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Changemaker  |  Social Affairs

From Corporate to Giving Disadvantaged Youth Hope

4 August 2017 at 2:37 pm
Rachel McFadden
Alison Polyik had it set in the corporate world. But after 20 years of jetsetting around the world and climbing the corporate ladder, something shifted in Polyik’s life and she got back in touch with something she had been hiding for a long time.

Rachel McFadden | 4 August 2017 at 2:37 pm


From Corporate to Giving Disadvantaged Youth Hope
4 August 2017 at 2:37 pm

Alison Polyik had it set in the corporate world. But after 20 years of jetsetting around the world and climbing the corporate ladder, something shifted in Polyik’s life and she got back in touch with something she had been hiding for a long time.

Now the general manager partnerships and corporate affairs at Doxa Youth, a not for profit working to improve outcomes for disadvantaged youth, Polyik says she gets a real buzz out of what she does and her favourite part of the day is talking to young people about the change they want to see in the world. She is this week’s Changemaker.

What does your average day look like?

My role is partnerships and corporate affairs and essentially part of that role is about bringing much needed funding through the door, in joining DOXA my role is to bring in new and diverse streams of funding. The other part of my role is about corporate affairs and everything to do with our brand, our marketing and stakeholder engagement. I have been at DOXA for two years, and it is an organisation that is 45 years old this year but, for almost everyone it had flown under the radar; it had an outdated brand and it wasn’t communicating with different stakeholders in the first place. So in week one I had to select a brand agency and from there we have worked to build an organisation that really engages young people and has a conversation with them, rather than at them.

What is the most rewarding element of your job?

Definitely working with young people, I really get a buzz about bringing money through the door but one of the things that I do is I make sure I go on a lot of the programs and talk to the young people who participate. I really want to know what the young people are saying, if they like it, [although] it’s not about evaluation because we have a manager who does that, for me it’s about off the cuff, conversations about the things that are happening [in the young person’s life]. I take that information and I turn it into funding, so that is something that really inspires me because I can speak to young people first hand about what is happening in their lives and what they would like to change and then I work with funders to make it happen.

You come from the corporate sector, why make the shift to not for profits?

It is quite interesting, it’s something that I didn’t talk about for many, many years, particularly when I was in the corporate sector. I was in the corporate sector for 15 plus years, it might of been 20, I am getting older all the time! I was working all around the world but I was the first person in my family to finish high school and certainly the first person in my family to go to university. I hid that fact, when I was younger particularly, I kind of thought, ‘I don’t want to talk about that side of my life’. I wanted to feel like I was fitting in and had the same opportunities as everyone else. That defined a lot of my early professional life, that really hard drive and ambition, and always wanting to do better. But then I got to a point in my life, and it was a major personal milestone where I had my daughter and I thought, ‘you know what? I want her life to be defined by opportunities that she makes and to not feel like she has to not talk about a particular aspect of her life, and anyway, I decided that I wanted to work in not for profit and obviously I wanted to work in a not for profit that was working with young people and delivering education type programs so that I was making an impact to help young people get their education and feel really proud about who they are and where they have come from.

What advice do you have for people in the corporate sector looking to make the switch to not for profits?

A lot of people in the corporate sector do want to do values-based work, but not a lot stay in the sector, it is very different, but you have to find your passion from personal experience growing up my passion became education so I just had to work in this space.

Work to live or live to work? Where do you see yourself on this spectrum?

I think you’ve got to enjoy what you do, it’s really important to love your work, where does that sit on the spectrum? Pretty high, I think. You have got to have passion about what you do.

What change would you like to see in the world?

I think I would like to see a change in the discourse around young people. Particularly young people from marginalised backgrounds. We see so many negative headlines about teenagers from marginalised backgrounds and refugees and newly arrived they are really damaging to young people and it doesn’t shine a light on the fact that most young people have hopes, they have aspirations and they really just want an opportunity to thrive in life.

What advice do you have for younger people?

Well I am in my mid 40s now but I didn’t find my confidence until I was a lot older. I let other people define how I felt so my advice for young people is believe in yourself, be with people who have got your back, and give everything a go, take every opportunity that comes your way.

How do you find time for yourself?

Finding time for myself is pretty hard, I’ve got a young family and demanding job but I like running so I tend to go on long runs on the weekend and I love reading, I’m a history buff.


Rachel McFadden  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Rachel is a journalist specialising in the social sector.

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