How to do good outside your day job

How to do good outside your day job

Sometimes our purpose-driven hearts yearn to do more than our agency worlds afford us. If you’re driven to use your skills for good, here are a few pointers that can help.

 By Jess Lilley

In November 2017, I was appalled at the situation unfolding on Manus Island. Under the guise of closing the camps, the Australian government had shut down refugees’ access to water, food and electricity. Not wanting to leave the relative safety of their camp, there was an impasse leaving the refugees literally digging for water with their bare hands. And the whole thing was unfolding live on twitter.


Like many Australians, I wanted to help. So I came up with Freedom Calendar. It would feature artwork by Australian artists created in response to Manus refugees’ tweets, raising money for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

So far, so straightforward.


But the next two months were pure mayhem, teaching me some fast lessons about the realities of doing work for good. Here are a few pointers to help you get righteous with your creative skills.

Collaboration is essential

Freedom Calendar would never have happened if I hadn’t run my mouth off about the idea to Jacky Winter founder, Jeremy Wortsman. He immediately sent me an angel, in the form of JW producer, Lara Chan Baker, who undertook the considerable task of sourcing donated artworks from 20 artists in two weeks at their busiest time of year.

Similarly, brilliant designer, Ander Hernando, jumped on board to help design the project. And, despite being in the middle of a crisis for their lives, the refugees on Manus Island responded almost immediately to my Whatsapp and Twitter messages giving consent to use their tweets and approval of the associated artworks.


My point being, it takes a village to get a project like this off the ground. Don’t try and do it on your own. Ring in the best people you know to help out.

Play to your strengths

This was a hard lesson to learn. I’m not an e-commerce or mail housing natural or any kind of print manager. While distracted getting up to speed with these things, I neglected areas I knew more about—like campaigning and PR—that might have yielded better results. If you know you want to limit your pro bono contribution to providing creative excellence, that is in itself excellent. Find projects where you can do just that.

A fantastic example ran earlier this month as part of Good Beer Week. The Brewin Transfer is held at the Cherry Tree Hotel and invites craft brewers to create an ad for no more than $2000, catering to audiences traditionally overlooked by big beer advertising. In its third year, it produces excellent creative highlighting some of the ongoing biases inherent in who we represent on screen in our business. This year’s winning entry is an absolute corker, created by Chris Hince and Andy Segal for Sailors Grave—who source ingredients from the bush.

Sailors Grave owners Gab and Chris commented: “We respect the land, with Indigenous Yuin elder Noel Butler helping us harvest our ingredients. This ad celebrates our Sailors Grave philosophy of diversity in everything we do.

These opportunities exist. It’s worth digging around for them.

Make a realistic commitment

I have failed to do this many times. Still, committing to creating a product from scratch and taking it to market in four weeks was up there in the WTF stakes. I would advise against it. It’s better to do what you can than committing to what you can’t, which will only result in bringing more guilt upon your soul.

There are ways to make a contribution without it taking over your life.

Good For Nothing is a global network of agency folk who get together for a day or a weekend every six months to answer a brief for a non-profit organisation who ordinarily wouldn’t be able to afford agency work. There are Melbourne and Sydney chapters you can join.

Or you could contribute to Gabberish and help improve the mental health of our industry! Speaking of Gabberish, there is a reason we commit to publish monthly-ish—both Siobhan and I are parents with jobs. Much as we are motivated to create good in our industry, we won’t do it at the expense of our own mental health.

Plan your project

I recently supported a project called Testimony Tailors. It’s run by Rohingya women who live in refugee camps in Bangladesh after fleeing massacre in their homelands. They have an online store where you can buy a dress, which they then sew and give to a fellow Rohingya refugee. I bought a couple of dresses to order, and within weeks I was sent photos of young girls in camps wearing them. They were beautiful. I immediately ordered more dresses. And a sewing machine.

Photo republished with permission.

Photo republished with permission.

I love this project because it is perpetually self-building and every aspect of it is so well considered, with real change and positive impact for all involved.

On the flipside, Freedom Calendar was designed to galvanise a moment in time and it did what it was meant to do. But it required a huge amount of effort and with a little bit of planning, it might have laid the foundations for something a little longer term. It’s worth thinking about where you want to take your thing before you get it off the ground.

In the end, Freedom Calendar raised $10,000 for ASRC and put the profound words of Manus refugees—and beautiful artworks in response to them—on the walls of homes across the world. Could I have done it differently? Absolutely.

But then, if I’d stopped to think about what I was getting myself in for, it might never have gotten off the ground in the first place.

See all the Freedom Calendar artwork and the tweets they responded to here.





Who's responsible for your work stress?

Who's responsible for your work stress?