Rebecca McDonald started Library for All to help children all over the world gain access to quality reading materials. – AWNY Startup Stories

Startups take all shapes and sizes and this week we highlight our first Not for Profit, Library for All. Rebecca McDonald was working in Haiti when she recognized that one of biggest challenges for children’s education in developing countries was gaining access to quality reading materials. With the improvement in access of digital capacity in many of these countries Library for All came up with a neat solution, read about their journey here.

Tell us about Library For All and what inspired you to come to start it in the USA.

There are 250 million children in the world that are not learning the basics of reading and writing, even after four years of schooling. A lack of access to quality reading material in their own language is one of the key barriers to children becoming literate.

Library For All is a nonprofit organization that has built a digital library to address the lack of access to culturally specific literature and educational resources in developing countries. Our mission is to make knowledge accessible to all, equally. Our digital library is a cost-effective, portable alternative to building physical libraries. In areas where books are scarce but mobile phone networks are growing, Library For All delivers a cloud-based library of locally relevant content to devices that already exist in developing countries, such as mobile phones, tablets, and PCs.

I chose New York to begin with because I was living in Haiti at the time, and I knew that, to be successful, we needed to build relationships with individuals in the publishing industry. New York is the center of the publishing world, so it was a natural fit early on.


What has been your ‘Ah Ha’ / ‘I’ve made it in the USA moment’:

Ha – that’s funny I haven’t had that moment yet. We did however have a very cool “only in NYC” moment last year, when Bloomberg Philanthropies hosted an event for Library For All, and Mike Bloomberg spoke of how important libraries were to him growing up and the importance of the work we are doing today.  I truly believe reading is a basic human right. I can’t imagine thinking we have made it until every child on the planet has access to the resources they need to become literate.

What have been the hardest lessons in starting a Not for Profit in New York and how does it differ to Australia?

Being an Aussie I always felt a little out of place in New York.  It’s a tough place to get established. A lot of people have said to me New York is a hustle, and I feel like that is true. There are a lot of people here trying to make their way and be successful and often that doesn’t align with our mission-driven focus. That being said, I have met and worked alongside some of the most generous and kind individuals who have done everything in their power and given tremendously generously to ensure Library For All is successful. I think New York is just such a melting pot that you get extremes of every type of person all mushed together on the subway at once. It can be overwhelming at times. Australia is so much more relaxed. So much more relational and I find it easier to meet people and build long term relationships in Australia.

Where have you been most successful in marketing Library for All?

Word of mouth by far has been the most successful for us. When people hear about us from a friend or family member, the connection is made so much faster and more authentically. We always talk about the Library For All family – once you are in that’s it we don’t let you go. That’s the way its been for us since day one. Family of staff coming along and getting excited about what we are doing and then spreading that infectious enthusiasm to see the world changed to everyone around them.

Do you have any mentors, and how have people been with sharing information and their networks?

Yes, absolutely. Our board chair Philippa Tyndale and her husband Andrew have been incredible mentors and supporters over the years. We were friends long before Library For All, but going through the ups and downs of a nonprofit start up with them has been an incredible privilege. I am extremely blessed to have them in my life and on this journey. They are seasoned business professionals and philanthropists, and I have learnt so much from their years of experience. They are also the best networkers you will ever meet, and they are always looking for ways to connect people and add value to everyone they are introduced to, which has been incredibly valuable to our mission success.

What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a Not for Profit? 

First, I would say ensure that nobody else is doing the same or similar work. If they are, get involved with them and don’t start a new organization. Get behind them in a big way and really amplify their efforts. There is too much duplication and waste in the nonprofit space, and its just not necessary.  If you find there is absolutely nobody working to meet the need you see, and you absolutely must start a new organization, then weigh everything very carefully. It’s not a commitment you should make lightly. Nonprofit work is rarely easy, and it costs a lot both financially and personally. While it’s extremely rewarding, you have to go in with your eyes wide open or you won’t survive the really hard days.

You are one of the Co-founders of Library For All – what are the challenges and pleasures in starting a Not for Profit with a friend?

Tanyella and I didn’t know each other when I started Library For All. We were actually introduced by her husband, Hugh, who is also an Aussie. We have gotten to know each other and become friends over the journey. I am really grateful we met, as we have such different but complimentary skill sets, and it has really been the best thing for Library For All. It would be a very lonely road if you started a nonprofit all by yourself. There are just too many hats you have to wear and very few people, if any, can wear all of them well simultaneously.  I have also had two children during the life of Library For All, and I don’t know how that would have been possible without Tanyella’s support. I have to also mention my husband here because without him none of this would have happened. He was the original champion for Library For All, without him pushing me to start it and getting behind me 100% this would just never of happened. He is my constant support and has sacrificed his own career to take care of our babies and allow me to pursue Library For All. He truly believes in our mission, and he is my constant cheerleader and sounding board.


Other than yourself, what piece of Australia have you put into your business?

Openness, honesty, and humility are three of the main things that I have tried to infuse into the culture of Library For All. I love the way Aussies call it like it is and fakeness just isn’t tolerated.  Openness and honesty are very important to me from an organizational perspective because development work is really hard and messy and unless you can be open about what works and what doesn’t work, what is the point. More people will just make the same mistakes wasting valuable resources. I truly believe that we can only change the world’s ills if we work together hand in hand and you can’t partner with someone you can’t be honest with.

The other one is humility. I would rather our work speak for itself and that we be judged on our impact and not on who we know or some other popular metric. At the end of the day I started Library For All to impact literacy across the globe, and our team won’t rest until we achieve that.

What is next for Library for All?

We have really learnt over the last 3 years what it takes to launch our programs in the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. I am very excited that we can now take that learning and accelerate our impact. We know our model and we know what works and doesn’t work, and I am excited that we should now be able to scale faster then ever before. There are approximately 8,500 children reading on Library For All’s platform, but I would like to see that jump into the millions in a few short years.

How can people help?

We are always on the look out for companies and individuals that want to change the world and are passionate about books and reading and know the transformational impact that being literate has on a person. If our mission resonates with you and you want to get involved, please go to our website, in the work with us us section there are a number of ways to be involved. We love welcoming new members to the Library For All family and bringing you along the journey. Together we can achieve so much more.

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From Sports Marketing and Media to Benson’s on the LES. Meet Annie Morton – AWNY Startup Stories

Annie Morton moved to NYC in 2012 in a snap decision without a specific plan. Read here how she started her craft beer and burger bar, Benson’s on the Lower East Side.

How long have you been in the USA and what brought you here?

I moved to NYC in 2012, a snap decision based on a frustratingly stagnant role in Australia. I wanted to be my own boss rather than keep working at the mercy of someone else’s priorities. Hospitality was a passion of mine that I had always worked in part time, so I took the opportunity of a full time management role with The Australian NYC to learn the ropes from a broader business perspective.

Tell us about Benson’s and what made you want to start a New York Bar? 

Benson’s is a craft beer & burger bar in the Lower East Side. It’s a small space that makes you feel welcome and a part of our “family” of regular guests. I had planned to move back to Australia before opening a venue, but then an opportunity presented itself and I figured I should take advantage of it. I think I was also drawn to the challenge.

Bensons Interior

How long did you have the idea for this business and why did you decide to start Benson’s?

The timing was a bit backwards – the venue came first, then the concept, and finally the financing. All told, I started vaguely considering it as an option for New York in September, and by April we’d opened Benson’s. That’s a lightning fast turnaround! There were so many reasons we could have backed away from it, but the emotional support I had from friends and family was unbelievable. I also figured it was worth taking the risk, I’d have hated to not do it and always wonder what if?

Were you always in hospitality or was this something completely new for you? 

I’ve worked in hospitality since I was 14, but it’s only been my main career the last four years. In Sydney, I worked in sports marketing & media, an industry I love dearly. What I’ve learned is how similar each of these roles have been – I’m always still handling a bucket load of logistics, and dealing with hoards of people!

What has been your ‘Ah Ha’ / ‘I’ve made it in the USA moment’?

The real one is yet to come, but our first birthday at Benson’s was a good feeling.

Annie & Dave

Photo: Annie and her Business Partner David. 

What have been the hardest lessons in opening a Brick and Mortar business? 

Budgeting! As good & disciplined as you are, you can always be better. Also the challenges associated with finding and keeping quality staff in a highly transient city.

Are the customers transient or mostly regulars? Do you find business to be seasonal or quite steady? 

We get a steady stream of regulars, and any given night will see plenty of them stopping by. As our profile grows it’s been exciting to see people view Benson’s as a top destination for their trip to NYC, and it’s always our aim to convert all of our new guests into repeat guests.
There are certainly strong seasonal patterns, with summer being the quiet period. Business picks up considerably through Sept/Oct, and then very strong through the colder months right through to April. Cold weather brings on a hankering for burgers and craft beer I guess!

Bensons with people

Photo: Some of the clientele at Benson’s

Where have you been most successful in marketing your business?

For new guests, Yelp has been a huge advantage for us. We have some of the most engaging & positive reviews, and that has seen a huge jump in new customers. For our existing customers, Instagram has been the most effective way to let them know about a new special, or just to prompt them into making another visit.

Do you have any mentors, and how have people been with sharing information and their networks? 

Matt Astill & Glenn Treacher were great as we started out, they have all the experience behind them and an amazing network of contacts that I was able to use knowing I wasn’t being taken advantage of. It’s also been great having so many young Aussie entrepreneurs in the city right now, and the camaraderie of that has been really helpful.

What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a business? 

Think through every part of the set up and operations process. Project conservatively. Work hard (and be happy to). Check out the competition. Utilize your friends, family & colleagues as your best marketers.

Other than yourself, what piece of Australia have you put into your business? 

We have a couple of Aussie influences on the menu, with Cooper’s & Boags on the list as well as a lamb burger & the “Benson Burger” – a close take on the traditional burger with the lot. We celebrate the bigger holidays like Australia Day & ANZAC Day, but mostly are happy to dial back on the Aussie vibe and just present a fun and relaxed atmosphere.

What is next for Bensons?

We’re still perfecting the original, so maybe this time next year we will have an inkling of what comes next.

Do you have an offer or promo code you would like to share with AWNY members? 

Any brunch entree with three drinks for $28 – available weekends, 11am-4pm

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From Melbourne to New York – Caz Little of Dashing Hounds is Styling Men and Women all over the City: AWNY Startup Story

Caz Little started Dashing Hounds 4 years ago in Melbourne and 12 months ago, she moved herself and the business to New York.

Dashing Hounds is a one-on-one personal shopping service originally for men but now also women which I call Dashing Dames! It’s a service provided to New Yorkers who are time poor and need help to find the right wardrobe pieces for work, pleasure or a special occasion. I help people with everything from red carpets to weddings and anything in between. As well as finding them the right outfit for their occasion, I save time by pre-shopping and pre-arranging discounts and/or champagne service in stores with my inside connections! Some of my services include a New York lunch and a pampering session such as a hair trim or wet-shave!

How long did you have the idea for this business and why did you decide to start Dashing Hounds?

Dashing Hounds is a business I began 4 years ago in Melbourne. At the time I was a denim designer and had been working in the Australian rag trade for over 12 years. I also have a diploma in Fashion Design. I designed menswear for some of Australia’s best known fashion companies like Lee Jeans, Austin Group, Elwood and RES Denim. During that time, I also taught fashion students at RMIT. I decided it was time to help men shop rather trying to redesign the wheel.

You get to go shopping and play dress up every day – It sounds like a dream! Is the reality as great as our visual?  

Helping people is something that comes naturally to me. As a kid, I was always down for playing dress ups. I loved going through my parents’ clothing and trying on everything. I’m always looking at how I can tweak someone else’s outfit to help improve their look. Since moving to New York I’m steadily building up my clientele. I hope to be helping people every day of the week because this is my dream job for sure!

Do you think men in New York are more style conscious than their Australian counterparts? 

Hmm? That is a good question. I think Aussies make an effort in their style most defiantly! We have and export some of the best designers in the world, so there is no excuse! The one thing that I think is different is perhaps the enormous brand offering here in New York compared to Melbourne. There are way more people in New York and so many great brands to choose from.

The weather plays a huge part in style also. Layering for below 0 temps and having more options for textured and warmer fabrics, as well as different silhouettes suitable to the climate. They are investment pieces which are not normally needed in the warmer Australian climate. I personally will never do a Melbourne winter again without my Uniqlo heat tech thermals!

Photograph by Sarah Anderson

What has been your ‘Ah Ha’ / ‘I’ve made it in the USA moment’ 

For me I don’t ever feel like I have ever had an “I’ve made it” moment. It’s an ongoing life goal. Happiness and being content with what you have is making it. Though the other day I had an “I’m a New Yorker” moment when I told someone to get out of my way…..I have never done that before.

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I’m Australian, so I don’t need Therapy …. or do I?

The Emotional Transition of moving to New York: AWNY Event Review by Kim Broughton

It had been one of those crazy New York days where your nerves are raw and I really needed to decompress so attending the AWNY event, ‘The Emotional Transition of moving to New York,’ was exactly what I needed. The group of 16 women gathered together to share experiences, offer support and listen.

I thought I understood all about the ‘expats life’, a situation fraught with joy and tears – but I discovered many other compassionate individuals have a unique perspective around the same experience.

The evening event was hosted by the warm and lovely Susie Lang, who facilitated the following discussion;

There is Loss – Definitive and Ambiguous

  • There are times when you need to acknowledge that you are feeling sad or lonely or a little homesick – but take comfort that you are not alone.
  • There is ambiguous loss, where you feel sadness, bereft though not necessarily homesick.
  • Moving causes loss and very real sense of grief
  • There is pain in leaving family, not seeing children grow up, missing significant events
  • On the upside: technology is in our favor
  • Understand that you have chosen your life…now live your life for yourself

The Transition – Cultural Shock

  1. Honeymoon/Euphoric Stage: WAHOO. The NYC buzz!
  2. Crisis Stage: you are caught between two cultures
  3. Gradual Adjustment Stage: find your way, get a job, kids go to school
  4. Adaptation Stage: Sense of belonging with increased confidence in new culture
  5. Re-entry Stage: the shock of returning to Australia – do I slot back in?
  6. Self-Shock: alone with yourself without the reassurance of familiar and validating network of family and friends – am I doing this right? While I find my way in NYC, people are asking “who are you?”  Now that’s confusing since my “mirror” is no longer available to me.

People Move on

  • In New York, everyone comes from somewhere else. It was true during the wave of immigration and remains true today.
  • At home…people are moving and changing. In New York, friends come and go. This creates instability…its hard to settle in.
  • People have tried to keep dual properties in Australia and US but it hasn’t really worked out.

America is not a foreign country”

  • We are primarily English-speaking nations, so it’s a shock to learn that moving to America can be a foreign experience complete with real feelings of culture shock.
  • There are many differences between America and Australia – and this simply needs acknowledgment.
  • Moving to New York is a Hero’s journey with high expectations for change, success and the ultimate triumphant homecoming.
  • But what if you don’t love New York city? What if you don’t have an Amazing time and really struggle?
  • There is an unspoken fear that if you return without the golden egg….that you’ve lost.
  • Be honest, there are bad days and we all have them. We are here for the journey of a lifetime.
  • This is a city of extremes and it’s not a great match for everyone. As one gentle soul commented; “America is great if you love stuff, but if you like security or don’t want to get shot, think twice before moving to New York”.

Where is home?

  • Once you have left it all behind to jump into the melting pot, you rediscover that you are not just simply Australian (or a Kiwi) but a World Citizen residing in a transitional city.
  • The choice; find your own way to settle in.
  • You find your home within yourself
  • There isn’t a definitive time-frame around the moving experience, understand the settling process is ongoing
  • There may always be moments where you experience the waves of emotion, those feelings of sadness and grief – good days and bad days may come and go
  • You can live here, work here for decades, get married, have children, buy a home and yet not feel at home.
  • Its part of the adventure of life and the journey of self
The Pros – I love New York The Cons – I hate New York
Everyone is best in field in their kind of work The job market is aggressively competitive
Those crazy unique ‘New York’ moments are priceless Apartment hunting is a nightmare
The buzz It’s dirty, crazy, and sometimes dangerous
Okay, the retail is Exceptional Its an expensive city
The beautiful holiday season Extreme weather
World Class opportunity It’s not home


What’s Next?

Reach out, phone a friend, contact your network, come to events hosted by AWNY – if only to hear a familiar accent and maybe make some new friends (everyone is in the same situation).

It is remarkably common in the expat community to seek professional help, so check your insurance details to see if therapy is covered in your insurance.

The real learning from the evening was:

Friends = Excellent

Family = Excellent

Network = Excellent

Therapy = Excellent

Wine = Excellent

Chocolate = In case of emergency only!

Check out this website for a bit of a read  The Expatriate Connection – it has some heartwarming pointers that you may be able to connect with.

So you want to move to New York City?

By Kiri Milburn
This was originally published September 25, 2014 on

Relocating is never easy.  When you move to another country breaking down is a rite of passage.  On the subway, at the cell phone store, or into your overpriced box of salad at Wholefoods.  Never dreaming it could cost $15.

Hunting for somewhere to live is gruelling enough for Americans in New York.  For foreigners it can be near impossible.  Not couch surfers over-staying their 90 day visa on a hope and a prayer.  Foreigners who have come to New York and need a permanent residence.

Here’s what to do if you’ve bought the ticket and are still looking for somewhere to call home:

Open a bank account and get a secured credit card

Open an American bank account and get a secured credit card asap.  Even 3 months of water-tight US credit history is advantageous when applying for apartments.  Be warned that landlords will not take your Australian credit history into account.

Although you don’t need a job to do this, you may need to provide the bank with the amount of your credit limit as a security deposit.  The deposit will not be reimbursed to you for one year.  Just think of it as another investment into your future here – another way of showing your conviction to stay.

Flash your savings

Showing you have a lot of cash in the bank and / or being willing to pay a high deposit will make you more attractive to landlords.  If you end up having to empty your piggy bank, negotiate an agreement that allows you to recoup some of your deposit back over the course of the lease.  Hot tip: know how to transfer your foreign currencies into a US account and draw a cheque by the time you start apartment hunting – cash deposits generally aren’t accepted.

Sub-lease a room initially

Not having to sign a lease means less paperwork and fewer vicious inquiries into your visa / job / financial situation if you’re looking for somewhere prior to your big break.  If this is proving more difficult than you thought, or you begin to think you’ll settle for living in a wardrobe.  Stop.  Breathe, laugh at these or submit your own horror stories. Then get back on craigslist.  You’ll get there.

Your own place? Meet the rental brokers of New York City

Whether or not you enlist the services of a broker is dependent on your income and the time you’re willing to devote to the apartment-hunting process.  The broker fee can be anywhere between one month’s rent and 15% of the annual rent (it’s a well paying gig – some only have to work 6 months of the year).  Although this seems scandalous, brokers have access to a larger pool of apartments than you’ll find online for no-fee.

Also, now you’re a New Yorker you may not have the time or patience to labour over apartments, and would rather outsource the process.  That’s not to say great no-fee apartments and private rentals aren’t out there.  They are.  Just be prepared to hunt for them and you might be surprised.

Prepare your case in advance

Being organized and ready to pounce pays off, whether you’re looking to rent a room or your own apartment.  To strengthen your case you should have:

  • Copies of your credit history
  • A social security number (if you have a job)
  • A letter of recommendation from your employer detailing your sponsorship to show you’re not a flight risk
  • Pay stubs ready to go
  • At least $8,000 cash to cover overheads; and
  • Letters of recommendation from previous landlords (even if overseas)

To avoid going crazy – map your progress

Looking at so many apartments in between working and socializing and lot of other busy New Yorker things will drive you crazy.  After a while all the apartments can blur.  You can easily lose sight of your original criteria and be on the verge of settling for second best.

Don’t do it! Stick to your guns and map your progress using Padmapper to make an informed, rational decision.

Woo some American pals

If your application includes a US resident with a lengthy credit history it makes things a lot easier.  Start assimilating – you know they want you to.

Woo the landlord

Try and get some intimate one on one time with the landlord.  Personify your application.  If they get to know you a little, understand you, and maybe even like you it, could be the key to securing your room / apartment.  If you can’t speak to the landlord write a short profile of yourself / and your roomates.  Maybe even a love letter about the pad.  Every little bit helps!

Don’t despair

You can do this.  One day your story of triumph will be woven into the apartment-hunting folklore of this great, pain in the ass of a City.  And you’ll be sipping martinis on your balcony.