In recent days, there have been questions raised about the integrity of the 1 in 700 Project. Understandably, as a member of the cleft community who has been involved in projects in a number of countries, including this project, I have been asked about my involvement with the project and my thoughts on the validity of the project.
For the avoidance of doubt, I would like to be clear that I have only ever been involved with this project in a personal capacity, and only in Australia. The funds that I used to support the project’s planned visit to Australia were my personal funds and were to cover my own travel and accommodation expenses for my time in Brisbane. I did not at any point provide any money to the 1 in 700 project.
I first became aware of the project in 2017 and followed the project with both interest and a healthy dose of scepticism. Whilst it appeared that the project was doing great work and had noble aims, as someone who had been involved with cleft organisations since late 2005, I naturally was a little bit wary of a new organisation that seemed to establish itself remarkably quickly. That being said, Zack from 1 in 700 was young, ambitious, and most importantly, freelance, therefore he could move at a pace that was faster than what we would typically expect of a new project that is designed and implemented by a more established organisation with more processes and procedures to adhere to. Therefore, aside from the thought I had that he might be a bit naive as to how long it takes to see through a successful international project, I genuinely admired his ambition and goal, confident that he would achieve something positive for the cleft community.
When I saw that he was coming to Australia to do a photoshoot event with CleftPALS, I thought that this was a good opportunity to meet Zack – we shared a lot of similar ambitions. I reached out to him and explained I’d be coming over from New Zealand, and would be keen to not only see him and be involved with the Brisbane event, but also to have a chance to sit down and chat more widely about his project and plans for coming to New Zealand. This was all arranged and in our diaries.
Regrettably, upon my arrival into Brisbane, I was advised that Zack had been in contact with CleftPALS a few hours prior to advise that he was unable to make the planned engagement due to being unable to book a flight to Australia. This was disappointing and incredible bad luck if it were indeed true. Zack did not directly reach out to myself to provide an explanation, which was indicative of someone who was not particularly sensitive to other people’s time and resources, therefore I opted at that point to no longer involve myself with the project in any way. Fortunately, my trip to Australia remained fruitful thanks to being able to meet with many others my own age at CleftPALS, and so I am grateful to Zack for unwittingly bringing us together in that way.
Like many of you, I am of course saddened that the project is yet to come to fruition, and it is clear that Zack has made a number of mistakes which have eroded a lot of the cleft community’s trust in him and his project.
In life, we all make mistakes and I strongly feel that we should not be so much judged for the mistakes we make as we should be remembered by what we do next. There has been a lot of speculation that Zack set out to scam the cleft community and that he has collected people’s money and run off with it. On balance, while I understand the frustrations that have led to this interpretation, the impression I get is of someone who possibly found their hobby project got a lot bigger a lot quicker than they ever intended it to, resulting in feeling overwhelmed and under immense pressure to deliver what he had promised.
I sincerely hope that Zack sees this as a learning experience and now works with the community to make it right, starting with clear, honest communication and a workable plan to either see the project through to completion or to reimburse people’s contributions and provide them with their photos. Equally, I would like to see the cleft community afford Zack the opportunity to grow from this and not make it his defining moment. As people affected by cleft, we all know the harm that assumptions about us/our families can cause. Let’s not lose sight of the inclusive, caring and compassionate international cleft community that we all have worked so hard to create and be a part of.