Choose Hope: Lena Mackey

My name is Lena Mackey and I am from the Perth Human Library. Three words to describe myself would be curious, motivated and open-hearted. My favourite holiday destination is Spain because of the warm nights, delicious food and siesta lifestyle. I am curious about the manifestations of racism and prejudice, and how to work effectively in my feminine energy.

Can you tell us a bit about what you studied and your work experience?Lena Mackey.jpg

I studied a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) majoring in Anthropology and Sociology and the University of Western Australia. My thesis focussed on the phenomena of volunteer tourism, in particular the way online sources of advertising promote and encourage colonial sentiments by centering on the experience of the volunteer and further perpetuate global inequalities.

Since graduating I (ironically) volunteered in a number of community organisations and initiatives before beginning my career in the private sector. During this time I completed the Young Social Pioneers social impact and entrepreneurship incubator program, where I was mentored and coached on turning the Human Library initiative into a sustainable business with social outcomes.

Since resigning from my job in the private sector, I recently landed a graduate position in the public sector and am loving every minute so far!

When did you first come across the Human Library concept?

I first came across Human Library in Helsingør, Denmark while I was studying at the International People’s College there. As a guest ‘reader’ I was blown away by the vulnerability of the volunteers who told their stories (i.e. the ‘Human Books’) and knew I had to bring the concept home to Perth.

How did you come to be involved with the Human Library Australia?

I contacted Greg Watson, the Human Library contact for Australia about possibl collaborating when I was successful in securing a spot on the Young Social Pioneers Program in 2016. Until then, he didn’t have the capacity to expand since it was just him so I have been assisting with the facilitation processes, as well as the back-end things such as setting up the website and project management tools.

How does it work?

In essence, Human Libraries are just like ordinary libraries – except the books are people, and reading is a one-on- one conversation. As a guest, you can just show up anytime, and a Librarian will assist you in choosing, and loaning out a book. While these events usually take place in actual libraries, in the past it has been popular as part of wider festivals.

However, it is not as simple as just selecting volunteers and going from there – often the stories within people can be difficult, controversial and event sometimes traumatic – hence why we strongly encourage anyone wanting to host a human library event to also hold training sessions. This is when we go over what to expect, communication strategies for dealing with difficult readers and also how to come up with a title and description.

Besides the practical aspects of the training session, they also act as a get-to- know you session, which builds trust between the volunteers who then support each other throughout the process. Human Library is more than just its events however: it is first and foremost a community where human differences are explored, questioned and accepted.

How can people get involved?

Anyone is welcome to get involved! We believe everyone has a unique story to tell, so if you want to find out more, visit our website at or contact me directly on

While I am based in Perth, there are a number of Human Libraries popping up all over Australia, so just contact us if you want to find out where you local community is, or even to start you own.

Did you choose social entrepreneurship, or did social entrepreneurship choose you?

I didn’t even know what this word meant before I began, and I am still hesitant to call myself a social entrepreneur because I think there is a tendency for people to want to ‘become’ one overnight, when in reality I am just a person with an interest in stories living in a world which makes such ventures possible!

What has been your greatest challenge so far and what steps did/are you taking to overcome it?

Definitely working with someone else. While there are definite benefits to having a business partner – bouncing ideas off each other, supporting each other, less financial strain – it is also the greatest challenge. We both have competing views, opinions, perspectives on almost everything but by acknowledging each others opinions as valid, and forming a shared vision for the project, we can both work towards something that is exterior to ourselves. Not becoming to invested in, or identified with the vision is important for working solo too, as you will have to pivot, change and adapt sometimes in ways that don’t quite sit right at first.

So my advice is, whether you are solo or in partnership, always be open to new ideas, validate the other persons opinions, and work towards a shared goal that sits outside of your individual interests in the outcome.

Let’s be real, pitching for mentors or funding can be a daunting experience for anyone. What are your top tips for pitching an idea you are really passionate about?

Speak from your heart.

I don’t consider myself a great public speaker, but I am excellent at networking. What has helped me is to condense my who, what, why into a couple of sentences, and ALWAYS introduce yourself from a place thinking ‘how can I help this person?’ Funding will come from the most unlikely places, so don’t be too disappointed if you don’t win that pitching event – focus on your networking.

What advice do you have for other young people that may want to start a social project?

Firstly, find out if someone else is doing what you want to do – if possible, meet them, offer your skills, learn from them, and eventually discuss collaboration. DO NOT SEE THEM AS COMPETITION. This will not only be detrimental to your mental health because you will always be comparing yourself to them, but you will fail from not being authentic.

Secondly, just give it a go! What is the worse that can happen?

It has been a big start to the year in global politics. How do you choose hope?

It is easy to see the current political climate here and abroad as dangerous and ‘backwards’ but in another way, it sheds light on how far we still have to come. The reason people like Donald Trump and Pauline Hanson are gaining traction today is because for too long, the people supporting them have been silenced and fobbed off as ‘uneducated’. That these attitudes and beliefs are being challenged openly makes me hopeful that we can start a conversation acknowledging and interrogating all opinions, not just those traditionally held by the middle classes.

What is next for you and the Human Library Australia?

On the more boring end, our next step is to get clued up on our legal obligations and tax requirements. However, we have a number of opportunities in the pipeline with local NGOs and government which we are really excited about!

How can people find out more about the Human Library Australia?

They can visit our website at, or send me an email at