John Dee, changing the world

JON Dee created his first enterprise at 17. As a music-obsessed teenager living in the small English town of Wem, he founded the fan club for the rock band Yes.

NO TIME TO REST: Environmental and charity campaigner Jon Dee has been campaigning since he was a teenager. Picture: Jacky Ghossein

“Through that I got to meet all my heroes,” he recalls. “I was getting drunk at 17 with [Led Zeppelin’s influential guitarist] Jimmy Page and meeting all the guys from Pink Floyd, Deep Purple and Queen. They found out I was doing charity work at my school and then suddenly someone got confused one day and said, ‘Jon does charity stuff with rock bands’. My first paid job was fixing up a charity concert that had gone off the rails.

“I realised that was what I wanted to do, that this was a way of merging my networking skills and passion for charity work, so I decided to become a consultant at 19 to help charities and musicians to improve the way they organise their charity events.”

Dee then co-produced the global broadcast that launched World AIDS Day on December 1, 1988.

“I got the BBC to donate all their studios for free for a 55-country global event.”

He has headed a dizzying number and variety of projects since then, and his vast network includes a who’s who of entertainment, business and politics. Prior to our interview, the social entrepreneur had been exchanging emails with long-time friend and charity partner Olivia Newton-John. The pair are working on the One Tree Per Child campaign, an international follow-up to their successful National Tree Day project. More than 10 million trees were planted throughout Australia during the 15 years they managed the annual event.

Dee, an in-demand consultant and speaker, is also the managing director of DoSomething!, a non-profit organisation he founded with long-time friend Pat Cash and the former executive director of the National Trust of Australia, Tina Jackson, which brings together businesses and community enterprises to create “positive social and environmental change”.

“I’m one of those people that if I see something I don’t like, I find it almost impossible not to do something about it,” he laughs.

One of the organisation’s great successes has been the creation of the website DoSomethingNearYou杭州夜生活, which lists community groups in 16,000 suburbs. If you are interested in volunteering, you type in your postcode and a list of local organisations appears.

“We’ve done it without a single cent of government funding,” he says proudly.

“Initially the Pratt family and the Pat Cash Foundation funded the project and it then got to the point that we accepted it was going to need quite a bit of money every year to run so Aldi have agreed to sponsor it.”

The 49-year-old, who lives in the Blue Mountains with wife Leanne and daughters Estelle, 9, and Claudia, 5, is determined to smash the myth that you have to “either be for the environment and social change or for business”.

“We’ve got to become better at using resources and creating sustainability across all areas of our lives and the most powerful tool is business because that’s who we interact with on a day-to-day basis in a way we don’t with our politicians.

“If we can get this positive outcome between business and community, that is where I see the influential decisions being made.”

Dee is an astute and effective networker as well as a determined and focused campaigner. He has lobbied all sides of politics to support various projects including “Ban the Bulb”, during which incandescent light globes were phased out over three years.

“I went to the Howard government with the idea to phase out light globes to save hundreds of millions of dollars in electricity bills, and at the same time making a big difference to the environment. Malcolm Turnbull pressed the button on that campaign and Peter Garrett implemented it with the Rudd Government.

“We were the first developed country to do that, and because Australia took the lead, Europe followed. You cannot buy an incandescent globe in the European Union and now China and America have announced they’re going to do it too.

“Australia should take the lead on projects like this; we’re only 23 million people, we’re well educated, we’re doing far better economically than most countries in the world. If we can’t take the lead, be the change that the world wants to see, then who is going to do it?”

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