Adam Blakester, CEO of Starfish Initiatives

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Introducing Adam Blakester, the passionate CEO of Starfish Initiatives. Starfish is celebrating its official launch, ten-year anniversary (we’ll explain later) in which it has been directly involved in 131 sustainability initiatives, many of which are international or national “firsts”, and kicking off the Starfish Foundation with a whopping half-million-dollar donation.

Tell us about your background?

I spent a dozen years with Greenpeace, and I’m a current Director of Lock the Gate. At KPMG, my specialisation was tax and SMEs. I was also CEO of Australia’s peak child abuse prevention society.

My time in finance, law and management; environmental; and the children and family sectors led me to an interest in sustainability. Starfish grew out of this, as I came to realise that sustainability is about getting the natural, social and economics right at the same time.

My focus, and that of Starfish, is on how we can achieve this.

What brought you to Armidale?

We did five years of research deciding where to live. We were looking across Australia, New Zealand and Europe, seeking a great quality of life. It needed a professional economy – which was key to my own livelihood – and we wanted an area that was resilient to the likely challenges coming our way, such as the economic disruption, climate change, mass extinctions, and pressure on food production. The New England stood head and shoulders above the rest.

What has your experience been?

My daughter, Jaz, has really settled into the Steiner school, a feature that attracted us to Armidale. My wife, Claire, has set up her massage practice, Bodiwel. It has not always been easy or perfect, but it has been wonderful. We are very glad we came here.

There is still a level of untapped potential in our region. It is equally an extraordinarily bountiful place to live, full of interesting people, beautiful nature and great infrastructure. My recent professional travels to Asia underlined just how affluent we are. It is an awesome gift to have this life.

What were the origins of Starfish?

Ten years ago, I put my shingle out as a sustainability specialist for hire. It didn’t take long before so many more people, organisations, and money became involved that we needed a legal structure to hold it all. Our first projects were the New England Sustainability Strategy and Farming the Sun. These projects underpinned the creation of Starfish.

What drives you?

The environment is often seen as a resource to be used and consumed to create economic activity to improve our standard of living. The problem is, this isn’t working and is failing more dramatically every day. We need to collectively do things differently. We need to create change, and that is the focus of Starfish’s work.

Starfish has just officially launched after 10 years in operation; please explain?

The Board always agreed we couldn’t be fully able to do our work without the ability to fundraise. And you can’t do fundraising well if you can’t give a tax deduction.

So, our launch was always tied to us achieving tax deductibility status. I knew that it would be difficult to get, as environmental charities are highly scrutinised. However, I never expected it to take six years!

This is why we are officially launching and celebrating our ten-year anniversary at the same time. The proof of the pudding is the $500,000 donation we obtained to start up the Starfish Foundation. We could not legally have received this without tax deductibility status.

How challenging was achieving tax deductibility status?

Incredibly. In fact, we have a pile of correspondence about 2-foot-thick from the process. Many people worked on this goal. We had numerous meetings with Ministers and local Members. The efforts of our Board were tireless; however, I would particularly like to recognise the efforts of Chris Serow of Legal Minds, whose commitment never flagged.

So too, Josette Wunder of The Earth Welfare Foundation was pivotal. Josette wanted to donate $500,000 to rural sustainability and wanted to know why it was so difficult! She spent two weeks making phone calls, sending emails, and writing letters, pushing us over the line. What a gift!

What challenges does Starfish face?

To our knowledge, we are the only dedicated charity in the world focused on rural sustainability. This is significant. There are those that address different aspects, such as farming, mining and conservation; however, no one is working on the whole picture.

As exciting as it is, we don’t want to be the only one. We need to build awareness of the need for investment in, and attention to, the issue of rural sustainability. We need to create the confidence that rural and regional communities can not only survive, but thrive in the face of the challenges ahead.

Thank you, Adam.

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