I’m Bernie Omedi. I first became involved with Oxfam in 1977. I was a lecturer in Mathematics. I started thinking about doing something useful. I looked around and found Community Aid Abroad. [I] basically discovered I wasn’t a misfit. There were other people just like me who thought the same sort of way I did about issues.
In 1982 I set up the “Aware” program, the beginnings of a very large regular-giving program. The concept was very new. Now it’s the bread and butter of any large fundraising organisation.
Mail order was the next chapter in the story. In 1984 I set up the first mail order operation. The first catalogue went out Christmas, 1984. The print run was about 40,000.
It was run from a little upstairs room above a Community Aid Abroad shop in Darlinghurst, Sydney, which was a pretty rough area. We had lots of volunteer staff helping out but it was a trial.
No one had any idea, including myself, of how to run a mail order operation. It was all worked out from scratch and we learnt as we went along. It wasn’t computerised at all but it was by the next year — on two little IBM computers with floppy discs.
It was the very first alternative catalogue in Australia. It grew, doubling each year until 1988. [That year] we had sales of almost $3 million, generating orders for 24,000 parcels. It made us a huge profit — almost a million dollars.
We were young and didn’t know what you couldn’t do. We just did things and made a lot of money. And supported a lot of artisans in the process.