One Kiwi's determination to make a difference
One Kiwi's determination to make a difference
"If Australia is the lucky country then New Zealand is the clever country" says successful businessman, scientist, entrepreneur, humanitarian and the '2010 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year', Ray Avery.
Today a successful businessman, scientist, entrepreneur, inventor and humanitarian, Ray Avery shares, for the first time, his own heartbreaking childhood and inspirational story of one man's determination to change the world in this candid and often laugh-out-loud funny memoir, 'Rebel with a Cause' - in store from 8 August.
No one could imagine the particular significance for Ray Avery becoming a father for the first time at the age of 61. His own childhood reads like something out of a Dickens' classic or 'Angela's Ashes'.
From his Mt Eden "garage", Avery - who has also just been awarded this year's Peter Blake Medal for Leadership, New Zealand's premier leadership honour - is literally saving millions of lives in the developing countries through invention, ground-breaking technology and his unrelenting determination that "one man can change the world" and make it a better place for the most vulnerable. Following in the footsteps of the marvellous Fred Hollows, Avery has made modern cataract surgery accessible to the poor throughout Africa and Asia. In addition, Avery invented an inexpensive regulator for hospital drips when he found out that lives were being needlessly lost in hospitals due to uneven flows; he's developing easily digestible infant food to combat malnutrition and diarrhoea; and he's created more affordable and effective incubators for newborns.
British-born to alcoholic and violent parents who never wanted him, Ray himself as a youngster suffered the most appalling parental abuse and neglect. His mother even tried to sell him at one point. He eventually became a ward of the state where he was shuffled from orphanage to orphanage, foster home to foster home enduring yet more abuse associated with this type of institutional care.
But, although the young Avery may not have had food in his belly, he certainly had fire and this got him through the worst when most of us would have given up. Personal love eluded Ray until later in life when he met and married a fellow humanitarian aid worker, but his unrelenting search for love and unwavering belief in human nature - against all odds - has been his "standard operating procedure" or, rather, his "SOP" as he amusingly, and frequently, refers to in his book to explain his various exploits and misdemeanours as a cad and natural prankster in the earlier years.
It was also a love of books, science and art, combined with a colourful imagination, boyish sense of humour and clever brain that provided Ray with refuge from the cruel adult world. As a young teen, he ran away to live rough under a bridge for nine months escaping the worst of winter in the Science Museum, libraries, galleries and reading on trains for hours. He only checked in at school occasionally, the rest of the time he remained truant and became self-taught.
It's most probably his chance encounter with an inspirational horticulture teacher who changed Ray's life (and later in Australia it was to be Fred Hollows), that made him really appreciate that it is possible for just one person to make a difference. A mantra that drives Avery to this very day. The gruff and firm horticulturalist harnessed Avery's natural abilities for science. With his encouragement, Avery went on to train as a scientific researcher at the prestigious Wye College, an agricultural institution in Kent. After graduating, he worked as an analyst in laboratories - which he eventually bought into using funds raised from his entrepreneurial endeavours. By his late twenties, despite being a very successful businessman, Avery continued to drift aimlessly enjoying all the pleasures money afforded. On a whim, he sold up his business interests, joined a bunch of Aussies who were on a six month bus trip returning home and he set about to make a new life for himself Down Under, eventually making Auckland his home.
Although he wasn't born here, Avery is a passionate Kiwi through and through and as a creative thinker he has thrived in this "classless" land of opportunity where anything is possible for which he'll be forever grateful.
He's clever, tenacious, he's always pulling things apart and he's always looking for new or better ways of doing things. He's also street-smart and his irrepressible enthusiasm makes it also very hard for people to say no to him and he has managed to get other wealthy individuals and organisations on board to assist in his remarkable fundraising efforts.
Avery also encourages other talented people to get on board and tackle some of the really big problems confronting the poor in developing countries.
From his "garage", Avery today manages a global network of experts to work on specific projects and somehow everyone finds themselves donating their time and knowledge for free - and they, too, are rewarded by making a difference and so the circle closes.