in the way of getting stuff done. I’m in hospital on a regular basis, up to once a week sometimes. I actually had three surgeries last year and spent months in hospital whilst trying to build mmMule – so if there’s anything that gets in my way that’s it. That said, I don’t live my life according to the limits of my disease, I live life to the maximum despite having a disease. Apart from that, the biggest issue I face is that as a foreign national it’s really difficult to get a visa as a social entrepreneur. Also, access to funding just isn’t as easy as it should be.

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

It’s not a new idea but it’s one I’ve seen work so well on multiple occassions. I love the idea of setting up a not-for-profit cafe dedicated to using its profits to fund social entrepreneurs in developing countries. It’s something I really want to do next year but I don’t mind if someone gets there first. The more the merrier. But on the note of ideas….ideas are a dime a dozen. To me what counts is implementation.

What organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in Australia at the moment?

I love a couple of new organisations that are focusing on mental health including Batyr and This Place is Yours. Mental health is something that is all too often ignored. As someone who has suffered from depression I know first had how important it is to foster a culture where we talk about mental health and mental illness instead of brushing it under the carpet.

I also love what *Spark are doing, I’m very passionate about using entrepreneurship to break the cycle of poverty and bring about social change, so I think their model is amazing.

What about Internationally?

I adore everything to do with the collaborative consumption movement really so that goes for Australia and overseas – I think there’s a massive shift happening in the way we consume and it’s great to see such innovation in this space.

What role do you think businesses should play in affecting social change?

If we want to create change on a large scale, it needs to be sustainable and scalable…”

I firmly believe that businesses, in particular social businesses, are the key to addressing major social issues and bringing about change. If we want to create change on a large scale, it needs to be sustainable and scalable, the only way this can happen is by creating social businesses. The traditional not-for-profit model is no longer the only way to affect social change. But it’s not only about creating new social businesses, it’s about existing businesses becoming more aware of their impact, becoming more sustainable, focusing on profit as well as purpose & looking at ways where their current business models can be used for good. There are some great examples out there like Patagonia and Danone who doing really interesting things.

Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers?

Name 3 Australian’s we should follow on Twitter?

Hmm that’s a tough one. But I’ll say Tom Dawkins @tomjd and Kate Carruthers @kcarruthers, the third isn’t a person but follow @thefetch – to find out all you need to know about what’s going on.

Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea?

Totally, I’m looking for interns for mmMule to help out with our AngelMules programme, I’m also looking for interns and volunteers for Looloo Paper – we’ll be needing ambassadors, folks to help with sales and marketing as well as design and social media. We’re also on the lookout for pro bono legal advice.

As for Think Act Change – well that’s one for everyone to get involved, just head over to the meetup page to join.

Another big thing is we’d love to find a social investor for Looloo – we already have initial seed capital, but it would be awesome to get an investor on board to help us scale quickly.

Our readers are smart, creative, talented and good looking. Here’s your chance to ask them anything.

Oooh, good looking hey? I would love to ask them to sign up to Looloo Paper and spread the word, I think that by working together anything is possible and I’m excited to see the impact that Looloo will bring about.

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

Hard to say, but for bars I do love the Lounge in Surry Hills and The Clare in Ultimo….as for restaurants and Cafe’s, Yullis is great and I love Gertrude and Alice in Bondi.

We thought it would be cool to crowdsource an annual prize to award to the interviewee’s choice (each person interviewed gets one vote) winner for the year’s best interview. Are you willing to kick in a prize?

I’m sure I can kick in some Loo roll! And maybe a lunch date in Gertrude & Alice.

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