When Shaun Christie-David and PlateitForward co-founder Peter Jones-Best opened their Sri Lankan restaurant 12 months ago aiming to give refugees and asylum seekers a fresh start, they never thought they would have the impact they are having today.
Just four months after opening Colombo Social, the outbreak of COVID-19 saw them have to shut down the venue and pledge all money raised from the restaurant into setting up a charity that would feed those suffering from serious food insecurity during the pandemic.
The PlateitForward initiative is now a registered charity, with three businesses operating under its name: restaurant Colombo Social, a catering company called PlateitForward Hospitality, and paid training program Ability Social.
In terms of impact, the charity’s catering service donates a meal per person to a person experiencing or at risk of food insecurity. This has amounted to over 50,500 meals for asylum seekers, students on temporary visas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and rough sleepers.
The enterprise has also employed 20 asylum seekers, four Aboriginal Staff and two members on disability pension across its three businesses, providing approximately 5,000 hours of employment and training to these staff members.
For his efforts, Christie-David has been named one of the AMP Foundation’s Tomorrow Makers.
In this week’s Changemaker, he discusses his impact journey, the learnings of running a charity through a pandemic and the benefits of a strong community.
Why did you choose a Sri Lankan restaurant as a way of creating impact?
We always wanted to do Sri Lankan, but the why for the Sri Lankan restaurant was twofold. It’s a way for first generation migrants to really own a culture. The recipes that we use in the restaurant are my mum’s recipes that I used to be embarrassed about as a kid because they were so different to what everyone else was eating, and so this is a way for me to be proud of my heritage.
Pete’s background is hospitality and my background is doing a bit of work in the not-for-profit social impact space. And we always said that if we did something we wanted to give back, but it needed to be about education and employment. This came from our parents I think. My mum was an early childhood educator, and Pete’s mum worked with [children] with special needs, and they always told us to help other people through jobs and education.
We wanted to support asylum seekers through employment opportunities, because when we were growing up Sri Lanka had the largest portion of asylum seekers arriving in Australia because of the civil war. [We wanted] this to be a place where they feel comfortable and they can improve their English and learn helpful skills. But it was also a model that [would allow] them to feel part of something bigger and allow our customers to be part of something bigger.