This is a sad week for Australia.

For more than 30 years the not-for-profit organisation Young Achievement Australia brought business skills to some 190,000 students. It was a beacon of inspiration, a source of knowledge, and a cultivator of leadership for thousands of young Aussies.

Sarah Patching and David Burgess with an environmentally-friendly possum home they designed for a Young Achievement Australia project in 2004. File photo

This week YAA will shut down, because its funding has dried up. It is a tragedy for all of those who have experienced its excellence, and for all of those who never will.

Take a moment to imagine a charitable institution whose vision is to contribute to the prosperity of Australia through the promotion, development and enhancement of business enterprise skills, capacities and understanding.

Imagine selflessly offering the brightest Aussie students the opportunity to start their own company, for free, from scratch, with no strings attached. Imagine thousands of students a year, in every state of Australia, learning how to start businesses that will drive this nation’s future.

Imagine a track record of amazing success; after graduating from the program, Scott Farquhar and his business partner Mike Cannon-Brookes founded Atlassian. The pair received the 2006 Ernst and Young Australian Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and today they have more than 15,600 satisfied customers from 138 countries around the world.

YAA is one of those things that you can only truly appreciate if you have experienced yourself. Last year I was given an opportunity to participate. I was elected Managing Director of a Young Achievement Australia Company, which was made up of 15 students from 3 Universities, who had travelled here to study from 6 different countries.

We created an educational resource to enrich the minds of young people by showcasing the stories and advice of Australia’s most successful business leaders and social entrepreneurs. Their companies had annual revenues in excess of $1.2 billion per year. They came from 3 different states of Australia, and had business operations in more than 115 countries around the world. From Boost Juice to Gloria Jeans, JustCuts to Wotif.com, and Imagination Entertainment to EcoWash, we featured entrepreneurs alongside philanthropists, and today’s corporate giants alongside the young start-ups who will become tomorrow’s success stories.

We sold shares to raise capital ourselves, we manufactured our own products, we formulated and executed a market entry strategy and a sales strategy based on our own financial models, and we liquidated our company to distribute profits to our shareholders.

Our company returned almost 1000% profit to our shareholders in just six months of operation (albeit with a small initial financial investment). We sold our intellectual property to an educational publishing company to ensure that our efforts will continue to educate students for years to come.

It was a remarkable first year of University for me, because I learnt far more from this program than from my tertiary studies. I developed leadership and interpersonal skills that will guide me for the rest of my life, and I built networks that continue to open doors to new opportunities today.

This example is just a microcosm of the YAA experience. Imagine scores of teams undertaking similar journeys every year, in every state. Envision what our country will lose in the future as a result of the collapse of YAA; economic and social growth, business and political leadership, and a priceless stockpile of knowledge and education. Ultimately, we will deprive our children of potential to better their own future.

At its annual NSW Awards Dinner last week, Young Achievement Australia CEO Pam Smith was still optimistic; she said that the fat lady had not yet sung. However, the immediacy of the moment cannot be overstated; with its offices closing down this week, the fat lady just put the microphone to her mouth.

Is there a saviour for YAA?

If a superhero does not answer this call, we must recognise that fault lies all around. YAA failed to raise the money it needed, business failed to donate it, government failed to grant it, and philanthropists failed to bestow it. The lack of our community’s foresight in this entrepreneurial age is astonishing.

Nonetheless, the debate over fault will soon become immaterial. What will no longer be debatable is that unless someone steps up, we will all need to grab a shovel to bury some of our prosperity as a community. Without Young Achievement Australia, the bright promise of our future will become slightly darker.

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6 comments

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    • Jon says:

      05:54am | 18/11/09

      Hey ruddy I heard the government doesn’t want to fund or support australian olympics on the news this morning. Wow constant poor leadership, constant poor results in management of this country, australians have to see this spinmeister for what he is or they are gonna lose more.

    • persephone says:

      07:24am | 18/11/09

      If the company has kickstarted the careers of so many entrepreuners, I would expect that they will be lining up to give back a small fraction of the largesse they have gained from the program to keep it going.
      If they don’t - either it hasn’t had the effects you claim; or it produces selfish, stingy, ungrateful b***tards, of whom we have an unending supply anyway.

    • Sam says:

      08:59am | 18/11/09

      I find it on the wrong side of odd that a group committed to entrepreneurship should be so beholden to government for funding. After 30 years you would have thought that YAA would have found a business model that would make their operation sustainable.

      There is no doubt that YAA has done great work and should be congratulated for that. But the stark reality is that in times like these there are must haves and nice to haves and funding of this type clearly is nice to have.

      We can be sure that if the concept is valuable then there will be some bright entrepreneur that will revive YAA and place it on a more stable foundation. That’s what entrepreneurship is about isn’t it?

    • stephen says:

      08:28pm | 18/11/09

      Funding entrepreneurship is like funding holidays to the Bahamas. Good luck.

    • Lyndal says:

      10:49am | 19/11/09

      The YAA Business Skills Program offers more than a crash course in entrepreneurship. Participants complete the program with skills that enable them to make a seamless transtion from student to employee. What they learn from hands on practical work and experience can’t be simulated in the classroom.
      This program is offered to Year 11 students as well as tertiary students. Not everyone is going to go on to tertiary studies. Who’s going to encourage and provide employment skills to those students? Certainly not the government!

    • Lisa says:

      11:05pm | 19/11/09

      The Australian government and the Australian people are generally disinterested, even outright angrily suspicious of entrepreneurial behaviour. They don’t understand it, but they know they don’t like it. They think it has something to do with America.
      We are a convict country, we like big government and handouts. That’s the Australian way.

 

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