When I tell people I grew up under high voltage power lines in Australia, they either looked shocked, or shake their heads and say "that explains a lot"! Every day I was grateful for those power lines. They made it possible for us to have a big piece of land to grow things, and play games on.
Despite the big open space, I was never a sporty kid. I couldn’t figure out how to make my body do what I wanted it to, and I quickly withdrew to the things I knew – intellectual pursuits like schoolwork. I dreaded the selection of sports teams because for sure I would be one of the last to be picked.
"I became adept at avoiding sport."
As I got older, I also got smarter. I figured out ways not to have to do sport. Miraculously music rehearsals got scheduled at the same time as our sports classes, and doctors appointments sadly always coincided with school PE. At the same time as I was becoming adept at avoiding sport, I had also figured out my future. I was going to become a doctor and go to Africa to spend time looking after sick kids. It was all mapped out and I knew with certainty that’s what I was going to do. I put my heart and soul into my study.
When I got my final year results my world fell down around me. I had missed the marks for medicine. I couldn’t believe it. Accepting a place in Science at Monash University (built on old disused farmland outside Melbourne), I adapted quickly to undergraduate life. I threw myself into work, and into participating in University activities. I had gone from a school-kid with plaits and no place in the world, to willingly taking a leadership role in activities, clubs and the student union (which I was later to become president of).
"The doctors told me I would never be able to run again."
In the middle of this I had an accident which would change the course of the rest of my life. Pushed into a swimming pool I hurt my back so badly the doctors told me I would never be able to run again. Given my lifelong antipathy towards exercise and athletics in particular, I could have shrugged my shoulders and used it as an excuse to sit on the couch and eat pizza. Instead, I realised this was an opportunity – one that would allow me to define my own limits.
I started swimming. Two laps (which felt like crossing an ocean). Swimming led to biking, and eventually running as I strived to prove to myself that I could defy the odds. At the same time, my academic career was moving forward. I finished university and accepted a position as a lawyer at a big Melbourne law firm. I swam, biked and rode in my spare time, and in daylight hours, worked on privatisations and infrastructure investment work.
"I fell into climate change by accident."
An opportunity arose when I was working at the Sydney Futures Exchange – one nobody wanted to take, and as the newest member of the team, one that fell to me. I embraced the challenge, and became known as a world expert in the area (mainly because it was so early that nobody else was working on it!).
I was headhunted by the World Bank and moved to Washington DC. From there I went to London, and then to Beijing where together with Tim Clissold (who was to become one of my closest friends) we started Peony Capital.
I was recognised for my achievements at Peony Capital and was nominated to join the Community of Young Global Leaders (YGL’s) – a group of incredible young achievers committed to changing the world.
It was through the YGL’s that I was exposed to the problem of invisible water, and would go on to make it my life ambition to solve the water crisis. There’s nothing like being surrounded by a phenomenal group of people who believe they can achieve anything to inspire you to think the same!
"Thirst recently celebrated it’s 500,000th graduate from its education programs."
I launched Thirst in March 2012. What started as a crazy idea sketched on a whiteboard (actually a piece of glass we had stuck to the wall of our tiny office!), became a movement that would stretch across China. We have reached kids, parents, teachers and government officials.
When I realised that we couldn’t solve the water problem just by being in China, I took on the challenge issued by me to the YGL’s to create a stunt that would capture the world’s media attention and help to spread our messages. The campaign of #Run4Water was born.
In March 2016 I finished running 40 marathons across 7 deserts on 7 continents in 7 weeks. It was a world first. Something that put me onto Fortunes’ list of the 50 greatest leaders in the world. Together with the Pope, Angela Merkel and Jeff Bezos – there I am at no 45 (as my friends proudly tell me – above Justin Trudeau!).
When I was little growing up on that big block of land, digging holes for trees, running under sprinklers, I never would have imagined I would be living in Asia, running an incredible non profit, and traveling the world to tell stories about water scarcity and inspire people to believe that every single one of us can make a difference.