Earning a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for services to the community through philanthropy is a huge honour, according to Natures Organics managing director Justin Dowel.
“That’s pretty big, from a business point of view Dad founded the company and I’ve seen him work six to seven days a week, blood, sweat and tears, for many years,” Justin said.
“He’s given his whole life to this company, so it’s a huge honour for me, I’m very proud to receive an award with him.”
Terry Dowel, who lives in Beaconsfield, founded Nature Organics – known for leading environmentally-minded cleaning and personal care lines such as Earth Choice, Cove and OC Natural – in the 1950s.
The company, based in Ferntree Gully, has also pioneered the use of recycled packaging and plant-derived formulations throughout the 1990s and 2000s in Australia.
Justin began working with the business aged 21 on the warehouse floor, quickly proving himself to his hardworking Dad and working his way up the company – first as sales manager in 1993, general manager in 1996 and managing director since 2004.
He has been largely responsible for the multi-million-dollar growth of the business, forging deals to get Natures Organics products into Coles and Woolworths even in his earliest days, according to Terry.
But arguably, Justin’s largest impact on Natures Organics has been through the company’s philanthropic work, which was sparked by a trip to Nepal in 2006.
“When we were in Nepal, we found that there were lots of kids living in the street who had nowhere to go, many of them without parents, so we found an orphanage and asked what was going on and if we could help fund the kids,” Justin said.
“That started our journey from there.”
A trip to Cambodia’s infamous rubbish dump at Steung Meanchey the following year was another eye opener for Justin.
“There were three and four year old children with plastic bags melted to their arms…it was the most horrific thing I’ve seen in my life,” he said.
“There is so much we can do as humans to help beyond looking in our own backyard and I decided I would dedicate my life to doing everything I can to support these people.
“When you see these these kids now are at university and it’s just amazing to see the change it’s had.”
Today, the company makes monthly contributions to various charities, The School of St Jude Australia, Cambodian Children’s Fund, Free to Shine, Reaching the Unreached, Catherine Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia and the Jane Goodall Institute Australia.
“We always give an allocated portion to each group every month, no matter what, because the biggest challenge for a lot of charities is finding sustainable income,” Justin said.
“The hard part is the economy is so bad now that the first thing big companies do is pull back their charity funding.
“We’ve found it as hard as anyone to maintain the performance of the business, but we have that commitment to the organisations we support and we won’t back down from that.
“We always say we aren’t here to give once, we’re here for a lifetime.”
The community-minded ethos is equally as evident in Terry.
“We’ve always been grateful for the community supporting us and one of our biggest motivations is to give back where we can,” Terry said.
“You do your best to make a reasonable profit, but out of those profits you have to share it with those who are in a bad way.
“It gives our company a much greater purpose and gives us something to be extremely proud of.”
Terry’s Australia Day honour also made mention of his passion for and commitment to his namesake car collection, which is made up of roughly 150 rare, vintage cars and memorabilia.
With the collection, which includes a 1948 Tucker, along with the first Holden prototype ever made in Australia, Terry established the Australian historical memorabilia public museum for Australiana and historical motor vehicles.