Meet Our New Chair

A change of guard took place at the Intergalactic Space Station at Level 32 last month as we fondly farewelled our Chairperson for two and a half years, Roslyn Moloney, and welcomed Sandeep Varma in the role.

Sandeep is an experienced organisational leader, and is currently leading a statewide youth human rights project for the Centre for Multicultural Youth. A former corporate employment lawyer, speechwriter and marketing communications manager, Sandeep won the Department of Justice Secretary’s award for his crisis communications work during the Black Saturday bushfires.

On the request of the restive and curious Building residents, we interviewed Sandeep on his vision for 100 Story Building.

Tell us a bit about your background.

I’m an Indian-American Aussie, who grew up in the hills of Altadena, just north of Los Angeles, California. I grew up with a diverse group of friends, a love of Indian, Mexican and American food, an obsession with hip hop, comic books and good writing, a strong sense of community, and a befuddled awe for public transportation.

I came to Melbourne as an undergraduate exchange student, met my first drop bear, and fell in love with this city and the people. I returned to do a Master’s, then worked in communications for seven years, including as a Communications Manager and Speechwriter for the Emergency Services Commissioner during the Black Saturday bushfires and the subsequent Royal Commission.

Working during the Royal Commission inspired me to study law, and then to practice in employment and safety law, developing a strong interest in child safety law. All the while, I volunteered with organisations that helped children, and have always supported organisations that help young people find their voice.

Completely separately, I’m also a three-time Australian chilli cook-off champion, a certified bar-be-que judge and a father of two young boys who happen to be my test subjects for my cooking and for superhero-themed Halloween costumes.

What made you join 100 Story Building’s Board?

I joined the 100 Story Building Board in October 2017, after helping the organisation with its child safety policies. I was already familiar with the work of 826 Valencia in San Francisco and was a big fan of Dave Eggers. I had met him and 100 Story Building CEO Lachlann Carter at the Melbourne Writers Festival and had heard about the incredible work being done in Footscray.

100 Story Building’s mission struck a chord with me because I grew up speaking Hindi at home and struggled with learning English, first engaging with the language through comics. My first-grade teacher even caught me cheating on a spelling test and gave me a chance to redeem myself. Since then, I’ve loved words and stories, and have always searched for written or visual stories that reflect myself, my culture and the diverse world around me.
I wish there had been something like 100 Story Building near me when I was growing up. So when I saw the work being done here, I knew I’d be a life-long supporter.

As a Board Member, what aspect of 100 Story Building’s work blew you away?

I love seeing the creative process in action. I love how the young writers in the Building can take an idea and flip it into something you’d never expect. One thing that stands out for me is the way 100 Story Building genuinely engages with local writers and artists to inspire and educate young people but it’s the young people who are truly in charge! The best moment is when they realise it. I remember seeing a holiday workshop where an artist helped a digital story unfold in a world with superpowered avatars and catastrophic killer storms. One young person said, “We should just run” and suddenly all the avatars started running at super speed, and they outran the storm!

From the inside, I’ve loved seeing the breadth and scope of the organisation, and the smart way it focuses on making as big an impact as it can, while reflecting the communities it serves. There’s a real gap in creative literacy in schools, and it is such an empowering thing to help a young person tell their own story, and perhaps for the first time, find confidence in their own voice. I think our model as a social enterprise has its challenges in a very dynamic sector but I am inspired by the passion and commitment of everyone involved, from the board to the staff to the volunteers.

What is your vision for 100 Story Building as its Chairperson?

We’re five years old and are moving into a growth phase for the organisation. My vision is for the reach of 100 Story Building to expand significantly and sustainably so that more young people and communities can benefit from our unique approach to creative literacy. The world needs more creative thinkers and authentic storytellers to help come up with ideas for the complex problems we face in society. As the digital and economic divides continue to grow, we also need more voices from a cross-section of the community. More diversity leads to better problem solving and outcomes in any organisation, and that starts with instilling confidence in young writers who, like me, might be inspired someday by the words they read or the art they see to go and change the world.