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Youth for Change

4 January 2016 at 11:21 am
Xavier Smerdon
Despite being just 21-years-old, Paige Burton has been recognised as one of the most influential people in Australia’s social sector. Burton is this week’s Changemaker.

Xavier Smerdon | 4 January 2016 at 11:21 am


Youth for Change
4 January 2016 at 11:21 am

Despite being just 21-years-old, Paige Burton has been recognised as one of the most influential people in Australia’s social sector. Burton is this week’s Changemaker.

She may be still completing a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney, but that did not stop Paige Burton from being named in Pro Bono Australia’s second Impact 25.

The Board Director of UN Youth Australia, Burton and her organisation educate over 15,000 young Australians each year about international issues and the role of the United Nations.

Burton works full time as the Events and Operations Manager at the Centre for Australian Progress.

In this week’s Changemaker column she talks about the challenges of being a young person trying to instigate positive change in the world and what inspires her to keep doing so.

What are you currently working on in your organisation?

At the Centre for Australian Progress, I’m currently working on expanding our campaign training programs to other cities, and planning for a big year of events in 2016. With UN Youth, I’m providing support for our incoming national team and agenda-setting for the year ahead. We have delegations off to the US, Europe, and The Middle East in January, which is always a really exciting part of the year.

What drew you to the Not for Profit sector?

The Not for Profit sector is full of the hardest working, most talented, and passionate people I’ve ever come across. There’s nothing better than being constantly inspired and challenged by intelligent people who are changing the world. At the time, I was motivated to give back to an organisation that meant so much to me when I was in school, I didn't really think about it in terms of "joining the Not for Profit sector" but I can't really imagine doing anything else.

What is the most rewarding part of your work?

The most rewarding part of being involved with UN Youth is watching the impact that it has on both the lives of the students that participate in our programs and our volunteers. I’ve made incredible friends and learnt so much about curriculum design, management, and governance. I’ve also been lucky to travel with the best people you’ll ever meet to work with peace-building organisations in Jerusalem, and development projects in Timor L’Este.

Ultimately, the most rewarding part of the work is spending time with the fantastic students that are engaged with, and care deeply about global issues. I also love working with teachers, I think they play such an important part in people's lives and it's great to be able to continue spending time with teachers.

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

I think we as humans really struggle to imagine other people as complexly as we think of ourselves – it’s our biggest challenge. I think that young people are too frequently reduced down to a set of stereotypes that is really disengaging. It denies young people the space to engage with important issues in a way that’s genuinely meaningful.

So the most challenging part of being a young person, and working with young people has always been overcoming, and challenging those attitudes in a way that is productive. I’d like to think I try and overcome that by producing the best work that I can, and creating a space for young people to have important conversations with their peers, to give them support, and autonomy to carry out their ideas without being tokenistic.

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 think the key to an effective board is making sure that all members of your board are clear on the strategic vision of your organisation, and that all decisions are made with shared organisational values in mind. I also think it’s incredibly important to have a group of individuals who are open to innovation, challenging the status quo, and taking risks.

I’m always being asked…

The things I’m asked most frequently are: “what are you reading?”, “do you have a good venue suggestion for x?”, or “have you got an interactive workshop activity to explain x concept?”

What are you reading, watching or listening to at the moment?  

I appreciate that this is the next question. I read 52 books a year, and I’ve just finished the last one, so I’m having a break until the new year. I’m trying to catch up on the best long form journalism of 2015 for the next couple of weeks. I’m re-watching Master of None, and listening to the second season of Serial.

What does a typical day for you involve?

I head to work at Australian Progress. Depending on the day, I might be spending time on event design, recruitment for programs, some graphic design, or operations tasks. Regardless of the day or tasks, I’ll get to talk to a heap of amazing people. I usually spend a couple of hours doing UN Youth tasks every night. Those tasks depend on what the organisation is doing – it could be an oversight call, or writing content for an event. Then I might do a bit of work for university (although it’s probably more likely that I’ll be reading instead of getting ahead on an essay).

What, or who, inspires you?

I’m inspired by the idea that people are inherently good. I see that in the interactions I have everyday – from the thousands of people who volunteer so much of their time with UN Youth every year – to my incredible team at Australian Progress, every student I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with in the past few years, my wonderful family, and fantastic teachers from high school that still play a large role in my life.

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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