Entrepreneurship journey empowers and changes lives
04/08/2023 by Carmelle Wilkinson
The Underground Collaborative founder Katie Liew.
Seven years ago, Curtin Commerce graduate Katie Liew was crunching numbers in her accounting job when she suddenly realised this career path wasn’t for her.
Despite a love for English while at school, Katie said she chose to study accountancy with the belief it would lead to greater employment opportunities.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do when I finished high school, so commerce seemed like a versatile degree, and something all businesses needed so it felt like a safe option,’’ she said.
“Looking back now my degree has certainly proved to be incredibly valuable since starting my own business.”
In 2017 Katie walked away from her 10-year accountancy career to launch The Underground Collaborative.
Through its café Ground+Co in the Perth CBD, the social enterprise provides training, mentoring, employment and wraparound support for women and young people experiencing or at-risk of homelessness.
Katie at work at Ground+Co.
Katie said stepping away from a secure role to brave the not-for-profit sector was a risk she was willing to take.
“I’ve always been passionate about helping others, and while working in the mining and resources industry as a management accountant, I was actively volunteered with organisations including Starlight, State Emergency Service, Camp Quality and Youth Affairs Council WA,’’ she said.
Katie said camping and overlanding through Africa for two months was the catalyst for change and ignited a strong desire to make a difference to the lives of those in need.
Katie said her experience in Africa changed the trajectory and purpose of her life.
“I rediscovered my passion for volunteering and social impact following my trip to Africa and from there, began my social entrepreneurship journey with the dreams of driving and instilling positive change in the lives of others,’’ she said.
“Leaving behind my accounting career to launch The Underground Collaborative was a huge gamble, but I was no longer feeling fulfilled in my job and knew I wanted to make a difference.
With her social justice fire ignited, Katie spent time volunteering at a friend’s social enterprise café on her return to Perth, which donated profits to their international aid organisation.
“It was through their partners in Indonesia that I had the opportunity to travel to Jakarta, where I came face to face with poverty,’’ she said.
“There were families and children living in garbage dumps with no access to sanitation, toilets, or clean water.
“It was heartbreaking. And it was then I made up my mind that I wanted to come back home and do something meaningful.
“When I returned, I was experiencing a mixture of emotions. I was completely dissatisfied, angry and deflated with the state of our world and I was also frustrated with the thought of spending the rest of my life doing something I didn’t really care for.”
Katie said it was this renewed sense of direction that led her to starting the Underground Collaborative.
“My parents worked incredibly hard to provide for our family and I always felt I wanted to make them proud and do something meaningful with my life.”
Through the Underground Collaborative, Katie provides employment for women impacted by domestic violence and young people at-risk and helps them find sustainable housing solutions.
With a passion for international aid and social impact Katie is dismantling the stigma of homelessness.
With no regrets of giving up corporate life, she is focused on empowering women and young people.
“You don’t have to change the world, to change the world. Change your world, to change someone else’s,’’ she said.
Katie said a key component of successful progress in the homelessness sector was collaboration.
“The recognition is that we are stronger when we unite forces, share successes stories and struggles and create a true picture of the issue we’re trying to solve,’’ she said.
“She has broken the cycle of homelessness and is an incredible inspiration to not only myself but to so many.”
Armed with a passion for international aid, social impact and human rights Katie is breaking the cycle of homelessness and dismantling the stigma surrounding society’s perception to raise awareness and create change.
“The goal at the end of the day is to educate, empower and employ.” she said.