How do you be a change agent and lead on some of the most difficult — but too often ignored — social issues of our time?
Anne-Marie Elias knows how.
Named the 2017 Agenda Setter of the Year at our recent Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards, she connects communities, business, academia and governments locally and abroad to empower disadvantaged communities.
She’s a serious change agent and disrupter — especially in her work running a number of social change hackathons to come up with real solutions to complex issues like refugee settlement, homelessness, domestic violence and mental health.
So when Angela Priestley and Georgie Dent recently sat down with Anne-Marie in the Eagle Waves Studio for our latest Work It Out podcast, they asked just how women can create social change when the issues can seem too big, and so complex, to tackle. Especially when governments have previously failed in achieving much at all.
“The more people don’t want to look at an issue, the more I get energised to determine how we can solve these problems,” Anne-Marie said.
Over the past year, Anne-Marie’s organised a number of hackathons inviting a wide range of individuals with different skill-sets to come together to help create new initiatives that can make life a little easier for some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
She’s already run hackathons to help come up with solutions to challenges around homelessness and refugee settlement — the latter resulted in the launch of Refugee Talent by co-founders Anna Robson and Nirary Dacho, which has seen 200 refugees placed into jobs in the past 18 months, and Anna and Nirary named on a Forbers 30 under 30 list. Nirary had been in Australia just six months before attending the Techfugees hackathon.
Later this year, Anne-Marie will run a hackathon on family and domestic violence, followed by mental health in February 2018.
“We split the issues up to make them easier to translate and deal with chunk by chunk,” she said. “We really want to focus on these social impact hackathons because whatever governments are doing in suicide or mental health or family and domestic violence, it seems the more money that’s spent the worse those problems get. My view is that in the community we need to do something, anything.”
Born in Egypt, Anne-Marie arrived in Australia at age seven. She says she experienced a difficult childhood and school life, especially given her limited English. At 16, she was appointed to a local, community board. And at 21, she landed a job with a Federal Labor MP.
“I was the ethnic girl who couldn’t speak English very well,” she says. “That’s empowerment right. It’s stepping above and beyond what you can and what you think you can do.”
She experienced a serious wake-up call in December 2013, following the sudden death of a 17-year-old boy called Jordan, who had spent much of his free time helping people through depression, drug use and homelessness.
The moment pushed Anne-Marie to take action, and to do more to support and speak up for members of the community who don’t have a voice.
Our awards judges said about Anne-Marie’s work she is the: “Ultimate disruptor who won’t accept no for an answer. She is a forward-thinking, solution-focused and dynamic leader, who is passionate and purposeful about creating social change. She is the type of woman who will make Australia a better place.”
Listen to the podcast below.