Berry Liberman always knew that storytelling was part of her very being. At first she thought it would be as a filmmaker, leading her to move to Los Angeles in search of her golden statue. But at 25, when she met her husband – founder of Engineers Without Borders, Danny Almagor – her focus shifted. The pair returned to Australia and eventually found a new medium for storytelling, founding the company Small Giants, which nurtures and empowers businesses that are focused on a more socially equitable and environmentally sustainable world. In between all of that, plus having three kids, Berry also found time in 2011 to take over the role of publisher and editor of Dumbo Feather from its founder, Kate Bezar.
What do you remember most about your childhood in Melbourne?
Family, food, friends and travelling. I had a pretty beautiful childhood – I was really blessed.
You lived the dream of many, living in LA and working in the film industry. What made you turn your back on it?
I really loved my time there and it was the foundation of my adult self. I was pushed really hard in the work that I did and I was exposed to a lot of amazing, pretty hardcore storytelling and that was very much my foundation. At the time, I really wanted to be hugely successful and walk the red carpet and win an Oscar. But then I turned 25 and I met my future husband. I just had this really striking awareness that if I stayed in LA, I’d get caught up in the vortex of working for the golden statue and I might miss out on the life I really wanted, which was to have a rich family and working life and be able to bring the two together.
You’ve said you felt disempowered at different times in your life. How so?
When I got home from LA, I was lost for quite a few years and I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do, given that I’d spent my early twenties training really hard and working towards making films. I also felt disempowered when I was younger because I had no idea who I was and other people were determining my life for me. I was more driven by the expectations of other people than I was by my internal compass. So at the age of 25 I really started my personal journey working on myself and trying to understand who I was away from the expectations of the outside world.
What made you stop thinking about Small Giants and actually do it?
Firstly, my husband – he’s a doer. He’s an action person and he has an incredible mind and heart, but he’s not interested in talking if there’s no doing. I’m a perfectionist and would happily be paralysed by my perfectionism because it’s a great excuse not to put yourself out there. But there’s a slogan on the wall at Google that I read about in Sheryl Sandberg’s book. It says ‘better done than perfect’ and it’s true because there’s no such thing as perfect. So Dan kind of said let’s fail, but let’s fail fast because the purpose we had for setting up Small Giants was bigger than the both of us – and that was to use business to change the world. In Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, he says that between denial and despair there’s action – that also really helps me to get up in the morning and work bloody hard.
How did your father’s death change the way you approached life?
It just made me feel life. It’s a little bit of a monkey on the back because it makes you feel like there’s not always enough time, so I’m definitely propelled by that. We don’t have that much time on the planet, so we need to love more, make more good stuff, and connect with one another and with our kids and our partners. Life should be rich, full, nourishing and special but it will only happen if you choose it to be. I think that’s what Dad’s death gave me – an awareness that I had a part to play and that I needed to play it sooner rather than later.
Do you remember the first time you picked up a copy of Dumbo Feather?
Yes I do! I was in a cafe called The Wall, just off Carlisle Street in St Kilda, and they have this big communal table where I was having a coffee. And on the shelf was Dumbo Feather. I picked it up and it was exactly what I wanted and needed to read and was so inspiring. There was something about the format and the idea behind it that was so perfect and I was really moved. So I got in touch with Kate as a result – I wrote her some fan mail – and it started a really good friendship and collaboration between the two of us. Her idea was really special and very cleverly and thoughtfully articulated in the magazine.
It must have been daunting to take over something that so many people treasured. How did you find that balance between old and new?
It was daunting in that I’d never done it before, but it wasn’t daunting in the sense that I didn’t have a vision for its future. Kate is a legend and she did Dumbo Feather her way and she knew I was going to do it my way, but in the spirit of what she’d created. I felt very confident about the changes we made. And I feel like it’s still a work in progress and a bit experimental and continues to be iterative and changes a little bit each issue. Things have to move and grow, but if they can retain their heart and the spirit people connect with, then I think that’s okay.
Do you consider yourself to be a success?
When Dan and I set up Small Giants, we wrote ourselves a bit of a manifesto and we really did ask what success was. For us, success looks a lot different to what we were brought up with. It’s basically asking: are we living a meaningful life? Are we engaging with meaningful ideas and amazing people globally and having enriching conversations?And is our family life happy and stable and nourishing for us? Those are the things we ask ourselves when determining whether it’s a success.
What’s been your greatest challenge?
Fear – of not being enough, of failure, of judgement. Those are huge challenges.
What made you not give in to fear?
I’ve done a lot of work on myself in my life. Like in The Lord of the Rings! I’ve walked through the swamp and I’ve walked through the forest and when you’ve done all that you can’t really go back. You’ve got to keep going and you realise that in all of that walking through the mud, you got kind of stronger. And with every day continuing on the journey and looking up to the sun, you get more capable. When I’m wanting to give up, I think about my kids and about what I’m going to say to them if I give in myself, but then tell them to hold their heads high in the playground and be kind to themselves and to others. I have to live it otherwise I can’t really preach it as a mum.
What inspires you?
Life. And people who really make choices about their lives that are not just about themselves. People who choose to live a life outside of expectations – one that is beautiful, happy and is contributing meaningfully.
Do you believe in a god and, if so, which one?
No I don’t. But if I believe in anything, I believe in love – and some people would say that is god for them. I very much have faith in love and believe that it’s a very powerful force in the world, despite what the media would say.
What are your words of wisdom?
Don’t hate anyone or anything and, if in doubt, try compassion.