One why at a time
2 July 2019 at 8:33 am
Sarah Powell is the founder of Champions Academy and a 2019 Westpac Social Change Fellow. Here she shares insights into her fellowship experience and how it has helped her stay true to her why.
Some social entrepreneurs are opportunity addicts. Others love a crusade. Some simply can’t pass up a challenge. If you want to create genuine impact through your work, it’s not feasible to be all of these things.
My experience has taught me that spreading yourself across multiple projects simply because you have a passion for them doesn’t always result in your desired outcome. You must focus your energy and resources in the areas where your impact and outcomes are likely to be greatest.
Deciding which great idea or project to focus on comes down to understanding exactly what your why is.
Sometimes a why can be so big and all-encompassing, it’s hard to know exactly where to draw a line in the sand. A why can consume you, or snowball beyond your sense of purpose into a place where you are burning yourself out and getting nowhere fast. This is where the Westpac Social Change Fellowship has helped me in a way I’d never imagined.
I stumbled upon my why back in 2012. I distinctly remember the moment.
It was the day I returned as an adult to the tiny country town in South Australia where I had grown up and witnessed the shocking pattern of decline across the region. The bare patches of ground where schools once stood, boarded up general store windows, derelict town halls, closures of sporting clubs and the disappearance of various services that had once been at the heart of rural towns, that represented a tipping point of no return for those regions.
It felt like the rural legacy that Australia had been built on was evaporating before my very eyes. But what really frightened me, was that it was like seeing into the future of a nation that had lost its sense of community and cohesion.
That’s not the future I want for my children, or their children.
This was how I came to establish Champions Academy, a program which creates a culture of mentoring and personal development in existing organisations such as sporting clubs or schools, to help people to recognise their human potential, and teach them how to apply it to a cause greater than themselves.
What began as an initiative in my local community to address rural contraction and decline, quickly became a much greater opportunity for wider Australia after I received the Agrifutures Rural Women’s Award in 2015 for my efforts.
It wasn’t long before I began to feel the weight of responsibility for other communities that were crying out for someone to notice their pain.
I applied for a Westpac Social Change Fellowship to build my capacity as a social entrepreneur and increase my impact as an agent of positive change for rural communities. What I didn’t anticipate was the way this opportunity would amplify my why.
My fellowship took me to Harvard Extension School in Cambridge (Boston, MA) in the USA to study Creative Thinking: Innovative Solutions To Complex Challenges, Design Thinking and Leadership Communication. It wasn’t just the content of the courses, but the teams that I had the great privilege of being in the room with.
I found myself chatting casually with people from Google, Microsoft, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Ferrero, Uber and the Coca-Cola Company during tea breaks, comparing notes on lessons learned and problems solved, and being surprised at their willingness to share ideas and insights as well as ask for perspective from others.
In fact, everywhere I went in Boston, there was this tingling sense of possibility – The Venture Cafés, universities, TED events, Cambridge Innovation Centre – people were not only willing and able, but eager to empower others.
They genuinely wanted to help new innovation and ideas become realities, and they would connect you with people that they thought might be able to help you to make that happen.
You can imagine then, that the ideas that I went overseas with on this study tour, grew exponentially as doors of possibility opened, and obstacles became translucent before me.
Enter, opportunity overwhelm.
It was at this point that I came to understand the true benefit of the Social Change Fellowship. It wasn’t just the opportunity to invest in myself and my ideas, or the chance to travel abroad to develop my learnings and expand my networks. It was the Westpac Scholars Alumni.
In addition to the scholars themselves, there is an incredible depth of knowledge and experience of program partners that underpin the network of laureates, and I feel honoured to call them my new “extended family”.
Conversations with these stakeholders are invaluable in the process of clarifying my next steps and avoiding why “scope-creep”, ensuring I avoid spectacular burnout.
Being a social entrepreneur can be pretty lonely at times and often staying focused on your why is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to creating impact. But now having this diverse network of like-minded people I can call on at any time, I know that on this particular journey, I am far from alone.
Applications are now open for 2020 Westpac Social Change Fellowships. Each recipient will receive $50,000 to put towards a 12-month personal and professional development plan that will give them the opportunity to further enhance their skills, expand their networks, and explore new opportunities so they are better equipped to drive positive change.