Backing the big hearts and believers who will drive change

This week the Westpac Bicentennial Foundation announced its inaugural Social Change Fellows, each receiving up to $50,000 to invest in their own personal development and education, to enhance their ability to tackle some of Australia’s entrenched social issues.

12 individuals, largely diverse in their experience and focus areas, including seasoned social change campaigners, Julian O'Shea and Marcus Westbury, and emerging leaders in the sector, Jeremy Forbes, co-founder of Halt and Sarah Yates, co-founder of Alongside.

The Westpac Social Change Fellowship is designed to give people like Jeremy and Sarah the chance to fast track their potential and others like Julian and Marcus, the opportunity to broaden their existing skills and networks. According to Susan Bannigan, CEO of the Westpac Bicentennial Foundation, the investment is in the individual, rather than their idea.

"If we are to eradicate the social issues deeply entrenched in our communities we need to invest in people to make change happen. Seed funding to support ideas is one way of doing this. However the Westpac Social Change Fellowship takes a different approach.

“We believe there is significant value in investing in the individual, giving them the time and space to explore their own potential, to create networks and further educate themselves. This will ultimately create a greater ripple effect for social change.”

The funding allows the recipients to undertake their own bespoke personal development journey, with the aim of building the skills and experience they need to bring their social initiative to life or take it to the next level. This may involve traveling abroad to investigate similar social programs, development courses, research or work experience.

“Sarah Yates, for instance, is a great example of who the Fellowship supports. She has an unwavering commitment to her cause, and a clear understanding of what she needs to work on personally, to be in a position to drive lasting and meaningful change.”

Sarah, a young Western Australian mother of two, has experienced firsthand the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Her husband, a police officer, was diagnosed with the illness seven years ago. Sarah realised there was very little external support available for partners and families of Australia’s frontline personnel, leading her and co-founder Paige Hobbs to establish national not-for-profit Alongside – an organisation that provides proactive education, PTSD support and a strong sense of community for families of emergency service and defence personnel.

Sarah will use the Fellowship to strengthen her networks by connecting with organisations around the globe specialising in frontline family support and education, particularly with regards to PTSD and suicide prevention. She also hopes to gain better insight through comprehensive assessments into what partners, families and personnel from other defence and emergency services need so she can effectively extend the services of Alongside to these individuals.

Over 200 applications were received in the inaugural year.  In November, a national panel met in Sydney to determine the inaugural fellows. This involved seven highly regarded social entrepreneurs and educators including Richard Boele, Partner at KPMG; Annette Cairnduff, Director, Social Inclusion, The University of Sydney; and, Melodie Potts-Rosevear, CEO of Teach For Australia.

“To have such influential leaders from the social, business and education sectors, involved in the selection process, says so much about this program. Their support really reinforces the Foundation’s core belief that investing in Australia’s future leaders has the power to shape the future of Australia.” Susan said. 



Aviva Beecher Kelk and Jenna Moffat, Clickability, Australian disability service directory - VIC

Jeremy Forbes, HALT (Mental health and suicide prevention initiative for Tradies) - VIC

Joplin Higgins, Rehabilitation program for domestic violence offenders - NSW

Julian O’Shea, Education ReDesigned (Creating Opportunities in Technology for Underrepresented Groups) - VIC

Karen Wellington, CoderDojo (Technology Education for Young People) - WA

Mamadou Diamanka, Restorative justice and community conferencing - VIC

Marcus Westbury, Collingwood Arts Precinct and Renew Australia - VIC

Mary Freer, Change Day Australia, Social movement for better health outcomes - SA

Om Dhungel, Bottom-up approach to refugee settlement - NSW

Sarah Yates, Alongside (Support for Families of Emergency Service and Defence Personnel with PTSD) - WA

Zoe Black, Happy Paws Happy Hearts (Positive interactions for socially isolated Australians) - QLD