This is the second instalment of my interview with Malinda Wink. (You can read part 1 here). In the previous chat, the focus was on what Malinda does in her job as Executive Director, Good Pitch² Australia. Here, she talks about the professional journey that led her to GP²A, the philosophical ideas that inform her work and a story she holds close. A wolverine (not the Hugh Jackman type but Women who Run with Wolves type), she told me that story—in a bar competing against The Clash’s “London Calling” playing in the background—Malinda did good, as always.
THE CHAT—Part 2
PJB: I want to ask you about your professional background because I discovered, only recently, that you started life professionally as a banker, and would never have picked you as one (which probably says more about me than it does about you). What did you do straight out of school?
MW: A Bachelor of Commerce… I majored in Accounting and Marketing. I was a kid from Port Macquarie and the first person in my family to go to university. I got into Commerce/Law but was looking down the barrel of a five year degree and not really sure if I could afford it.
PJB: Why Commerce/Law? Was it about choosing a degree, which might lead to a job with financial security?
MW: Yes because that was the world I understood.
PJB: Were you given advice as a seventeen-year-old about what you “should” or “might” consider doing?
MW: It’s weird who you get advice from as a kid. There was a woman around at the time, I don’t remember her name now, but she sat me down and said: “There are 30,000 lawyers unemployed—don’t do law, do something practical, do a Commerce degree”. When I filled out my university application, my first preference was Commerce. University of NSW was the hardest to get into so I put that first…
PJB: Natch… When did you decide to do an Arts degree?
MW: In my second year, I think. I’d got a job at Macquarie Bank as part of the Graduate Program but when I applied, I had no idea what Macquarie Bank was—
PJB: What is it?
MW (Laughing) It isn’t a retail bank, it’s an investment bank… And a world away from where I grew up but it was a meritocracy. I worked in their financial services group.
PJB: Did you enjoy it?
MW: Yes! Everyone was so smart and interesting and impressive… they were really kind to me, they looked after me.
PJB: How did they do that?
MW: The directors of the financial services group took the time to mentor me, informally. I’m so grateful for that. They would take me out for lunch because I didn’t have much money then—I was the young kid but I worked really hard and was confident…They gave me interesting projects to work on such as Finance Advisor, Education so I was writing educational materials, prospectuses and having to work across teams… it was fascinating to learn about that world. I was learning how to invest, how to translate very complex ideas to people who were investors…
PJB: No wonder you know how to do this—you’ve been doing it a long time. So when did the Arts degree come into your line of sight?
MW: I joined Macquarie in 1998 and I was supposed to go full time but I decided to do an Arts degree. I remember one of my colleagues saying: “Why don’t you do a Masters in Finance? You’ll go a lot further in here”… and I said, “Yes but I really want an education.” I studied Literature and History and I loved that degree.
PJB: What did you love about it?
MW: It was an entry into a bigger world. The humanities give us access to lives we will never live…
PJB: … And ideas we will never have… How did studying Literature and History compare to Commerce?
MW: Both are complex in their own way.
When I used to write my essays in Literature and History, if I needed a brain break, I would do long division or solve a maths problem and that would get my edit brain into gear. I love numbers and the certainty of numbers but the capacity to think laterally comes from my study of Social Science and Arts subjects. One of my strengths is to think strategically about how these films would work within an issue area, and who should be connected into it, and how we could all work together.
I use that too in the work that I do for film production companies looking to build their businesses.
PJB: What was a life changing experience for you, once you’d graduated and were out in the world working?
MW: Probably the year I spent in Nepal. I was on a microfinance project, in a poor village, in the Everest region and later with the UN on a microfinance project. I arrived in Nepal two weeks after the Royal family had been murdered—the Prince had murdered his entire family at a dinner one night—and the country was in civil crisis; there was a Maoist uprising, there were lockdowns and curfews. You couldn’t leave your house after a certain time but as a westerner I could walk around at night. The men were drinking at home and you could hear them in the houses beating the women. It was horrendous. That year I went from being sunny and optimistic—things had always gone well for me to…
PJB: You glimpsed the darkness in human beings?
MW: Yeah… I felt crumpled, roughed up and lost when I returned home.
PJB: So you went to went to work for the Labor Party? Are you crazy?
MW: (Laughs). It began as a short contract—working as a media assistant in the office of Simon Crean, then leader of the ALP. I was there for two years—his team was full of very clever people, it was always interesting. I became a media advisor but left after 2004 when Mark Latham was leader.
PJB: Good call. When did you get involved specifically with Social Change?
MW: I received a Jeanne Sauvé Fellowship to McGill University in Montreal. There were twelve of us from around the world, all from different disciplines. They opened the doors of the University… We had private fireside lectures with people I had only dreamed of meeting… We travelled across North America to meet leaders and institutions—it was amazing. When I came back to Australia, an old friend of mine from Macquarie Bank asked me if I’d be interested in setting up a foundation for another finance company… I was and I did… It was while I was there that I met Ian Darling. He had The Oasis film and I was impressed by it— I loved the idea of using film for social change. I approached him after one of the screenings and said, “If there’s anything we can do to collaborate, I’d love to chat.”
PJB: You ended up working with Ian as Executive Director of The Caledonia Foundation for a year before getting another scholarship, this time with the European Commission?
MW: Yes. I spent my first year in The Hague doing a Masters of Development in International Studies—I looked at Governance and Democracy and Institutional Economics. Then, I moved to Budapest for another year where I did a Masters in Public Policy. In Budapest, I was living in a transition economy in the European Union. If you go to Budapest as a tourist, you think: “It’s so pretty” but I was staying around the corner from the offices of the Right Wing political party; there were strikes and protests, and I saw with my own eyes the rise of the right wing, nationalist sentiment in Europe outside my window. When you go outside the beauty zone, people are depressed and unemployed, and there are so few opportunities.
PJB: Did you stay in Europe after getting your Masters?
PJB: What did you do?
MW: I learned Spanish in Barcelona, moved to Colombia, worked for some Australian organisations and fell in love… not in that order. I’d come back to Australia for a short–term contract and caught up with Ian. A few years before, while I was at Caledonia, Ian was setting up the Documentary Australia Foundation (DAF)—I loved what he was doing in that regard: supporting filmmakers in connection with the social change sector. We had a dinner about Good Pitch and the possibility of doing it here.
By the end of the dinner, I was saying: Not only do I love this idea—I want to run it. He said, “OK but you have to come back to Australia”. I thought about it overnight and called him the next morning to tell him I’d be staying in Australia.
PJB: Start-ups are hard, you don’t go for easy do you?
MW: There’s huge challenges in a start up environment—you’re dealing with a blank slate but it’s enormously freeing as well because you get to design what you do and how you do it. We didn’t have to go with the model that Britdoc designed, which is how they’ve set it up. We got to do it with our own ideas, energy, perspective and understanding about the local context.
PJB: Was it the right decision for you to stay and get Good Pitch happening here?
We have a short life—I want to do something really great with a moment in time.
PJB: Being around the Good Pitch Australia strategizing and campaigns, it’s clear that change requires analysis, strategies, collaboration and a lot of heavy lifting. Good Pitch seems to be an effective way of pushing change forward… For the people who are actively driving that change, rather than simply talking about it or dipping in and out—it clearly takes huge effort and commitment.
MW: Fortunately, in my job, every day I come across some of the best people in Australia, engaged in the diversity of issues that Good Pitch focuses on.
PJB: What do you see as the characteristics that people working for change share?
MW: It’s when intellect is connected deeply with your heart: you see that passion and purpose and it’s unstoppable. All of them could do easier day jobs; what’s remarkable is that they’ve taken on something that’s fundamental and has meaning.
PJB: Tell me about the interest and commitment to social issues in the banking and/or corporate sector.
MW: Some of our most supportive contributors within Good Pitch Australia come from very successful investment careers. That’s not an accident, Australia has enjoyed a couple of decades of incredible growth and some of the smartest people in that arena have done very well… Some of them have done us the courtesy of attending Good Pitch.
PJB: As a complete outsider, I’m interested in how a bank like Westpac goes from being a banking institution to having an LGBTIQ agenda? How does that work?
MW: I think it’s enlightened self-interest. The idea that you can disconnect the individual from their own values when they walk in the door of a corporate or disconnect a corporate and their business operation from the community they serve is an absolute furphy. The people who support Good Pitch Australia have not disconnected their values from their daily existence, work and non-work life, and the corporates who support us, get that. They exist within a community and have a community within them as well.
So, an employer like Westpac has 40,000 people and significant diversity within that group. They need and want people to be happy and supported within that diversity. I can understand why they’d support a film like Gayby Baby because it aligns with their own agenda, which is about inclusion. Over and over again, we are seeing that diversity ensures better governance and decision-making. All that leads to better financial performance and risk management of business. The way they engaged with Gayby Baby was only a tiny slice of a broader cultural approach within the institution.
PJB: The stereotypical view of bankers is: they make vast profits, value money over people, and don’t give much back. When I see the bankers and corporates in the Good Pitch Australia environment—GPA seems to be accessing a different dimension of that corporate culture.
MW: Yes but the corporates are only a tiny part of Good Pitch Australia. The philosopher Peter Singer talks about the moral circle. With GPA, I work to ensure we have a moral circle and touch-point across Corporate Australia, private individuals, the NGO sector, policy makers, educators, media around each one of our films and issue areas.
You can also do that on a micro level. So, for example, when we do screenings of Constance on the Edge in rural communities and talk about the settlement of refugees, the idea in that regard is to create a moral circle: the local NGOs, the local religious leaders, the local politicians, the local sports organisations or clubs… all those parts represent a different stake in the community at large and have a huge contribution to make… The corporates are a tiny part of a broad coalition of partners but they are all inter-connected and increasingly so. We’re seeing a lot more jumping backwards and forwards between the corporate and NGO sector, across Government as well. There’s a lot of cross–pollination and the best people are those who’ve worked across those different areas. It’s tricky because there’s cultural differences in every environment and they obviously have entirely different imperatives.
PJB: Is it values that unite them? Or issues? Or an issue connected to values?
MW: I’d like to think so. And this probably sounds hackneyed but I think there’s an idea of fairness that we still hang our hats on as Australians. We’re small enough as a country that we haven’t forgotten our connection to each other and that creates an intimacy in our cultural imagining about who we could be if we were to walk in someone else’s shoes.
PJB: I’d like to think that’s how it is but often, it’s not in evidence.
MW: Granted, I live in a very specific world where people do relate according to their values and I seek those people out. They are in my orbit. That community is broad and diverse and I see those people in a range of environments. Outside of my orbit, there are corporates that aren’t doing the right thing. There are NGOs that aren’t performing. There are policy makers who could do a better job.
PJB: I think that applies to almost everything—
MW: Yes but the truth is in my job, I get to meet amazing people. Constantly. So I have a very skewed view.
PJB: Maybe… but as someone with a training in economics you also have an advantage because you have a macro view and you understand, for example, how to use intimate film stories that hook people and zone in on the individual and the specific—you get the value of that and can place it in the big picture in a way that is not immediately obvious. Filmmakers working on their own don’t have that bigger view or knowledge base.
MW: My Masters that I undertook in Europe honed that because we were trained to pay attention to the interaction between material power and the power of ideas, and what weighting you give to those determines your own theory of change. So whether you give more weight to economic, military, geographic power or to ideas.
PJB: What do you give more weight to?
MW: Good Pitch couldn’t exist without material power. Material power allows those films to be made and allows the impact campaigns to happen. What the people in the room who back Good Pitch can actually achieve by supporting those ideas to fly… that’s where it’s interesting…
It’s a feedback loop: material power to support an idea, then that idea shifting material power.
This is what I was trying to say before about the people who support us. They inhabit certain values and and want to be connected and express those values through the stories told by the films, and the impact campaign. People who support Good Pitch are usually analytical, they’ve had very successful careers and they are making an assessment in their investment in us, and the expectation that what we do will have an impact. It’s not about having a good time and being fluffy.
Those stories connect back into material power, into politics, into superannuation investors who are making long–term decisions about their own investment strategies based on policy, shifting consumer preference or other factors; or politicians who are making decisions on the shifting sands of electoral preference.
We are feeding back into that material power with the ideas we have supported, with the films that move us.
PJB: What is a work of art that has inspired or influenced you? It doesn’t have to be the only work of art or definitive… but something you carry close.
MW: The Orchard by Drusilla Modjeska.
PJB: When we were at Shark Island workshop for the 2016 filmmakers, you talked about The Handmaiden’s Tale at dinner one night…
MW: That’s in ‘The Orchard’. I went back and read ‘The Handmaiden’s Tale’ in ‘The Women who Run with the Wolves’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I have a group of close friends and we call ourselves The Wolverines: it’s a touchstone for inhabiting a space that’s honest and… wild.
A wildness that’s truthful. It’s about trusting your instinctive self. I’ve traveled a lot and worked in different environments and it’s my instinct I have learned to trust—when I have over-ridden it by logic, I’ve gotten into trouble or found myself in danger.
PJB: That’s certainly true for me, and I suspect a lot of people… Tell me the story of The Handmaiden’s Tale.
MW: OK… There’s a house in a garden and the devil knocks on the door. A man answers and the devil tells him: You can have all the wealth in the world, if you give me your orchard. The man agrees to the swap but doesn’t know his daughter is playing in the orchard.
When he realises she’s there, he runs to her—and draws a chalk circle around her so the devil won’t take her. The devil becomes enraged. They cut a new deal: the daughter can stay with her parents but the devil cuts off her hands and she is left with nothing but stumps.
She lives with her parents and is totally dependent on them for survival. When she’s grown, she decides against all common sense to take to the wild—she walks for days. She’s hungry and exhausted when she finds herself in a beautiful garden. In the moonlight, she sees pears on a tree and eats from the tree. It’s a Royal garden and the King works out that something or someone is eating his pears but can’t get to the bottom of it. In the darkness, he hides in the orchard and sees the beautiful woman, without hands, eating pears from a tree.
The King falls in love with her. It’s a fairytale—so they live happily in the castle and he fashions her a pair of silver hands. One day, she experiences the same yearning for her own self she had when she left her parents and went out into the world. She takes off into the wilderness—without the silver hands made by the King—going miles away from everything she knows…
She wanders, starving and wretched but won’t return. One day, she looks down and sees what appears to be hands sprouting from her stumps. Eventually, her hands grow fully formed…The King meanwhile is bereft and misses his lady—he goes in search of her but when he finds her, he doesn’t recognise her with hands that are her own. He falls in love with the new person she’s become.
… That’s the story I feel most connected to.
Good Pitch Australia Announces Six New Social Impact Documentaries for 2016 (See media release on home page).Constance on the Edge, Gayby Baby, Macquarie Bank, Peter Singer, The Handmaiden's Tale, The Orchard, The Women who Run with Wolves, Westpac