The Australian Business and Community Network (ABCN) is a collaboration of leading Australian companies committed to long-term business-education partnerships with low socio-economic schools. Its programs aim to improve the opportunities and outcomes for students who attend high-needs schools by raising aspirations and increasing their awareness of the personal, educational and vocational choices available.
This is achieved through structured programs and mentoring by business professionals in a corporate environment. Engagement in the program provides students with an insight into the modern workplace and access to business networks.
MinterEllison was a founding member of ABCN in 2005. I first became involved with ABCN in 2015 when I participated in the Goals Program, which involved working with a select group of Year 9 students from John Fawkner Secondary School. During the course of the year we took part in a range of activities aimed at helping students set and achieve goals (big and small). Most of the students who participated in the program did not come from families of professionals or university graduates. As a result, working with us on a regular basis opened up their minds and imaginations to a whole new corporate world. Establishing professional networks for the students is key to the program's success, and the importance of tertiary study and education is always emphasised.
In 2016, MinterEllison funded perpetual scholarships for Future Women Leaders through the ABCN Scholarship Foundation. The recipient of one of those scholarships, Kate, was an incredibly determined and resilient Year 10 student from a public girls school in the inner-western suburbs of Melbourne. I have been lucky enough to work with Kate for the past 18 months, and as her long term mentor, and I look forward to continuing our partnership into the future.
Upon reading Kate's scholarship application my heart ached and I knew that I had to meet her. In her 17 short years, Kate had experienced more turbulence than most grown adults would in a lifetime.
A victim of family violence and the product of a dysfunctional broken home, Kate is the primary career for her mother who suffers from debilitating epilepsy and back injuries caused by her ex-partner. Kate is responsible for cleaning, cooking and grocery shopping for her and her mother. She manages the family's finances, and has to budget her allowances and scholarship funds to ensure that she has enough money for her school uniform, books and excursions. Kate is also undertaking her VCE, juggling a very demanding study load and participating in extra studies during the school holidays at Melbourne University.
Despite all of this, Kate's marks at school have been commendable and she dreams of attending university next year (she will be the first in her family) and one day becoming a lawyer or an optometrist. Kate also volunteers her spare time at a women's refuge and is passionate about educating the community about domestic violence, and giving back to the refuge that helped her and her mother during their time of desperate need.
I can attest to the fact that mentoring a student through ABCN has its many rewards – and whilst, of course, the major beneficiaries of the program are the students, by default (and I know this may sound a little cliché) my personal self-development and general social awareness have also reaped the rewards. Taking time out of my hectic work schedule to make time for Kate is a small ask, and to have an employer who genuinely supports me in doing so is a compelling reason as to why I could not turn down the opportunity.
When I first put my hand up to become involved with ABCN, I'll admit that I never realised the extent to which I would be impacted. Every time I meet with Kate she brings me back down to earth and inspires me to be a better person, both professionally and personally. Kate, without even knowing it, puts things back into perspective for me and makes me feel so grateful for everything that I have. My experience with ABCN is something that money cannot buy, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is thinking about participating in one of their programs.