Young achiever Marc Zen has been selected to take part in the competitive Engaging Young Leaders on Aged Care and Community Boards program, an award-winning initiative that aims to strengthen leadership and governance of the aged care and not-for-profit sectors through youth empowerment.
Now in its third year, the program was established in response to the skewed age statistics of board members: as at 2009, only 12 per cent of board members on publicly listed boards across Australia were under the age of 40.
With more than 700 not-for-profit organisations and 190 aged-care providers in Western Australia alone, that’s a vast number of positions in the sector that young people are not being given due consideration for.
Program facilitator Alicia Curtis says, “The program works to develop participants personal leadership skills and also practical skills in board governance, to address the common belief that they lack the experience required to sit on boards.”
Zen is eager to begin driving positive change, particularly in the not-for-profit sector, and believes the program addresses an important gap in how boards are currently structured.
“Young people can bring fresh and innovative ideas to organisations requiring new solutions to complex issues, particularly in the current climate of growing demand for services and less availability of resources,” he says.
A passion for community
Zen has always wanted to work with communities, particularly disadvantaged and marginalised communities. It was this passion that led him to study at Curtin in 2011.
“After researching the health promotion course, I realised that it had a really strong focus on voiceless communities and so it seemed like a natural fit for where I wanted to be,” he says.
But the program offered more than Zen could ever have imagined.
“In 2013, I received a scholarship to attend the LEAP leadership program at UCLA in Los Angeles,” says Zen. “It was probably the most defining moment of my studies; I never thought in a million years that I would get that scholarship.”
LEAP (Leadership, Education, Accelerating Potential) is a non-profit education foundation that sees hundreds of students attend an annual youth leadership program at the University of California, Los Angeles – one of the world’s premier universities.
“That program was a great opportunity to learn and network with other students from all over the world,” he says.
Zen was also selected to attend the One Young World summit in Dublin last year.
“One Young World is a highly competitive annual conference which brings together 1,000 young leaders from all over the world to discuss strategies to tackle global problems like climate change, human rights, global health and everything else facing the world today,” explains Zen.
“I got to listen to amazing speakers like Bob Geldof and Kofi Annan discuss everything from women’s rights to the current Ebola crisis in West Africa, which really strengthened my resolve to work in the communities of greatest need.”
Work experience central to success
Studying the Bachelor of Science (Health Promotion) at Curtin was a great pathway into helping communities, but it was the work experience that Zen felt was central to his education.
“The lecturers in my course were very well connected in the industry, meaning students were able to really establish their professional reputations prior to graduating and also to really gain hands-on experience,” he says.
To complement the industry experience he gained throughout the course, Zen also gained experience through volunteering.
“I think volunteering shows a real willingness to learn and be a part of something bigger, which employers really appreciate,” he says.
“My tip for new graduates would be to say ‘yes’ to everything, no matter how small it seems.”