Q&A with Zara Choy: Coalition of Mischief

- April 2, 2013 4 MIN READ

Zara Choy wants to change the world, just a little bit differently. Setting up Coalition of Mischief with her co-founder Kevin, they aim to help social causes with a side of creativity. How do they plan to do that? We talk to her about social causes, not-for-profits and nerdy apps.

Pitch Coalition of Mischief to me in 60 seconds
Coalition of Mischief combines creativity with social causes. We work with not-for-profits, charities, socialenterprises and anyone who wants to achieve positive social outcomes, such as government/councils, LOHAS businesses and CSR projects, to strategise and deliver marketing and communications campaigns that further their cause.

How did the idea come about?
I met Kevin on Twitter through #samehuman. He was mid-way through a course at the School for Social Entrepreneurs, and I was passionate about work that contributed to societal change. We were really aligned in values and working style, and had complementary skills. So we decided we’d try a project together. And somehow somewhere along the way, Coalition of Mischief was born.

On your website, it says you achieve fundraising and communication goals through alternative methods? What are some of these alternative methods?
We try to encourage use of all sorts of artists — they could be musicians, cartoonists, filmmakers, even puppeteers, comedians, drag queens or chefs — in the mix, and the use of less traditional channels.

An example would be the event that launched A-Men magazine, a magazine to promote diversity and multiculturalism in the Sydney gay community. There was a fashion show, a modern Indian cultural dance, a traditional Indonesian Gamelan performance and an alternative punk singer/songwriter on the night.

The A-Men magazine itself was an interesting approach to the problem of racism, using stories from the gay community to bring through themes like HIV prevention, homophobia, bullying, coming out, dealing with parental approval, cultural assimilation, self-worth and self-esteem. (Further information at http://coalitionofmischief.com/casestudies.html#amen)

Other examples are rather than send out a traditional CV, we helped a job-seeker from New York find a job by sending a bunch of apples with the message “Want Some Big Apple Experience?

And when we meet with new prospects, our business card, which is a hang-tag, is attached to a fresh, home-grown lavender and rosemary herb-bunch from our gardens.

Tell me about some of the crowd-funding campaigns that Coalition of Mischief  has done?
We’ve helped create short videos for social  enterprises like A Girl in the World, Corker magazine and Crimson Movement. The video for A Girl in the World was part of their Poziblecrowd-funding campaign. However, we’re mainly working in the not-for-profit/charity sector at the moment, and the potential with crowd-funding is something many are still unaware of.

Hopefully, platforms such as Start Some Good and Chip In and other successful crowd-funding campaigns for social ventures, like Who Gives A Crap, will slowly create an awareness
and understanding of it as an additional fundraising channel.

You’re a co-founder, tell me about some of the advantages and hurdles in having a co-founder?
I definitely enjoy many things I wouldn’t if I were going it alone. It’s great having someone to plan and bounce ideas with, and who brings a different, complementary (but sometimes opposing!) perspective. It is comforting to have both practical and emotional support on a journey that can be gruelling and isolating. Kevin has expressed the same. I love that together we have a synergy and a melding of minds that produces a pretty special flavour. And it’s good that we keep each other accountable and motivated.

The hurdles? 
Having an opposing point of view! I know it’s valuable to have your opinions challenged, and we can sometimes approach things from different ends — Kevin’s very practical and present-oriented, I’m more idealistic and future-oriented — and while we pretty much usually have the same ends in mind will on occasion have strong debates in that attempt to find a satisfactory middle ground.

Tell me a little bit about your background and why non-profit speaks to you.
I come from a developing country, where poverty, social injustice, inequality and racial issues were present. Then in my late teens and early adulthood, my family was posted to Bangladesh. I Iwas exposed to extreme poverty and the unspeakable injustice and indignity that creates for people. At that same time, I was also studying in Australia, and saw a different world;
one where wealth, privilege, comfort and a good quality of life were just entitlements and pretty much taken for granted.

Confronted with a spectrum of extremes like that, one just starts to realise something just isn’t right. People around me, those mainly in the corporate world, seemed disturbingly blind and complacent to the pressing salient world issues we are facing. A lot of reflecting and soul-searching ensued, but long story short, I just decided that rather than be a self-interested, passive member of society, I wanted to be an active participant in shaping outcomes for current and future generations.

Advice for other startups?
Do your groundwork and plan well. A new idea is exciting, and it can be tempting to just jump into action. But you’ll run into entanglements if you don’t have any strategy. Even “testing waters” can be part of strategy. Think of strategy as a road map. Know where you want to get, how you’ll be getting there and also what you don’t know. Entrepreneurs are commonly thought to be risk-takers, and I think that is mistaken notion. Successful ones, I believe, are calculated risk takers.

Develop unwavering self-discipline and focus, and find a supportive community. And I would also add take care to really understand your motivations, drivers and dreams: Is it money? Or social change? Or challenge and personal satisfaction? Entrepreneurship, social or otherwise, is a great opportunity to shape your own path and find great fulfillment, but also a danger if you are easily distracted and unclear about your focus. It can just end up becoming yet another rat-race that doesn’t fulfill your own personal sense of purpose, or any good in the world.

Favourite app/website of the moment?
Hmm, one each, perhaps.

Favourite App: TripView. I know it might sound odd, maybe a bit nerdy. It just makes such a huge difference to the tedium that catching public transport was, and I’m a stubborn advocate of public transport. It’s an example of live data at it’s best!

Favourite Website: Fast Co Create