Australia: Building healthy and connected communities free from alcohol harm
By Luke Michael, Journalist
May 4, 2020
Caterina Giorgi has always been interested in creating change. As the new CEO of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), she wants to create a world devoid of alcohol-fuelled harm. She’s this week’s Changemaker.
Giorgi started her community work from a young age, helping out elderly neighbours as a kid to make sure they stayed safe and healthy.
This passion took her to the not-for-profit sector, where she worked at the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) before joining FARE as director of policy and research in 2010.
After leaving the organisation in 2016 to start her own organisation, For Purpose – which works with other NFPs to create social change – Giorgi returned to FARE earlier this year to become CEO.
Along the way, she has completed an honours degree in public health, been a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, and served as a fellow of the Centre for Australian Progress. She was also selected as a finalist of the 2015 ACT Young Woman of the Year Awards.
At FARE, Giorgi is working with communities, governments, health professionals and police nationwide to prevent alcohol harm by supporting world-leading research, raising public awareness and advocating for policy change.
In this week’s Changemaker, Giorgi talks about her attraction to the sector, explains why alcohol-fuelled harm is a major issue during the COVID-19 pandemic, and discusses how she unwinds while in self-isolation.
What made you want to work in the not-for-profit sector?
I’ve always been really interested in how we could create change. My mum used to make me do this thing when I was a kid where I’d have to pop in to all of the houses of the older people in our street and see if they needed anything. And I’d end up on the phone to Telstra or getting people food. And at the time as a young person, I hated it. But now I realise that she was trying to instil in me a sense of community.
Through that I got very interested in how we can keep people healthy and connected. And so I went in search of a place where I could do that sort of work. And after trying out a couple of other spaces, I found myself in the not-for-profit sector, surrounded by a sector of amazing unicorns who create change every day. So I’ve worked in this sector over a decade now.
You have taken over leadership of FARE during a difficult time to say the least. How have you and the organisation coped during the pandemic?
I feel very grateful. It’s a time when you really realise how lucky you are. I’m lucky to have my family with me. I’m lucky to have broader social networks. I’m lucky to have a job.
I know lots of people who work in small businesses who have a pretty uncertain future. In terms of FARE, we transitioned to moving to work from home pretty early because as a public health organisation, we think it’s really important that we’re doing all we can to keep people healthy and safe. And the team was really great at doing that. It’s the team who have got a new CEO and all this change at once. And they’ve been really welcoming and made themselves really available.
We need to be checking in and seeing if people are okay and using the technological tools that are available to us to keep having chats, because we can’t have those chats in the kitchen like we used to have.
March saw a steep increase in alcohol sales when compared to the same time last year. How can FARE prevent people from falling in harm’s way?
We have an important role because FARE obviously works to build communities that are healthy and safe and free from alcohol-fuelled harm. And we are now seeing indications that some people are drinking at risky levels, and seeking help. And issues like family violence are being exacerbated because of alcohol. So we’ve been working to really try and understand what’s going on and to provide some policy recommendations as well as support. Because now more than ever, the work of the NFP sector is vitally important.
We’re in a completely unprecedented time. People are confined to their home. People are experiencing anxiety. And there’s still a requirement and expectation that people will live their lives, as normal. But nothing that we’re doing right now is normal. So it’s putting intense pressure on people. We’ve heard from our survey that people are saying that they’re drinking to cope with anxiety or they’re moving towards drinking daily or drinking more. And these are concerning trends because they’re really hard to change these habits once this is all over.
So we have resources that are available at the FARE website if people are worried about their own alcohol use. But we also have to acknowledge that common sense regulation is needed to make sure that we’re stopping things like the late night rapid delivery of alcohol, extreme discounting, or using isolation as a marketing ploy to sell alcohol. So all of these things need to be implemented, in addition to providing additional support, so we can do the best we can to get ahead of it and keep people healthy and safe.
What are some of the things that you’re hoping to achieve as CEO of FARE?
I’m really passionate about this space, and I think this is a really important cause because working across the NFP sector, we can see the devastating impact that alcohol can have on people’s families, on their health, and on their livelihoods. And as FARE’s vision – which is to stop the harm from alcohol – suggests, I’m keen to work with the team to be as effective as we can and continue the really important work we’re doing in policy and research, and health promotion.
But also I want to continue the work in building our community, and engaging with people who have been affected by alcohol, whether it’s someone who had Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder or someone with a lived experience of alcohol abuse. We’re here to understand the community and help to create change. So it’s those conversations that I’m very passionate about. And I feel very grateful to have had many of those already in the last six weeks. And I’m really looking forward to meeting many more people who have just become amazing advocates, often through terrible incidents that they’ve had in their lives. And an organisation like FARE does work really well alongside these advocates who should be given a voice.
Being in self-isolation, is there anything you’re reading or watching at the moment when you get free time?
I’m at that stage where I’m reading lots and lots of reports to try and get my head around what’s going on. But during my downtime, if I have 15 minutes in my day, I really like to just run outside and jump on the trampoline with my four-year-old. And I certainly take time in the morning to go for a run and a bike ride so that we can try to enjoy the day.
I’m certainly not going to reveal anything that I’m watching on television because it’s always total trash! But I always justify it by saying it’s on in the background while I’m doing work. So that’s my excuse.