"I love the feeling of being the complete master of my destiny. Every day is mine, to create whatever it is I want to create, to be whoever I want to be, and share it with so many incredible people."
Jo Pretyman is a passionate believer in the power of creativity in driving social change. After a dynamic career that spanned the PR, advertising, music and fashion worlds, Jo heeded the call to focus on creating a bold and heartfelt future for herself and her community. Now, as the founder of Sydney-based NGO, I-Manifest, Jo is equipping culturally diverse youth with the skills and support to dream big and cultivate their own creativity.
Tell us a little about your current work - what do you do, and what inspires you to do it?
I am the founder of an NGO called I-Manifest that uses creativity to empower culturally diverse youth to find their passion and live their purpose. It gives them the confidence and support network to make their dreams a reality. We have developed a new world education template, The Micro-School, that teaches the kids the skills they need for the future of work. We have aligned all our curriculums to the World Economic Forum future skills but we deliver them in a relevant way - things like The School of Fashionomics, The School of Life & Culture, The School of Creative Technology – you name it. If it’s creative, we do it!
How does your work enrich your life or the lives of others?
It’s about connecting like-minded souls and creating an environment that allows for expansion - expansion of perspectives, of aspiration, of vision, of confidence, of networks, of skills. For the kids it’s about being encouraged to stay true to themselves, to dream big, to know that with hard work and vision, anything is possible. For the mentors it’s about connecting both with the kids and with each other, experimenting with new ideas, new concepts, making new connections. For me, I love the feeling of being the complete master of my destiny. Every day is mine, to create whatever it is I want to create, to be whoever I want to be and share it with so many incredible people.
Can you share a recent project you’ve worked on that you’re most proud of?
It’s always tomorrow I am most excited about! We are about to run our first Advanced School of Photography in collaboration with Canon. Over three days, our super talent and nearly work ready kids, will work with industry mentors on a live brief, creating photographic and video content for Cocochine Group, the new venture of Nahji Chu (formerly Miss Chu). It’s all about real world outcomes for us at I-Manifest and this project is testament to that.
What was the pivot point that set you on your current path?
After living between Europe and Sydney for about 7 years and working mainly in the music industry, I came back to a Fashion PR role but knew immediately in my heart it was time for a new direction. An opportunity came up to re-brand and re-launch a small education charity and it was here I started thinking about how I could use my life and experiences in new ways. So I imagined a model that would connect my networks in the creative industries to rural and lower socioeconomic kids to show them that a fulfilling and prosperous creative life was a possibility – to give them access to a world that often seems so elusive. We ran one program at that charity and then I knew it was time to start something of my own and put my own lens on what a charity could look like. I wanted to create something aspirational and relevant while still helping the world. Now, 5 years on, I-Manifest has worked with over 1000 kids with most of them coming to at least 4 of our programs over their final school years and ending up in real-world work opportunities. We are in a happy place with plans to build our network across the globe. It’s a big vision but we’re committed!
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give someone who’s going through their own transformation?
Enjoy the ride! Transformation is such an epic roller coaster, so many highs and lows. It’s a stripping back of all preconceived notions of how you thought life should be and you are left with a blank canvass to create a new world for yourself. But it’s definitely not an easy process. Sometimes it feels like you are breaking yourself and putting yourself back together over and over again. But each time you come closer to a point of wholeness, of deeper understanding, of acceptance and ultimately peace. And then you flow. So it’s really all about being in for the ride wholly and completely, and being appreciative of the process.
What advice would you give to others to identify and embrace those moments of action?
I think in life it’s essential to keep checking in with yourself to be sure you are on your right path. It’s so easy to get swept up in the moments, to be influenced by others opinions, what others are doing, or where others are at. The most important thing is to frequently take silence, be still, and find clarity that you are doing exactly what you want to be doing and going where you want to be going. The I-Manifest girls and I do that frequently and it’s always so powerful when we all come back together and say, ‘Yep! This is it! This is our true path.’ The focus and momentum that comes from that clarity is profound.
Who or what has been your biggest inspiration in shaping your career? Are you creating your own path or being guided by a mentor?
I have never really over thought or planned my career. It’s always been a series of opportunities presenting themselves and me flowing to them if they felt right. Hence why I have such a varied work history! I have always very much lived in the moment and felt my way through life. I don’t have one mentor, but I have so many amazing contributors from all walks of life chiming in every day on the vision and future of I-Manifest, helping shape it, craft it, letting me bounce ideas around. I have also always had incredible female role models, being in high profile positions without sacrificing their frivolity or femininity.
Where in the world would you describe as the place that speaks to you - your soul place?
I lived in the Mediterranean for seven years and that is definitely my spiritual home. It’s about the simplicity of life there, you feel like you’re truly living. Their way of life makes sense. But I haven’t been back for three years now as I have focused solely on I-Manifest and in that time, I have learnt that my soul place is also a state of mind. It’s a feeling. When you move into a place of acceptance and deep appreciation for life, a formidable feeling of joy arises and then everything in life just seems to work. Having said that, Paris is on my mind!
If you could do anything, what in the world would you want to do next?
Exactly what I’m doing! We have our vision and our plan so crystal clear now – so now it’s just about letting it happen. The only thing I’d add is getting my pilot licence. It’s been on my list for forever but it’s all about time and for the moment the focus has to remain wholly on I-Manifest.
All images used with permission from Jo Pretyman.