‘I rarely refer to myself as a female anything, although I am acutely aware of being a female leader and role model. I consciously Encourage and practically support women to step up and back themselves.’
Jan Owen (AM) is a natural entrepreneur: an irrepressible maverick, innovator and fearless of failure. As an adopted child with a debilitating stutter, Jan’s non-conformist strong will and driven aspirational spirit surfaced early in her hometown of Brisbane, “I was one of those entrepreneurial kids who tried to sell lemonade at the end of my driveway; only problem being my driveway was on a road that about two cars went by each day.”
At the age of 11, Jan found a niche market, catching toads for the University of Queensland Veterinary Department with her three younger brothers. “Toads Inc. was a bonanza for a while. We oversupplied the Uni.’
‘I was brought up…helping others,’ says Jane Owen whose parents helped set up Lifeline and were some of the organisation’s first phone counselors. She also decided to tackle her own vocal disability head on by enrolling in potentially humiliating activities such as debating, acting in one-woman plays and singing.
Jan has come a long way from the challenges of selling lemonade by the side of the road. Today, as the CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians, she has contributed to the establishment of social change organisations and has served on a wide range of boards, advising the forward momentum and shape of the business community.
Jan insists that getting involved in community organisations or artistic pursuits at an early age can significantly grow leadership skills and allow young people to find their talents and capabilities. In 2000, Jan was awarded membership of the Order of Australia for services to children and young people, and was the inaugural winner of the Australian Financial Review & Westpac Group ‘Woman of Influence’ in 2012. In 2014 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Sydney.
Attracted to social justice issues and supporting others, Jan started out in drug and alcohol education for young people across Queensland. She says a ‘fairly creative’ approach was used to establish youth support services.
“We ‘borrowed’ unused assets like service stations and turned them into drop-in centers for kids and young people in the inner city.” Jan worked as a National youth advocate and Chair of the Youth Affairs Council of Australia, before working in child protection where she saw young people who were not treated as equals and were not given a voice in the dispensation of their own lives.
This led her to set up the CREATE Foundation, an organisation aimed at meeting the needs of the 20,000+ young people in foster care. One of the key initiatives of CREATE was a social enterprise, which employed young people themselves as consultants to the government bodies and NFP’s who provided their care. “It was pretty radical,” Jan said. “We transformed the state care system from the inside out by bringing these young people, the ‘customers’ to the table.”
After nine years under her leadership, CREATE had grown into a National organisation with offices and staff in every state and territory. Jan moved on.
The next step was Social Ventures Australia with Michael Traill. “We were yin and yang – one from the business and one from the social sector,” Jan says. “SVA pioneered new social investment and HNW philanthropy models. We sought to find and back the best social entrepreneurs in the country and invest in them to grow and scale their impact.”
After eight and a half years there, Jan left to run the Foundation for Young Australians where she has been CEO for the past four years, and feels she has found her place. Jan explains. “My life’s work and passion has always been backing young people. I am relentlessly optimistic about their capacity to create change in their world. They inspire and motivate me every day.”