Close Search
Changemaker  |  Careers

Care with upstanding courage

20 May 2022 at 7:45 am
Jonathan Alley
Courage to Care Victoria is celebrating 30 years of providing upstander education to people across Victoria to create racism-free communities. CEO Mike Zervos is this week’s Changemaker.

Jonathan Alley | 20 May 2022 at 7:45 am


Care with upstanding courage
20 May 2022 at 7:45 am

Courage to Care Victoria is celebrating 30 years of providing upstander education to people across Victoria to create racism-free communities. CEO Mike Zervos is this week’s Changemaker.

Mike Zervos is CEO of Victorian not for profit Courage to Care Victoria. The organisation began with an education program that was developed with the support of Monash University’s Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation and the Victorian Department of Education.

Thirty years after it was founded, Courage to Care’s Community Upstander program is widely known for its success in delivering interactive workshops to students that aim to educate young people on racism and discrimination. An “upstander” is a person exercising potential to make a positive difference. 

Courage to Care Victoria recently received $2 million in state government funding to expand its Upstander program to rural and regional schools, including a year nine outreach program. 

In this week’s Changemaker, Zervos discusses how he networks with education and anti-discrimination professionals regularly to build structural responses to discrimination, his own professional background, and the everyday things that inspire him. 

How did you get into the job you’re in now? 

After many years in leadership roles at Make a Wish, the Alannah and Madeline Foundation and Guide Dogs Victoria, I was approached about the role but thought seeing it was an initiative of B’nai B’rith (a global Jewish organisation started in 1843) that I wouldn’t have the appropriate background or experience. I soon learned that the Courage to Care message is a universal one of education against the dangers of racism and discrimination. That was nearly four years ago now. 

What are some of the unique challenges Courage to Care Victoria faces and how do you deal with them? 

Our point of difference is that we provide face-to-face Upstander education in schools and the community across all of Victoria. The demands on our volunteers’ time and logistics of arranging buses, accommodation and liaising with each school individually cause us considerable effort.  We are also incredibly honoured to have holocaust survivors and custodians (members of their family willing to tell their story) who volunteer with us. Their health and safety are utmost in our minds at all times. All these challenges are so worthwhile when we see and hear first-hand the reaction of students.

What are some of the things that inspire you as a leader?

I take inspiration from others around me irrespective of age, education or background. When someone has a vision to make a positive change, has the grit to keep going and they are honestly trying their best, that’s enough for me to be inspired.  Leadership implies influencing the behaviour of others so open and honest communication along the journey are important to me. 

What advice do you have for others wanting to make a change?

Believe in yourself, work hard and don’t give up. Change is often incremental not in one big moment, so stick at it day in, day out. It might sound a little cliched, but I’m lucky enough to be CEO at Courage to Care. Change does take “courage”.

How do you share knowledge with others undertaking similar work, or learn from them? 

Firstly the reason I think sharing knowledge and learning from others is so important is that no one person, or organisation, has all the answers. I hope others perceive me as being willing to share any knowledge or experience I may have, for the greater good.  If we have similar objectives, for example educating [young people] about the dangers of racism, does it really matter if it’s my organisation or another who has the bigger impact? I try to form open and honest relationships with my peers in other organisations, and we do meet in person. Sharing via social media is excellent up to a point, but I do value getting to know others in person, as I’ve found that enables great sharing. 

How has working in the social change space changed the way you see the world? 

It has taught me how incredibly lucky I have been throughout my life, and that others may not have had such good fortune. I feel I have an obligation to give back wherever I can.  It’s easy to focus on what is wrong in our society, but I choose to focus on positive actions being taken all around me. This can be on a global scale, or just helping one person in the smallest way. Australia has been described as “the lucky country”. My hope is that it is lucky for all of us, not just a select few.


Courage to Care is holding a Talking Upstander Action panel breakfast event about discrimination at The Ark Centre, Hawthorn (Melbourne, Vic) on 31 May. 

Jonathan Alley  |  @ProBonoNews

Jonathan Alley is opinion editor at Pro Bono Australia.

PB Careers
Get your biweekly dose of news, opinion and analysis to keep you up to date with what’s happening and why it matters for you, sent every Tuesday and Thursday morning.

Got a story to share?

Got a news tip or article idea for Pro Bono News? Or perhaps you would like to write an article and join a growing community of sector leaders sharing their thoughts and analysis with Pro Bono News readers? Get in touch at or download our contributor guidelines.


2022 Salary Survey

Get more stories like this


Your email address will not be published.


Working and advocating for community

Isabelle Oderberg

Friday, 1st July 2022 at 5:21 pm

Let’s talk about money

Isabelle Oderberg

Thursday, 30th June 2022 at 5:39 pm

How to re-negotiate your pay in today's workplace

Samantha Freestone

Wednesday, 29th June 2022 at 9:00 am

Making co-ops visible

Wendy Williams

Friday, 24th June 2022 at 10:30 am

pba inverse logo
Subscribe Twitter Facebook

News for those with purpose.

Delivered free to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Thank you - you have successfully subscribed.

Get the social sector's most essential news coverage. Delivered free to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.

You have Successfully Subscribed!