Meet Emi Weir, one of our inspiring ABV Skilled Volunteers who has donated her expertise for over a decade. Emi's nomadic spirit has led her to new opportunities around the globe—starting in her early twenties, she moved to New York, where she sold tour packages for Aus Travel. Although challenging, she found solo travelling a fulfilling experience; she says, "I went to New York without any plan, but I think my Australian accent and confidence secured me the job, and I loved it." Over her career, Emi appreciated flexibility to follow her own path, "When I asked to for time off to go backpacking, they said yes, and when I came back, and I was promoted to set up the national operation."
In 2014, in search of a new challenge, Emi travelled to Vientiane, the capital city of Laos. Vientiane is known for its relaxed vibe and Buddhist temples along tree-lined boulevards on the banks of the Mekong River. Shortly after her arrival, Emi was asked to support the business operations of the Laos Disabled Women's (LDW) Centre through Australian Business Volunteers (ABV).
In groups of 30, women with disabilities would join the LDW Centre for nine months, building confidence and life skills. A lot of the women were victims of the Polio virus, which, if not treated properly, can result in paralysis. "These women faced great challenges—many were denied schooling and weren't accepted in their villages. They came to the Centre and saw girls who were like them and who were happy to be like them. Seeing their transformation was a deeply moving experience."
The women were employed to craft items from recycled paper, like earrings and bracelets, to be sold in the Centre's shop. With Emi's background in tourism, she realised the promising prospects of the Centre being near the famous 'Friendship Bridge' that connects to Thailand. Emi established partnerships with tour companies to incorporate the Centre into their itineraries, bringing in busloads of visitors. Over the next decade, the Centre evolved from a small initiative into a thriving enterprise and, to this day, operates, now offering tours and paper crafting workshops.
Above: Paper crafting at the LDW Centre, Emi Holding Earrings 2014.
In 2016, Emi relocated to Savannakhet—a province in southern Laos. She started another ABV assignment to write a business plan for Sengsavang, a versatile establishment housing a restaurant, tailoring service, and hairdressing facility. "Local factory workers would take their lunch there and then have their hair washed, which was a popular service, and during wedding season, they'd teach the local girls how to sew." Emi later employed Sengsavang tailors to produce Ikats (a dyed textile) for her business, Ma Té Sai. Emi's business is a social enterprise that proudly follows a "from the village for the village" ethos, co-creating items with village artisans.
Emi pivoted to virtual volunteering in the last few years, and her latest ABV assignment was helping disaster resilience in Southeast NSW by writing a strategic marketing plan for a First Nations organisation and assisting Aruluen Hall with event marketing.
Emi's diverse skill set has been invaluable to ABV over the past decade, and we're profoundly grateful for her expertise. Reflecting on her years with ABV, Emi said, "I love the diversity of what ABV offers; I identify with its spirit of resourcefulness."
LDWD Centre Group photo.
Paper products from LDWD Centre being sold in Singapore.
Do you have the business skills to give back and change lives? Express interest in volunteering with us.
Our Skilled Volunteers, Liz Reece and Tamara Dytor, made the most of their time in Papua New Guinea. They immersed themselves in the experience of volunteering overseas, taking the opportunity to join in with the local culture before facilitating the Your Enterprise Scheme (YES) Program—helping local entrepreneurs and small businesses grow their skills for business success. "The YES course participants were a delight to work with, nutting out the local challenges and best business models together," said Liz.
Liz has volunteered for ABV since 2015, so she was the perfect partner to help Tamara feel comfortable on her first assignment. Volunteering overseas can seem intimidating, but you can feel safe and confident with local guidance and the support of your volunteer buddy.
Reflecting on the trip, Tamara shared she feels grateful for the opportunity to learn from Liz, the Apeketon team and the course participants, "It was wonderful to exchange knowledge and be part of something truly unique. I'm looking forward to my next role with ABV."
Are you feeling inspired to give back? It's a new year of possibilities, and countless opportunities with us need your business skills! Whether it's volunteering locally or abroad, your contribution matters. Take the first step today by expressing your interest in volunteering with us at Volunteer - Australian Business Volunteers (abv.org.au)
Our partner, Newmont, supports this program and the Apeketon Business Hub.
Jennifer Harris, our Nauru Business Hub Manager, facilitated a tourism workshop with our skilled volunteers Matt and Liane, which focused on empowering young people and supporting sustainable tourism growth in Nauru.
Considering the impact on the environment and local economy is crucial for the small island nation that has become the focus for many 'bucket list' travellers. The Private Sector Development Roadmap supports community-led, sustainable tourism development that celebrates Nauru's unique culture and history.
This initiative is part of our Private Sector Development Roadmap implementation, delivered in partnership with the Nauru Chamber of Commerce (NCC) and supported by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and British High Commission Solomon Islands.
These young entrepreneurs will receive ongoing mentoring support through the Hub and ABV's skilled volunteers, in collaboration with the Youth Mentor Group Enterprises (YMGE), one of the community groups formed out the network-building activities of the Roadmap's Sustainable Tourism Working Group.
We look forward to sharing updates on the progress of these young entrepreneurs as they build their entrepreneurial skills and take the lead in Nauru's developing tourism industry!
Last week, Anna Durward had her first face-to-face meeting with her mentee, Camari Turagarua on Likuri Island. They have been working together since early 2023. Camari, the Chief Operations Officer at BSP Life Fiji, joined the program to enhance her leadership, management, and strategic skills. She expressed her gratitude for the mentorship program, stating, 'I've learned so much, and I am so grateful to Anna – she is like a sister to me.'
During their time together, they enjoyed the Fiji Day festivities. Camari had made Anna a sulu chamba, which she wore during the celebrations (pictured here). Anna thoroughly enjoyed the traditional dancing, especially the lively dance competition in the evening, which she took part in judging.
Reflecting on her experiences, Anna says, 'I learned so much and feel I have a new family in Fiji. If something feels a bit off in your career, if you're feeling lost, seeking more meaning, wanting to be of service, considering a career change, or aspiring to co-create real impact in communities, I highly recommend volunteering with ABV.'"
Evelyn (Eve) Moolenburgh has been volunteering with ABV since 2019, working alongside ABV staff and those of our partners throughout the Asia Pacific region. Born in Perth and now living in Sydney, Eve's life has been shaped by diverse experiences, both in Australia and abroad. From her time in Nauru supporting sustainable tourism development with ABV and our partner the Nauru Chamber of Commerce to her dedicated role as a community firefighter, Eve embodies the spirit of giving back.
Let's take a look into Eve's inspiring volunteering story and her impact as a changemaker:
Volunteering has been an important part of Eve's life since her early years. Inspired by her mother's 45 years of service to Meals on Wheels, Eve has continued to make a positive impact through volunteer work. "From my days as a Brownie and Girl Guide to now, volunteering is so important to me. First, I did 'Cents for Service,' sweeping up the leaves and pathways for elderly neighbours; then, it was volunteering at the local hospital and running fundraising at the school to build a new library. Now it's community firefighting; and business volunteering with ABV," Eve shares. The rewards of volunteering extend far beyond the tangible outcomes, as Eve has forged lifelong friendships and witnessed the transformative power of helping others.
For over 20 years, Eve has dedicated herself to the role of Team Coordinator in her local Community Fire Unit. Although her suburb is surrounded by bushland, active firefighting situations have been rare. Nevertheless, Eve's role extends beyond fighting fires; it encompasses educating her community about fire safety and helping them prepare for potential hazards. "Ensuring our suburb is fire-ready and raising awareness about fire safety measures is crucial. Our collective effort contributes to a safer community," Eve emphasizes.
Eve's volunteer experience is complemented by her 40+ years' business experience, including working as an insurance broker in London and later starting her own thriving consulting business with 10+ staff in Sydney supporting organisational change, leadership development and making businesses successful through their people, with many clients in the tourism and hospitality sectors. Accolades include an Inbound Tourism Emerging Leader talent program which won "Best Talent Program" in 2016, a program still running.
Among Eve's numerous volunteering assignments with ABV, one of her most cherished experiences took place in Nauru, where Eve discovered a country brimming with warmth, creativity and the huge potential of its young people. Collaborating with ABV staff and our partner, the Nauru Chamber of Commerce, Eve has worked with a wide range of local stakeholders to help lay the groundwork for a private-sector and youth-led sustainable tourism industry. Through her work with ABV, Eve not only learns about different cultures but also has the opportunity to inspire -- and be inspired by -- local changemakers, supporting them to drive new opportunities with their communities.
When she isn't occupied with her professional commitments, Eve finds serenity in her beloved hobby of kayaking. Living near Sydney Harbour has provided Eve with the perfect playground to embark on kayaking adventures with her son and husband. One of her most memorable kayak adventures was recently navigating Marovo Lagoon in the Solomon Islands with her husband.
Reflecting on her ABV volunteer work predominantly in the Pacific region, Eve shares that, "One of the most significant lessons I've learned is about different approaches to time." It has been an enlightening experience for Eve, who has found that investing the time to listen, learn and adapt her approach to each country's own unique rhythm allows more time for reflection and enables you to embrace a more present and mindful approach to life.
In Eve's words, "There is twice as much to be gained from being a volunteer; not just the fruits of fundraising and the sight of a brand-new library at the local school but the friends and people you meet and the reward of seeing someone else benefit and thrive."
Image: Eve is pictured with Nauru Business Hub Manager, Jennifer Harris.
Jarrod Joske has been an invaluable part of the ABV family since 2021 and continues to offer support in a variety of areas due to the versatility of his skills. Jarrod's passion for lending his experience to community organisations stems from his belief in the power of teamwork. Living in West Melbourne, it was during his time as a product manager for NAB (National Australia Bank) that he was recommended to apply to ABV's Corporate Skilled Volunteering program by a friend.
This led to Jarrod becoming a part of the ABV/NAB Community Strategy Challenge (CSC) to support the Queensland Rural Fire Service. Immersed in a tight-knit team of six volunteers from all corners of NAB, the CSC became a transformative experience for Jarrod and his colleagues. Their collective knowledge and dedication allowed them to accomplish three months' worth of work in a mere ten days. Jarrod thrived in this collaborative environment.
The impact of their efforts didn't stop there, Jarrod and the NAB volunteers created a streamlined onboarding process for rural fire service. By implementing solutions, they suggested how to compress the typically year-long volunteer application process to a remarkable 35 days. The Queensland Rural Fire Service team was so grateful for their contributions that they sent Jarrod a bundle of merchandise, serving as a daily reminder of his time with them.
As he ventures into a consultancy role with a boutique management company, Jarrod's dedication to ABV remains, and he has since been able to work on regional projects in Batlow and Orbost in NSW/VIC.
To Jarrod, ABV stands out from the crowd as an organisation, with its remarkable team embodying authenticity and genuine compassion. "ABV is set-out from the rest. Their key differentiator is their team, everyone I've crossed paths with from ABV has been genuine, and I've loved working with them and making lasting friendships."
When Jarrod isn't busy volunteering or working, he immerses himself in his music, playing gigs at local venues and supporting Melbourne's unique music scene. He also advocates for mental health awareness, participating in the 3144 push-up challenge (symbolic of the lives lost to suicide in 2021); he raises funds for Lifeline—a testament to his commitment to giving back.
In Jarrod's words, "It's not just about doing good; it's also about building lasting connections and the fulfilment that comes from knowing you’ve helped made a difference."
To give an idea of how Shean Gannon ended up volunteering with us, his story starts with a passion for business, adventure, and a deep commitment to making a difference. From growing up on a dairy farm in the small town of Tinamba, nestled in the heart of Victoria's Shire of Wellington, to the far reaches of Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Tanzania, Shean's journey is one of growth and transformation.
After studying civil engineering in Melbourne, Shean embarked on a successful career in the construction industry. With his education and entrepreneurial spirit, he moved to Fiji with his young family and started his first company. From this, he had the opportunity to work on construction projects throughout the Fiji Islands, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Kiribati and Tuvalu for AusAid, World Bank, Defence Force, and Fijian government departments.
After this time, Shean moved to Tanzania, East Africa, for 3 years to volunteer at the school of St Jude; "I enjoy a challenge, and I enjoy the interaction with people who are always eager to learn," he says. Shean grappled with adapting to a new culture and navigating unfamiliar territory. However, he is always up for a challenge; he learned to speak basic Shawali and embraced his work teaching.
Seeking to further expand his horizons and take on a new challenge, Shean joined ABV (Australian Business Volunteers) in 2019, and his commitment took him on two remarkable international assignments, first as a mentor in Lae, PNG and then to the shores of Suva, Fiji, for the launch of the Fiji Thrive Program, "Both were great experiences, but Fiji was my favourite, as I feel at home in Fiji."
During his recent trip with ABV's Fiji Thrive Program, Shean put his experience of launching successful small businesses to work, collaborating with local entrepreneurs and mentoring them through the program. One lesson he learned across different cultures was the importance of valuing one's time. Shean has encountered many small business owners who underestimate the worth of their labour, "We had one designer who would only charge $12 for three or four days of work," he says. Shean encourages and empowers business owners to take the time to understand their financials and ensure that they pay themselves a fair wage.
Shean shares why he chooses to volunteer with ABV, "What makes ABV stand out is the research they put into the projects they are sending volunteers to," he says. "When you go on an ABV Assignment, you know you will deliver something meaningful, and you will have the support to do it."
Shean loves the innovation and the level of opportunity he can access with ABV, "You know the work you're doing; the mentoring is building something sustainable that will have a greater benefit in the long term." Shean attributes this to the unique collaboration between ABV and the private sector, "It's not every day that not-for-profits work with other businesses and large corporations so effectively."
Beyond his work with ABV, Shean found joy in sailing, and is a member of the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard. Wherever he may find himself in the world, Shean remains dedicated to volunteering, driven by an unwavering belief in the importance of giving back.
Skilled Business Volunteer, Kaylene Benson, is back home after following an intensive three-week program equipping 25 promising Fiji business leaders under our latest program with BSP Financial Group Limited, Fiji THRIVE.
As she says, it comes back to bringing out the best in people. "When you're able to elevate people with the support of the region's largest bank, the British High Commission, and the expert training we're providing on the ground, it just brings out the best in them and their business."
Each program participant will receive ongoing tailored mentorship from Kaylene and her colleague over the coming six months to lift their businesses to the next level. We cannot wait to follow the transformation that these locally-led, and largely women-led, businesses bring about for their families and community!