Chris Burnett is not a chef, but he is very interested in soup.

The Scottish native moved to Australia and is doing a PhD in social procurement, while in his spare time leads Melbourne SOUP: a community initiative supporting grassroots change in Melbourne. Our recent ponder together at PauseFest 2020, Melbourne led to an amazing conversation about his project.

So what is Melbourne SOUP? 

From Chris-

We gather people together interested in doing good at our events. We have SOUP events every couple of months, and they are all about good causes, good food and good people.

People pay $15 for a ticket. There are four presenters at the event; these are people with ideas for early-stage projects that all have some social or environmental benefit, then after the four presentations, everyone gets a bowl of soup!

There’s a bit of live music, and everyone has a vote. You’ve got a poker chip, and you put it in one of the jars at the front to vote for one of the presenters. The presenter with the most votes goes home with the majority of the ticket money. Typically, we’re looking at around 90 tickets sold, which means about $900 for someone who is just getting off the ground with their idea or project.

SOUP is a global thing. It started in Detroit, in the states back in 2010 but it’s not connected up in any way. I ran this back home in Aberdeen in Scotland. I came to Melbourne towards the end of 2018, and SOUP hadn’t reached here. So February last year, we did our first event, and then from there, we’ve kind of just grown organically, which is cool, going from strength to strength.


In terms of my study outside of SOUP, I’ve been passionate about social enterprise since I went to Canada in 2015, I did an internship, and it was a trigger for this path.

My background is in social sciences and in terms of the PhD, impact measurement and social enterprise are my two real key passions, and the two are aligned in the project. When I saw the advertisement for the PhD, I thought it was too good to be true, and I just had to apply for it. So it was a big step, you know, committing something for the next three years, but I couldn’t be happier in Melbourne. If I were to design a PhD, it’d be pretty much this sort of thing.

Back to SOUP. Melbourne SOUP is just a complete space of people doing fun things and wanting to improve Melbourne in some way, and it’s just an open and heartwarming space, no negative or hammering home an agenda.

Something that’s come up in a few of the talks at Pause Fest this week is authenticity. It’s struck home with me in terms of the SOUP community; we have this authentic group of people that want to do some good in some way. Our team, we’ve got 12 of us, and it is all voluntary. Half the team were my mates; I roped them into helping.


They’ve loved it, and then half the team have been to a super event and then reached out and said, “How can I help?” It is organic, and I think this transmits to how people find out about us. It’s just through that word of mouth and going to these sorts of events and connecting with like minded people.

Melbourne SOUP is open to people that are starting their social enterprises; it’s open to charity; it’s open to community groups.

One presentation we’ve had that’s an interesting project to share is called Small Fires. Grace started Small Fires, and it’s essentially storybooks for kids, increasing diversity and telling stories of change-makers in other countries. So say her first book is going to be based on a girl named Lillian, she’s in Kenya, and it’s based on her childhood. The idea is about providing a narrative about people in other countries who still live a very similar life to you. 

With a tagline of ‘TEACHING EMPATHY ONE STORY AT A TIME’ you can’t help but be inspired.

Having kids here read that and see, visually, people appear different, but actually, they’re all just the same. We’re all just having the same experience. So she’s creating this enterprise to sell these books, and then the profits made from those books will be given to Lillian and her community and help support the work that she does. So multiple impacts happening at the same time.


Our plan this year is to do another four or five SOUPs and then two or three of these other events. 

Whether it’s a documentary screening, whether it’s just a pizza and beer night, we want to allow opportunities for people that come to events to meet up without that format of having to vote and having to talk about who’s presenting. Because the spotlight is very much on the presenters, so it’d be nice, especially because we’ve got 24 alumni, 24 of our people that have presented at SOUP

So we’re allowing them to come back in a space where they can mix, mix with presenters at different events, combined with attendees that maybe didn’t see them at the event they presented at. The end of last year was the first time we did that, and we hosted a screening of the documentary: 2040

For more information about the next Melbourne SOUP, go to: 


%d bloggers like this: