Born in Brunei Darussalam, Marie Chung identifies as both a migrant Chinese-Dusun and an Australian-raised young woman. Between her experiences as a migrant and having lived in regional Australia, Jakarta and now Melbourne, Marie has developed a strong social consciousness to socio-cultural experiences and human narratives.
Her line of work follows the power of education to empower communities. For over 6 years, she has mentored, taught and advocated for vulnerable social groups in Melbourne, London and Jakarta. She continues to work in a leading not-for-profit in Melbourne, managing volunteers and facilitating education programs across the Western suburbs supporting at-risk youth.
Marie founded her project Behind the Label in 2014, when she realised there was a significant lack of human narratives in the media. Since its inception as an online blog, the project has moved into local businesses in Melbourne, running live events to engage the community with real stories that count behind political facts and figures.
Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
Behind the Label is a creative media project that shares human narratives across platforms online and in live story-telling community events, collaborating with local businesses and community members to make these events happen.
The idea was inspired by my own experiences living in such different areas since childhood and learning so much from individuals from all walks of life. I’ve found so many successes, achievements and instances of personal growth that often go unrecognised in our overly materialistic and status-driven society.
At some stage, I got to a point when I grew tired of reading media articles of celebrities, politicians and the like being recognised for their achievements, contributions or even their charity. What was more frustrating was seeing and hearing members of the community have such strong political stances on social groups because of simply what they’ve read in the papers or seen on mainstream TV. I could most confidently say that the majority of us with political opinions on a social group have not directly spoken to the social group we have opinions on. Their stories have not been used to inform our ideas of them.
So, Behind The Label was born. There was no need to delay it or put it off, because my goal was simple, and that was to start an online platform that would share real human stories. Stories that would defy the media haze we often encounter everyday. It didn’t feel like a plunge at the time because it was so easy to access these stories. Now two years down the track, I never envisioned it to come to where it is today. It didn’t start as a business idea, in fact we are still trying to figure that part out.
Can you please explain your business model for us?
We are at the early stages of our project and revenue streams are not flowing just yet, but we do have some big plans. For the moment, we have been applying for grants to support the set up costs and materials of running our events. The best part is that the internet and technology have worked in our favour and it’s all free! We have successfully used these online channels to promote our work and get people through the door at our events.
With running events, it’s easy to make a profit. Our events are ticketed to cover all venue costs, staff hire and catering for the evening. As we are in our infancy, we hope to get to a stage where we can successfully run as a social enterprise working with schools and corporates, running awareness workshops and consultations to support and develop socially conscious and inclusive organisations.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next year?
Right now we are working on delivering our next event in June. It will be a juicy one that will include stories from workers and prisoners in Melbourne’s gaols. We are excited about this one as it’s often an underrepresented area of the media, one that does not have much light shed on it in Australian politics. The evening will encourage individuals to think about lives leading to crime, prison systems and the effectiveness of rehabilitation programs.
In the next year, we aspire our project to take on new levels in the community and overseas. Whilst the BTL team works hard in Melbourne, I will be moving to London and spreading our roots there to gauge international audiences and recognition. Across the borders, we will be planning for new projects to diversify our reach and implement new tools and workshops to educate communities on social engagement.
How do you make ideas happen?
I talk about it a lot.
I talk about my ideas a lot so it becomes real. The more I talked about Behind The Label, the more I validated it. If you have an idea, share your idea with your friends and talk about the vision you have for it, even if at the end of the day, your project does not achieve that vision. I think so many of us are so strung up on big dreams and big goals, and we cut ourselves short when we don’t think we can fulfil it or it’s not met our expectations. It’s important to remember that our goals will continuously change and will be challenged and shaped by multiple factors.
BTL happened because I naively dreamt of it and vulnerably talked about it without putting so many ‘have tos’ and ‘should bes’ in place. I started it and put aside others expectations of it and even my own, so that I could do it without the pressure of getting it right the first time.
What role have mentors played in your business life?
I have one exceptional mentor who has really pushed our project to new levels (I am not sure if she quite realises she has had that role with us). She has introduced networks, ideas and approaches that have grown our project and the BTL community. Every week she checks in to see how we are progressing, she shoots through similar social businesses or ideas, and keeps us up to date with the political and media arenas surrounding our work.
It can also happen quite often that I lose my way in my thoughts, ideas and plans. My mentor has really kept me in a clear direction and continuously reinforces the work that we do at BTL. It has been really important to have that one objective stable working with me outside of the project.
What does your typical day look like?
My day must start with a substantial breakfast and a really good cup of coffee. Every morning I have brown rice, salmon, ricotta and avocado. Then I make tracks to my favourite coffee shop TFWD on Degraves St before heading off to one of the three offices I’m based at in Melbourne. In between moving between sites, recruiting and training for volunteer programs, emails, meetings and lots of paperwork, I find a way to manage errands for BTL between those commitments or after work hours. After work, yoga is a necessary feature in my life – without yoga, I would probably be crazy and less productive. It’s also important to grab a drink when I can and check in on the people I care about.
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?
The major challenge with BTL was finding ways to promote the work and get it recognised in the local community. I found that having the online component was not sustainable and did not gauge enough readership. Only since moving to a physical space, running events and developing partnerships, we opened opportunities up for people to experience the project itself. Word-of-mouth has been one of our strongest tools to promote our work.
Another significant challenge is getting lost in ideas and visions. I’m a dreamer and visionary, and sometimes it gets quite tough when I have so many directions but not enough structure. Since having a mentor and a team, I’ve been able to refine my approaches and narrow down my goals for BTL.
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
Start small and take one step at a time.
Whether it means starting an online platform on Facebook or Squarespace as I have done, initiating informal coffees/meetings with leaders in your area of interest, crowdfunding campaigns, getting a small group of friends together to conceive the idea and take action on it, every little step counts and provided that it is fuelled by a genuine passion and inspiration, your project will eventually get to a place where you want it to be.
What other people or organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry in Australia at the moment?
We love 100 Story Building in Footscray, Melbourne. The not-for-profit runs literacy workshops for Culturally and Linguistically diverse young people and invites other local initiatives into their imagination and creative space to share projects that support the social good.
Other story telling projects include Hana Assafiri’s Speed Date a Muslim project, a project that runs at a Brunswick Café and invites participants to get to know the experiences of Muslim women in a ‘speed dating’ set up. We also enjoy Raw Garden, a grassroots organisation that invites multicultural women to talk about their story through an experience they can share with participants such as cooking, crafts and gardening.
What about internationally?
We love the work of The School of Life. Originally based in London, the School of Life spread its wings to New York, Amsterdam and now in Melbourne and Sydney. We love their approach to engaging audiences on such simple yet crucial skills and issues. They’ve developed some creative and easy to access workshops to encourage communities on how to lead a more meaningful life.
Colors Magazine – if there is one interesting way to read about social and political issues, Colors magazine have it! They engage their readers in a truly unique format and reveal conspiracies, theories, facts and figures with raw and real information.
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
Whether we like it or not, money is one of the big game-changers that will allow your social cause to access opportunities or grow. This is why I believe that business can create consistent and sustainable social change. A social business uses a structured approach that generates its own profit to grow its reach, rather than relying on a charity based strategy.
Business can put social consciousness at its core rather than keeping it as an activity on the side that community members or sponsors can donate to without needing to fully invest their time, thoughts or efforts in it. The more social businesses we have in the world, the more likely it is that social change will gain significant momentum as we are giving social consciousness a powerful tool to grow – and that’s money.
Speaking of affecting social change, is there a charity you support?
I’ve always been an avid supporter of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. Their work is crucial at this point in time when we realize the atrocities of our migration policies on innocent lives. The ASRC recognizes these individuals despite their place of birth, their religious or cultural practices and understands that at the core of these policies, it’s humans we are working with. I have volunteered for 2 years in their Youth Speakers program, teaching and telling school students who really counts when we are talking about asylum seeker and refugee issues. Although I’m no longer involved directly in their work, I definitely continue to advocate for what they do.
Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.
These are a few of my go to sites to pick me up when in doubt of anything.
For some intellectual inspiration: www.brainpickings.org
For motivation: www.behindthewire.org
For quirky and personal ways to engage with celebrity profiles: Between Two Ferns at http://bit.ly/FODBetween2Ferns.
Quite unsuspectingly, I think our project has a lot to learn from Between Two Ferns. The style of interview and humour is definitely a fun and engaging way to reach audiences.
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?
Yes most definitely. We love to combine the minds of writers, creatives, visionaries, operational thinkers, money-makers and change makers in our project. If you would like to get involved, please head to our website, check out our work and think about what role you’d like to have in our project. We are open to as much support and inspiration as we can get.
We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups, marketing, social media, accounting, monetization, product development etc. What would it be?
What skills and expertise can we develop to work with the real game-changers and leading firms, banks and corporates to invest in social change?
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
My partner and I have a few go-to spots in Melbourne but Kirks Wine bar on Hardware Lane is definitely in our top 5 spots to go to. It’s a great place to unwind after work with quite the selection of wine. Their menu is simple but delicious which makes it easy on the work-drained brain.