Melissa Neighbour, the 341st person I’ve met on my quest to have lunch with 500 strangers, is a free thinker who believes in pushing her boundaries, embracing new experiences and campaigning for causes that are dear to her heart.

When Melissa was 18, she was working odd jobs, with no idea what she wanted to do with her life – when she received a surprise phone call. Melissa had signed with a modelling agency while at school and had never gotten any assignments, but now she was asked if she wanted to become an international model.

Modelling sounded better than her part-time job in a fish-and-chips shop, so she said yes. Melissa’s new life was amazing – based in Hong Kong, she lived a VIP life while modelling throughout Asia. But after a while, she began to feel disillusioned. Being a model didn’t allow any opportunity for creativity; also, she was disturbed by the poverty and environmental degradation she saw while travelling for work.

So Melissa enrolled in university in Australia, so she could become a town planner and address some of the injustices that disturbed her. After five years in her new profession, she tried some other things, including founding a climate change not-for-profit group and working in the real estate liveability sector, before returning to town planning in 2016. Four years later, Melissa founded her own business, Sky Planning.

Running a business would be enough for most people, but Melissa is not most people. She’s also a lecturer at University of Sydney, a keynote speaker with Future Crunch and a campaigner for the YIMBY (yes in my backyard) movement, which wants to make Sydney housing more affordable by increasing the supply of real estate in well-located areas.

I admire Melissa’s drive to not only make the world a better place but also make herself a better person, through ongoing self-development. For example, Melissa used to be terrified of public speaking but now regularly presents to large audiences. It’s amazing how much we can achieve if we keep pushing our boundaries.

More importantly, Melissa is a really nice person and excellent company.