jan owen foundation of young australians

There are more than 4.3 million young people aged 12 to 25 in Australia today. Jan Owen, the CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA), says that the coming generation needs to be more enterprising, innovative and entrepreneurial for our nation to make the most of future opportunities and to prepare for the challenges ahead.

The Melbourne-based, not-for-profit foundation works with young people of diverse backgrounds aged 18 to 29 from all over the country to help them make a difference in communities, industry and public life. Formed in 2009, after the merger of the Queen’s Trust and the Australian Education Foundation, FYA has a team of about 50. Owen reports to a board of 11, chaired by Robert Milliner FAICD, including two new 20-something directors: Canadian-born, Wagga Wagga-raised entrepreneur Sarah Agboola and science intrapreneur Tom Clark.

Owen, who describes herself as “relentlessly optimistic about the capabilities of young people”, is brimming with ideas to drive change. She has spent the past two decades working mostly with Australia’s youth, including through Social Ventures Australia, and argues that young people are our greatest untapped resource, but we need to get more of them in the driver’s seat.

The Foundation for Young Australians aims to ensure Australia’s young people are well equipped with the skills they need for the future of work and to contribute to and lead change.

FYA works with more than 50 business, social enterprise and government organisations, including funders, Charles Darwin University, Lotterywest, the Department of Education and Training, the Northern Territory government, Shell, NAB, Optus, Beyondblue and the English Family Foundation. It runs programs and research on the future of work and supports young social entrepreneurs and their ideas for the new economy. One example is the $20 Boss program, which is the largest entrepreneurship program in Australia. Year 9–12 school students receive $20 of start-up capital to create, launch and operate a venture over the course of a school term. Teachers are supported through a classroom toolkit and materials are aligned to the Australian Curriculum.

In three years, more than 27,750 students across Australia in more than 500 secondary schools have participated, a third from low socio-economic areas.

Another FYA initiative is an incubator program for Young Social Pioneers to connect Young ChangeMakers with ideas to respond to society’s most pressing challenges. Collaborators and partners, resources and a research and policy agenda are all part of the program. The initiative has helped support more than 250 Young Social Pioneers, “a whole heap who have become global leaders in their field,” says Owen.

”We all complain about being risk-averse and that’s something boards need to take hold of. We also need to think about what prevents us from collaborating.”

FYA also has a social enterprise arm, YLab, which employs 65 associates aged under 30 who work with institutions such as government on issues including how to involve young people in politics.

Owen, says skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and innovation, and cultural intelligence, which were not highly valued in the past, will have greater importance in the future. There will also be an increasing shift towards collaboration between groups of people.

“We all complain about being risk-averse and that’s something boards need to take hold of. We also need to think about what prevents us from collaborating. It’s a massive challenge for this country and it’s everything from the fear of being exposed with the chip on our shoulder of ‘are we good enough?’ right through to tall poppy syndrome and everything in between.

“We need to get over ourselves because there are so many areas we could be collaborating to create better impacts both socially and economically. How do boards and management start to drive and lead those kinds of alliances and collaboration?” Owen asks.

Movers and Shakers

Among some of the ever-expanding FYA network are:

Usman Iftikhar, co-founder of Catalysr, a start-up incubator working with people from migrant and refugee backgrounds to help them start their own businesses.

Christopher Murphy, co-founder and director of Energy Panda, an award-winning social enterprise helping households reduce energy consumption.

Nicola Hazell, who runs the SheStarts Program that has invested $1 million in 10 female-led start-ups, kicked off a world-class accelerator program and documentary series;

Chris Raine, founder and CEO of Hello Sunday Morning, which aims to break his generation’s unhealthy obsession with binge drinking.

Joshua Gilbert, a social entrepreneur from northern NSW, who uses Indigenous wisdom and values, environmental and agricultural knowledge to tackle the food and climate change issues. His agricultural podcast, Tractor Talks, has been downloaded in more than 10 countries.

Jordan O’Reilly, co-founder and CEO of Hireup, an online platform that has changed how Australians with disability find, hire and manage their home-care and support workers.

Lucinda Hartley who runs CoDesign Studio, a non-profit social enterprise committed to helping disadvantaged communities to envision, design and implement neighbourhood improvement projects.

Conrad Liveris, a workforce diversity specialist, advising some of Australia’s leading companies and business people on issues such as gender equality, LGBT inclusion and generational change.