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Never Lose Sight

7 December 2015 at 10:31 am
Xavier Smerdon
The organisation that Mark Watt co-founded in 1999, Whitelion, has recently been honoured with a Melbourne Award for its contribution to the community. Watt is this week’s Changemaker.

Xavier Smerdon | 7 December 2015 at 10:31 am


Never Lose Sight
7 December 2015 at 10:31 am

The organisation that Mark Watt co-founded in 1999, Whitelion, has recently been honoured with a Melbourne Award for its contribution to the community. Watt is this week’s Changemaker.

Every day Whitelion delivers prevention and support programs to over 1,800 vulnerable youths, with an additional 21,000 supported by its outreach bus service.

In May this year Whitelion conducted its 10th “Bail Out” event at the Old Melbourne Gaol, raising almost $700,000 towards vital community programs.

In this week’s Changemaker column the man who co-founded the organisation and remains its CEO, Mark Watt, reveals the challenges and rewards of working with at-risk young people.

What are you currently working on in your organisation?

We’re currently working on the next three to five year Strategic Plan for the organisation and will be refocusing on our vision, mission and our strategy to achieve this and on what we can be doing better, focussing our efforts more to achieve the maximum impact for young people.

What drew you to the Not for Profit sector?

My real desire to make a difference in the lives of other people, rather than work in areas just making money. I feel it is much more important helping lives that really do need a community response and community involvement. I saw a revolving door with young people coming into the juvenile justice centre being released, then quickly coming back again. I wanted to contribute to helping to break that cycle as I saw it firsthand.

What was your first job in the Not for Profit sector?

My first job was working at a Youth Training Centre for incarcerated young people called Winlaton. We started a radio station which operated for some time called KWG where we taught young people to be DJs, organise and operate radio programs, and we created interesting content for radio programs which was a very exciting time. This gave them an opportunity they would never normally have and gave them a sense of purpose and more confidence.

What has been the most challenging part of your work? And how do you overcome that?

I believe the most challenging part of my work is raising the funds to run the programs necessary to help support our young people like employment and mentoring programs.

The way I have overcome this is by not doing it alone. Involving like minded people, in such as supporters and friends, to help raise the funds needed and also keeping the passion and focus on what we are trying to achieve front and centre, so really keeping our young people the centre of what we do. We never lose sight of our core activities.

In terms of your work sitting on a Not for Profit Board, what would you say is the key to an effective NFP board?

I reside on several Boards and the key to a NFP Board is making sure all members are clear about their vision and purpose of the organisation. It is extremely important that you have a Board that works well together, that understands governance and understands their roles and has a great working relationship with the CEO and is willing to contribute to the organisation and not just sit on the Board but be active on the Board. They need a complementary set of skills and a great understanding of the core values of the organisation.

What do you like best about working in your current organisation?

Knowing that I am making a difference to the lives of young people and continually hearing many examples of achievement and meeting lots of kids where we have made an impact and helped change their lives, helped them gain the courage to choose a better future and that’s really exciting to do that and along with other people who have the same passion as I do.

I consider my greatest achievement to be …

Creating an organisation that is responsive to the needs of young people and hanging in there with young people, offering them the opportunities and relationships they need to have a better future.

Where do you feel your passion for good came from?

I believe my passion stemmed from my background in a single parent family on an extremely low income with a number of struggles, including domestic violence, and from this I really wanted to help people in similar situations as myself and realised that the community offered so much.  

There are so many people within the community who want to make a difference and creating a vehicle that allows them to give back to young people is really something that I am extremely proud of.

Also, through my involvement at schools, and through community groups, churches etc. I found that the power of a group of people coming together for a joint vision can achieve amazing things in the lives of others.

If you know someone that would make a good Changemaker, nominate them by emailing

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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