NSW Premier Mike Baird created Project Uplift with the intention of making it last beyond his tenure as Premier. The initiative connects eight disadvantaged youths annually with eight influential mentors across the spectrum of Australian society, to create opportunities for shared learning and a better future. This takes place over a seven-day 100km trek across the Northern Territory’s Larapinta Trail.
Thread Publishing sits down with Premier Mike Baird to learn more about the heart of the project and the people who benefited from it: the mentors and the young Australians alike.
We wanted to walk alongside those who had been through trauma, and who had tried to take at least one step out. Mike Baird
Read the first part of the story here.
When I was preparing our inaugural Project Uplift trip, it was important to me that we took the group somewhere beautiful in this country that we’re all a part of. There’s not always a lot of beauty in people’s lives – and some of the kids who were joining us on the trip had never been on a plane before. It was amazing and it was a challenge.
I knew before we set out on the first trip that I also wanted us to commit to a challenge each day and feel that sense of achievement at the end. There were days – almost every day, actually – when we endured a tough old hike. But then at night, every single mentor would share his or her story around the campfire, and the kids would open up and trust us with their stories in return. We ended up learning about each other’s different perspectives and it was a real eye opener.
In essence, though, all the talks boiled down to one thing: It’s not what you do; it’s who you are that matters.
We ended up discussing that single concept in so many different ways and at so many different levels. And as the mentors spoke, the kids really engaged. They could understand things personally – beyond business or politics. They saw us as people, just like them. The next day we’d go over our words and thoughts as we trekked. It turned into a whole week of self-reflection with the kids – and for us big kids – facing very real challenges together.
If you go out into the world and do something, then you can look back at your work and your life and get a fresh sense of perspective. Mike Baird
Making the lessons stick for everyone
We learned about resilience and about courage from one another. Our mentors have often come on their own journey to get to where they are, requiring enormous resilience along the way. But of course the kids have to show resilience every day, in big and small ways.
I remember one story from one of the boys, who is now 19. He had not celebrated Christmas for ten years. He’d been kicked out of home when he was nine and hadn’t had a Christmas present, meal or festive event ever since. It was a reminder to us all that we should never take for granted the things we think are a normal part of life.
He actually came to our place for Christmas this year, so he got his Christmas. We didn’t quite get his present quite right apparently, but there’s always next year. There will be a next year, for him and for us.
We’ve already had one reunion with the group from the first Project Uplift, and a couple of them have since got jobs. One has started as a trainee at the Museum of Contemporary Art and another is working in an auction company. Another of the boys was desperate to get into an apprenticeship in carpentry and he didn’t get accepted this time, but he’s still pursuing the work. He’s got married since too!
So you can see lots of progress across our little group already. But, no matter what work opportunities have materialised since the trek, all of the kids have said that the week travelling with us was pretty much life-changing for them. It was life-changing for me, too. No doubt about it. It was one of the most amazing weeks of my life. All of the mentors would say the same; we all believe that.
The role as a business leader in any organisation is fleeting in a sense, and most organisations are about the bottom line. But there is a strong and timeless brand sense, I think, in giving back. What are your values? How are they expressed? Your company will take their cue from you.
If you are a leader in business and you want to show you care, I would say that scheduling that time in your diary is the biggest way to can show others that something matters to you. If you are happy to take that time out of your work for something that matters deeply to you and your organisation, it sends a strong message that these other things are important, too.
If you look at someone like Gail Kelly, who came on this first trip with me, you can see how other business leaders might get inspired to get involved in future. It’s a challenge to yourself – and as leaders we all need to be challenged to become better at what we do; no matter who we are.
It’s about bringing values into leadership. Project Uplift makes you a strong leader, a more compelling leader and, I believe, a leader that people are going to be more inclined to follow. You’re stepping up and showing that people matter. And what is more important than that?
The bottom line
You’re also showing that where there is disadvantage, you are willing to personally do things to make a difference. It’s an eagle-eye perspective. When we’re stuck day-to-day dealing with spreadsheets, invoices, budgets and shareholders, the whole gamut of politics, business or the corporate world … sometimes we don’t realise that there are other priorities, we can all take things for granted.
But if you go out into the world and do something, then you can look back at your work and your life and get a fresh sense of perspective. I’m very lucky to have experienced this through Project Uplift and I’ll never forget the things it taught me, and continues to teach me.
The mentors on the inaugural Project Uplift trip are: Premier Mike Baird; former Premier Nathan Rees; Westpac CEO, Gail Kelly; Pickles Auctions founder, Tim Pickles; Director Elizabeth Ann McGregor OBE from the Museum of Contemporary Art; seven-times World Champion surfer Layne Beachley; INXS rock star Kirk Pengilly; and National Student Leadership Forum founder and author, Jock Cameron.
Premier Mike Baird worked with Oasis Youth Support Network, Youth Off the Streets, Southern Youth Family Services and Brookvale Youth Reach to choose the eight young people who would take part in Project Uplift’s first year’s trek. Completing the 100km walk would not only meaningfully connect these mentors and youths, creating opportunities for a better future, it reminds everyone that they have the strength to realise their full potential.
Written by Thread Publishing (threadpublishing.com). Connecting the world one story at a time to bring humanity back into business. © 2015
Photo credit: Mike Baird; Unsplash, istock