Profile: Merv Stewart – Westpac Social Change Fellowship
Thursday, 11th June 2015 at 11:44 am
This month, Westpac Bicentennial Foundation launched the Westpac Social Change Fellowship to support people with the passion and drive to tackle tough social issues facing Australia.
In its inaugural year, the Foundation has chosen Merv Stewart, an everyday Australian creating positive change in his local community, as their 2015 Program ambassador, demonstrating the Fellowship is open to people from all walks of life.
Merv Stewart always knew he wanted to make a difference, but for many years the leap from the corporate world to the social sector seemed too extreme. Creating social change wouldn’t be easy, particularly as a full time IT Project Manager and father of two. But Merv’s passion eventually got the better of him and he found a way.
Three years on this Irish-born Australian hasn’t looked back. His first social enterprise, Senior Techies is helping seniors overcome social isolation through a digital engagement program with local high school students. His broader social program, The Better Together Project , is gaining momentum as it aims to reconnect generations to combat depression in both youth and seniors in his regional community. And now the Mornington Peninsula local is adding Westpac Social Change Ambassador to his list of credentials.
Despite recent success it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Stewart. Like many entrepreneurs he has faced the common hurdles of raising capital, finding time to research and develop his idea, and convincing loved ones that forgoing full time employment to pursue a passion will be worth it in the end.
“During the initial stages there were definitely some challenges. You have to invest a lot of time, energy and in some instances, money, to get yourself to a place where you can launch your initiative and know it’s going to succeed,” Stewart said.
“When I look at what the Westpac Social Change Fellowship offers, I see a real opportunity for people to leap feet first into their plan to drive change. I was working very closely with an organisation in the UK to get my program off the ground. If I had the opportunity to sit down physically with them, I have no doubt Senior Techies would have been up and running much sooner. The Fellowship encourages people to take the plunge and get moving on their idea. You can’t underestimate the importance of being freed up from your day-to-day job to get time and space to explore your own potential to create change.”
The Westpac Social Change Fellowship gives people the unique opportunity to fast-track their plans to tackle a social issue facing Australia. Funding of up to $50,000 can be used for a travel study tour, research, or networking, over a six month period to enable people to develop the knowledge, networks and skills they need to bring their idea to life.
“The Fellowship is about giving people the time and space to develop their own capabilities. It’s ultimately a life-changing program I’m really proud to be associated with,” said Stewart.
According to CEO of Westpac Bicentennial Foundation, Susan Bannigan, Stewart was carefully selected for the role of ambassador.
“Merv has so many attributes we are looking for in a Social Change Fellow. He is passionate about making a difference. He has the drive to make it happen and he demonstrates you can be working in any sector to be considered. He also understands that collaboration and connections are paramount. Constantly reaching out to others, seeing what he can learn from them, what knowledge he can share, what ideas and opportunities can come out of potential partnerships and collaboration. He is your everyday Australian changing his corner of the world, one idea at a time.” Bannigan said.
For Stewart, it’s all about creating your own opportunities and finding ways to make it happen.
“My advice to future changemakers is don’t wait. There is never a perfect time to get your idea off the ground. Just find a way to make it happen, the Fellowship might be one option. Broaden your network and start conversations with like-minded people. Opportunities will start to present themselves the more you engage with others.”
Applications for the Fellowship are open from 1 June – 16 August. People from any sector who are passionate about making a difference are encouraged to apply.
Visit www.Westpac.com.au/200years to apply.