Generosity Talks

Mel Parsons

Sitting on a plane on the way to Canada, Mel Parsons took time out of her hectic tour schedule to spread a bit of light on what generosity means to her. New Zealand’s very own award-winning indie/folk/country songstress, Mel wants us to practise empathy, make sure we’re really listening, and to use our voices to spread the word on causes we are most passionate about.

What’s happening in the world of Mel Parsons for the upcoming summer? I’ve had a big year touring, so hopefully I’ll get a decent break somewhere – in my mind that means beach time, maybe some bike riding, and catching up with family and friends. I also have a few festivals over summer, and there always seems to be another tour just around the corner… 

What’s the most insanely generous thing a fan has ever done for you? One thing that blew me away was the number of people who joined in when I crowdfunded my most recent album. It’s a terrifyingly vulnerable position to be in – asking your fans to trust you enough to pre-order something they haven’t heard. Not to mention getting over our ingrained Kiwi-ness of not asking for help. 

While financially crowdfunding made it possible to actually make the album, even more valuable to me was the realisation that hundreds of people believe in me and enjoy the work I do. I can’t describe what that feels like, but it’s more than a little overwhelming to know that I have such a dedicated and supportive fanbase. I have eternal gratitude and respect for my fans, and am driven by the thought that I might be able to bring a little joy back to them through my music.

How important do you think it is for people who have a platform like yours to spread messages about creating positive change in the world? I think anyone who has a public platform and believes in something passionately should be free to spread that message as they see fit. With the myriad of issues facing humanity and the environment, people tend to get cause-fatigued, and creating positive change can seem impossible. 

Being too noisy about too many things can turn people off altogether. When we are constantly bombarded with causes people tend to shut off and think that the problems in the world are insurmountable, and so become overwhelmed and think their effort or contribution towards anything would be futile. 

I guess that is why it’s good to find the thing you are most passionate about, and use your platform and energy to spread that message. It has been proven time and time again over the course of history that positive change starts with one person – like you!

For me there are a lot of causes and things I believe in environmentally and politically, but the one that is closest to my heart and intrinsically woven through my music is mental health. I know from my own experience of depression and grief that music was truly the thing that pulled me through.

Can you name an everyday action that makes the world a better place, yet is underrated? Empathy. Let’s face it – everyone is busy. I feel like when we ask people, ‘how are you?’ it’s often a throw away greeting where we don’t really listen to the answer. When we genuinely listen and show that we care about other people and their situations, the outcome is always going to be positive. That person feels valued and loved, and those two things are contagious – when people love and value themselves they are able to spread the love! 

By taking time to ask people how they are and really listening to their response, we might just be the quiet reassurance they need at that particular time.

Photography by Geoff Browne

Tap your feet to Mel’s tunes at

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Barnaby Weir

Barnaby Weir is no stranger to the New Zealand music scene: lead singer of The Black Seeds, band leader for Fly My Pretties and now working on his solo career, Barnaby knows a thing or two about using his platform to make the world a better place. A long-time Collective supporter, Barnaby gives us some tips about how a little ‘thank you’ can go a long way.

What’s happening in your world this summer? I just finished performing and recording with Fly My Pretties and we are taking the new String Theory show around the country over Jan and Feb, so I’m looking forward to that. Also The Black Seeds are working on a new album with some summer shows around and about. Aside from that, I just wanna get my cream and swim on! 

What’s the most insanely generous thing a fan has ever done for you? I’ve had many generous gestures from fans including homemade jams and original paintings gifted. But really the best gifts are the stories about important times in people’s lives where they had our music as the meaningful soundtracks to their special and key moments.

Knowing that we are somehow embedded in these people’s lives is inspiring and it encourages me to keep doing what I am doing. So when someone takes the time to write to me and tell me their story, I really appreciate it.

How important do you think it is for people who have a platform like yours to spread messages about creating positive change in the world? I think that it is essential to operate not in isolation, but with a sense of community, knowing that people are listening to what we have to say.

A message in isolation without action towards the goal or without showing solidarity is a waste. If you’re not getting involved when you can, it’s not a sincere philosophy. I think that if you have an audience you should try to show in your actions that you can make a difference and lead by example. Sometimes that means sticking your head out and representing a cause you believe in, in a public way. It’s always worth it. It’s true that actions speak louder than words a lot of the time.

Can you tell us a couple of other musicians whose impact on the world inspires you? Warren Maxwell is a great example of a musician who actually cares about our collective communities. Not only are his songs inspiring, when he speaks about issues that he thinks are important, he speaks from the heart and is never patronising to the audience. I respect that a lot.

James Coyle from the Nudge is another Nugetty soul who is very conscious of the issues affecting our communities. He gets involved in a lot of cool projects including the Newtown Festival, elevating young artists and adding value to the scene in Wellington. People like James Meharry and Karen from RDU also show their commitment to the community through RDU in Christchurch; watering, feeding and harvesting great projects in quake city. In my mind, they are total legends.

Can you name an everyday action that makes the world a better place, yet is underrated? Taking the time to acknowledge those who go the extra mile is a simple, but important, thing to do that we often forget. Acknowledging our local heroes might be as easy as an email thanking them for what they do to make your city and our world a better place. Showing gratitude, supporting those who support others, saying, ‘thank you’, out of the blue. Showing that you’re aware of people’s selfless efforts to make this world a better place. Showing that you’re there for them and that you are also human, that you care. This, I think, is an underrated action of love and human solidarity.

Photography by Pat Shepherd

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Kathryn Ryan

Kathryn Ryan is one of the glittering jewels in New Zealand’s media crown. Formidably smart she conducts no-holds-barred interviews every weekday morning on her Radio New Zealand show, Nine to Noon. An Otago girl from way back, now in Wellington, and always making the most of the great outdoors all over NZ, we chat to Kathryn about what inspires her.

What’s happening in the world of Kathryn Ryan for 2016? Learning, working. Navigating the big changes that are happening in the media world, with all their challenges and opportunities. Spending weekends in the outdoors, sea, or mountains, and blissing out on the beauty of this place. Enjoying friends and family and supporting their adventures and endeavours. Trying to keep fit, cooking, reading – not all of these complement each other!

Describe the most generous person you know. How have they influenced you? Each and every one of the people who shares their stories, their knowledge, their highs, their lows, their disappointments, their successes, their failures, their joys, and their losses on Nine to Noon. This generous spirit of making yourself vulnerable – because someone else may hear something that changes their life, or illuminates what they're going through, makes them feel less alone, or encourages them to try something, or make a change. It is humbling to be part of that, and I never cease to be amazed at the trust, wisdom, and goodness of the thousands of people to put themselves out there and do it. Also, the kind of people who generously share their homes, their families, and their lives, without reservation. My life is full of them to a ridiculously undeserved degree.

Can you name an everyday action that makes the world a better place, yet is underrated? Kindness. Making the effort to look for and say something positive about someone. Not faked or forced – it's not hard to find these things. The small, subtle interactions that build someone up or change the way they are thinking or feeling; enough of it can change destinies, and it's contagious.

Can you tell us three stories that inspire you and why? Philosophically, the writing of Dame Jane Goodall and Peter Singer. Both forever changed the way I think about the rights of animals, and our responsibilities as a dominant species to not misuse the intellectual superiority we have to abuse and exploit other species egregiously. We've done nothing but pay a price for doing so, but more fundamentally, what right do we have to do so? Dame Jane's brilliantly lived life, including her worldwide work encouraging youth to action, and Peter's latest book on giving, and our ethical and moral imperative to give as much as we can, have added further layers of challenge! Also, the late Sir Paul Callaghan, who modelled brilliantly how to lead public discourse and debate in a way that never threatened, or intimidated, or antagonised people. He was without arrogance, encouraged participation, and made everyone feel welcome and worthy of it. He was an astounding role model for effective influence.

Secondly – great photography, art, and journalism. I love the style of ‘New Journalism' – which is now getting pretty old! I'll name two more recent books: Christopher McDougall's Born to Run, and Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, which combine my fascination with human physical and mental endeavour, with the environment, and fantastic journalistic writing.

The last thing is a real-life story that's unfolding right now. The activities of a whole generation of young, smart and inspiring business and social entrepreneurs, mostly in their 20s and 30s, in New Zealand and overseas. Many of whom are using new technology and new media to lead the way in redefining entrepreneurial endeavours. They knock me sideways with their calibre and their energy and give me hope we can, and will, fix a good few things that need fixing – and they're lots of fun to be around!

Photography by Pat Shepherd.

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Kate Tindall Lum

Kate Tindall Lum learned from some of the best by working for The Tindall Foundation, which her parents founded in 1994 and which last year celebrated 20 years of giving to more than 5000 organisations around New Zealand. A trained designer, Kate now specialises in figuring out how to effectively give away funding to reduce social issues, from youth to the homeless.

What’s happening in the world of Kate Tindall Lum for 2016? I’m currently undertaking a secondment at the Vodafone NZ Foundation running the World of Difference and Fellowship funding processes. Both programmes support Kiwis who are committed to supporting our young people, aged 12-24, into meaningful learning. I’m also looking after the Foundation’s communications. I’m really enjoying the work; feeling lucky that I have such a fulfilling job and getting to know my new work pals!

Describe the most generous person you know. How have they influenced you? My mother, Margaret (Marg). She is the kindest, most selfless person I know. My mum loves people, so giving of herself and her kindness is innate. She really listens to people and is genuinely interested in every person she meets. I admire Marg for caring so much about people, and being so natural with them. I want to be kind like her.

Can you name an everyday action that makes the world a better place, yet is underrated? A smile from a stranger.

Can you tell us three things that inspire you and why? Documentaries about space, and anything by David Attenborough. The complexities, scale and beauty of nature and the universe blow my mind and make me feel connected to the world. I like thinking about how we live on a planet that is just one extremely tiny speck in the universe.

Paintings by Mark Rothko and Milton Avery. Their paintings excite and motivate me. I love the way the paint seems to hover.

People who work for themselves on what they love, such as Eddy Royal and Jade Tang-Taylor of Curative, a creative agency that works with social and environmental organisations. And my friend, Chelsea Nikkel, a.k.a. Princess Chelsea. She writes fantastical, beautiful music from her own home and tours the world playing it to others. I think we should all be encouraged to do what we love.

Photography by Kaan Hiini.

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Seth Godin

Seth Godin is a remarkable advocate of making things happen. His daily blogging is a wellspring of inspiration for One Percent Collective and his hard-working habit of catalyst thinking is brave and brilliant. An early pioneer of ‘permission marketing’, Godin sold his 90s online start-up to Yahoo! and became its vice-president of direct marketing untill 2000. The author of 17 books, and last year inducted into the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame, Godin is well-versed in making things better and doing it for the right reasons. As he so eloquently puts it, “leading and leaping and doing work that matters is its own reward”. We couldn’t agree more.

What’s happening in the world of Seth Godin for 2014? Not just my world, our world. It’s really tempting to imagine that we each get to set an agenda for ourselves, and the world’s job is to line up and help us make it happen. I’ve learned that the opposite is often the case. The world is more connected than ever before, and the more open and vulnerable we can be to what’s possible, the more opportunities present themselves.

Describe the most generous person you know and how they influenced you. How long is your long run? I know people who measure the world in ten second flashes, and they’re happy to do something they call generous for six seconds, as long as they get a payback within ten seconds.

For me, what makes someone inspirationally generous is that they’ve figured out that the long run might just be forever. That leading and leaping and doing work that matters is its
own reward, despite the knocks and the criticism and the failures. The moms of the world are my influencers, the moms that have figured out how to raise kids that care.

Name an everyday action that makes the world a better place, yet is underrated. I think that blogging every day is a huge gift. Not for the reader (though it might be) but for the writer. If you write something every single day about your journey, your vulnerability and how you can help, it will change the way you think and act. Don’t chase an audience, chase your best self.

Tell us three things that inspire you and why. Books. Pema Chodron, Steve Pressfield, Brene Brown, Lewis Hyde, Pam Slim... and the online videos of my friend and hero, Sarah Kay.

Photography by Jill Greenberg.


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Conrad Smith

A decade of solid service to our beloved All Blacks has established Conrad Smith as both a household name and somewhat of a living legend. His down to earth attitude, determination and passion which extends to many aspects of his life means that he is an individual that young and old New Zealanders alike can look up to. A barrister and solicitor of the High Court of New Zealand, Smith illustrates that good work ethic goes a long way. His involvement in charity work showcases this further and rounds off a lifestyle that reflects his inspiring attitude.


What’s happening in the world of Conrad Smith? I’m currently on tour with the All Blacks, coming to the end of another pretty gruelling year of rugby. I can’t wait to get back home to spend the summer with my wife and 3 month old son. Fatherhood has been an amazing experience and the trips away are suddenly a whole lot tougher. There is not a lot of time outside of all this but I’m still trying to find time for my other hobbies, mainly; trying to cook, reading to keep my brain active and working out how to beat Beauden Barrett at golf.

Describe the most generous person you know. How have they influenced you? My Mum would be my first answer, but she doesn’t like me talking about her, so outside of her, the most generous person I know would be Cassandra Treadwell, founder and chief executive of the charity So They Can. I met Cass a few years ago and she told me about a displaced community she had met in Kenya. She was so touched by their plight that she went back home and has spent the last 7+ years building a charity that has since constructed a school, an orphanage, countless homes and completed many other projects. She works tirelessly and now has a massive team, myself included, caught up in her mission to help.

Can you name an everyday action that makes the world a better place, yet is underrated? Good manners. ‘Please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’, said with a smile. So easy to do and always makes people feel better about themselves. 

Can you tell us three things that inspire you and why? A good sports documentary... like the ESPN documentary, 30 for 30s. They show how sport can inspire people to do pretty special things. People like Cass... seeing what they have done is very inspirational. Volunteers... particularly in sport, people who give up a ton of time and effort and don’t ask for anything in return – the world needs more of them.

Photography by Pat Shepherd. Intro by Cam Murdoch.

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Marianne Elliott

Marianne Elliott believes that it is possible to do good and be well – definitely words to live by! These days she pours her considerable energies into supporting change-makers to bring about a kinder, safer world. With a background as a human rights lawyer working in NZ, Timor-Leste, Gaza and Afghanistan Elliott has plenty to bring to her present incarnation as restaurateur, yoga teacher, zen peace-keeper and storyteller.

What’s happening in the world of Marianne Elliott this year? This year I was offered the opportunity to launch a new online movement, ActionStation, for New Zealanders who want to take action, to work together to make our country the kind of place we want to live in – with a fair and equitable society, a healthy and flourishing environment and transparent and accountable government. It’s been a fantastic ride so far, a chance to bring together everything I’ve ever done – from human rights advocacy in Afghanistan to opening a Mexican restaurant in Wellington – and find creative ways to use everything I’ve learned for good.

Describe the most generous person you know. How have they influenced you? My partner Lucas is one of the most generous people I know. He’ll give you whatever he has that you need. He’ll say yes as often as possible – whether you need someone to help chop firewood, help edit your music video, money to get your book of poetry published, a car to go on holiday with your kids, or a job to get you through a rough patch. If he has it, he’ll give it. And he’s not asking “What will I get out of this?” He’s just asking, “What’s needed here that I might have to give?” He inspires me to be more generous, to say yes more often, to worry less about running out (of time, of money, of ideas) and trust that there is plenty of all of that to go around. 

Can you name an everyday action that makes the world a better place, yet is underrated? Words of kindness. Every time anyone anywhere makes the time to say something kind to someone else, the overall balance of the world gets tipped towards goodness. It’s so obvious as to be a cliché, but it’s true. A phone call to my grandmother. An email to a friend. A card in the mail to someone just to tell them I think they are doing great. When I think I’m too busy to make time for that, I know I’ve lost my sense of perspective. 

Can you tell us three things that inspire you and why? 
Book: I'm currently reading 'The Impossible Will Take A Little While' a compilation of essays edited by Paul Rogat Loeb. I recommend it to anyone who ever feels hopeless or despairing about the state of the world or our ability to turn things around. 

Documentary: Documentaries inspire me generally; their capacity to take my into another person's world and change my perspective on our own world inspired me. The most inspiring documentary I've seen in a long time is Gardening With Soul, by Jess Feast. 

Podcast: Roshi Joan Halifax teaches and practices at the intersection of spiritual practice and social justice. She inspires me. You can find podcasts of her talks on at Upaya Dharma Talks.

Photography by Susannah Conway.


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