We talk leadership with the CEO of Oaktree: young people leading a movement to end poverty

Chris Wallace is a fresh face at Oaktree -  an organisation of young people leading a movement to end poverty. He may have commenced his role as CEO in January 2015, but turn back the clock to the official launch of Oaktree 13 years ago and you will find Chris there, an eager year 7 student, keen to get involved! Since then, Chris has worked alongside refugees, led youth groups, sold bikes, finished uni and worked in an inner city law firm. One thing is for sure: he is passionate about education, alleviating poverty, and the empowerment of young people! We thought we would ask Chris a few questions to get some further insight on what life looks like for the CEO of Australia’s largest youth-run organisation…

What attracted you to the CEO position at Oaktree and what does daily life look like?

Extreme poverty is one of the greatest injustices we see today. So the opportunity to create really meaningful change on this issue is something I’m very passionate about. It is a huge privilege to go to work everyday knowing that I’m working with a team passionately pursuing the big picture - a world free from poverty. Being able to work with a diverse group of young people with a range of backgrounds and experiences is something that makes everyday unique and worthwhile. Daily life includes plenty of meetings, coffee, whiteboarding, mapping, strategy, presentations, plenty of laughs, bit of frisbee and working with a team of passionate young people… it’s the best!

 How many staff do you manage and what are some of your biggest challenges?

I manage 4 staff. Because of our relatively young ages, it means that we’re constantly learning new things… we have saying at Oaktree: we learn from both our wins and our failures! It is this type of attitude that takes the challenge of inexperience and turns it into a strength.

 Do you have a mentor or another leader you admire and why?

I’m privileged to have a range of mentors across different areas of my life. They all have incredible strengths in different areas. One is a change expert, another is excellent at management, and another at thinking outside the box. In all cases, I really admire their values, and seeing these come out in their decision-making. 

What do you think the biggest barrier is when it comes to young people getting out there and taking action on causes they care about? How can this be overcome?

I think the biggest barrier is actually in our own heads - the belief that we don’t have the skills or expertise to be able to make a difference. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Young people have incredible power to create change.

In fact, there’s a huge number of organisations out there that not only want young people in their organisations, but actively rely on them to thrive.

As young people, we can often get discouraged by the size or scope of the problem. My encouragement would be to build the confidence to start having a crack at it, and begin contributing to the progress you want to see.

What is the best part about working for Oaktree?

It’s hard to pinpoint the  best part of working for Oaktree. There’s a great sense of community within the organisation, and with our partner organisations, which comes from pursuing a shared vision of a world free from poverty.

But for me, the most exciting part is that we’re creating real change. Recently one of our partner’s schools was voted the second best school in Cambodia, after being on the verge of closure 4 years ago. I was able to visit in January this year. During the visit, I also met with the Cambodian Education Minister. His department wants to implement the model of education our partner has piloted in schools across Cambodia. The potential scale of that change is phenomenal.

 Got any new and exciting reveals to share about things in the works for Oaktree in 2015-16?

We’re really excited to announce the launch of our latest campaign, Collective Future. The world’s most vulnerable are being hit the hardest by the impact of climate change. Our Collective Future campaign aims to raise public awareness of the intersection between climate change and extreme poverty, and importantly, what can be done

And next year we’ll be running Live Below the Line, which this year raised over $1.6 million dollars for our partner organisations in the Asia-Pacific.

For more information on Oaktree and how to get involved, head to: www.oaktree.org


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