Interview by Amelia Wilson, Content & Design Specialist, Advance

Of all 52 Commonwealth countries, Australia has well and truly come in with the gold: Caitlin Figueiredo and Hunter Johnson have been presented with the opportunity of a lifetime as the recipients of the Queen’s Young Leaders Award.

This prestigious annual award recognises and celebrates exceptional people aged 18-29 from across the Commonwealth, who are taking the lead in their communities and using their skills to transform lives.  

Caitlin and Hunter, along with the winners from other Commonwealth countries, will receive a unique package of training, mentoring and networking, including a one-week residential program in the UK during which they will collect their Award from Her Majesty The Queen.

Caitlin is currently the CEO of Lake Night Learning, a social enterprise specialising in upskilling young individuals to enter employment and become community leaders, and Hunter is the CEO of The Man Cave, a preventative mental health and emotional intelligence program for boys and young men aged 13-18 years.  

Both of these young Australians run their organisations with remarkable humanitarian and social enterprise qualities - and both have plans to scale their passions and positively influence their generation to make a difference. Advance caught up with Caitlin and Hunter to hear about their work, the challenges involved and what their vision for Australia’s future is.

What has been the biggest challenge in your area of work?

C: Having people in positions of power underestimating the complexity of issues; of women trying to escape violence, the importance of policy, the importance of working on the ground with survivors, listening to their stories and recommendations. The policy makers and the workers on the ground are too often separated. That needs to change if we are ever going to end violence against women and increase gender equality in Australia. Once we start recognising that every single member of our population has the ability to contribute, that is when we are able to take our collective conscious to make policy that will positively affect women and children.

H: There have been two challenges: 1) Running a sustainable business in the non-for-profit sector in a way that allows us to provide our services to those in low socioeconomic communities in a cost effective way. 2) The topic of masculinity can be a very sensitive topic. It is incredibly important for our messaging to not threaten or isolate men but instead to provide them with an awareness around the model of masculinity we have inherited. It’s all about questioning who made these rules, why do we enforce them and are they really working for us? The most important thing we encourage is that it isn’t about throwing away your masculine traits but actually about embracing more of your humanity.

How can other people get involved in your organisation?

C: Reaching out to us on the Lake Nite Learning website. Check out our courses! Please don't hesitate to reach out to me on social media or email.

H: We have volunteer roles available at The Man Cave which you can find out about on our website! If you would like us to do a workshop at your school or community group, we are very open to that. Or if you are interested in supporting us in a professional or pro bono partnership capacity, we are very interested, particularly those who have experience in the marketing and digital storytelling space.

What role can the global Australian community play in supporting your work?

C: I think one of the biggest things the global community can do is help to share resources and knowledge. In Australia, we are making a lot of progress in regards to gender equality resources and best practices but we are still not there yet. I would love for people to reach out to me for coffee or a Skype so that I can learn more about them and learn from them!

H: Due to the significant demand of our programs, we are excited to explore international opportunities in 2018. The global community can help us by sharing our content, resources and advocating for a Man Cave program to operate within their local community.

What is your vision for Australia’s future?

C: Firstly, I would love for Australia to tap into our global community so that we can learn from the them to advance our sustainability and innovation practices. Secondly, I would like our leaders to be reflective of the Australian community, ensuring that we have the diversity of gender, sexuality, ethnicity and religion in our parliament so that no particular groups are being left behind due to a lack of representation. Thirdly, for future Australians to start coming together to recognise that while we are a very multicultural society, we have strong unconscious biases. It is time to start involving and respecting every member of our community. It is by supporting one another, being kind and respectful that we are going to make Australia the country that we want to live in.

H: A country deeply embedded with kindness, fairness and justice. I believe this starts with recognising and honouring the important role that our first nations people play within our Australian community. I think it is important to create a culture of empathy and inclusiveness for minority groups and new arrivals to our country. Whilst also rebuilding our political system with leaders that accurately reflect the values of Australia. We need to secure the future for the next generation to inherit in a way that is better than what their parents gave to them.