Max Wasley On Opportunities & Insights To Empower Purpose Led Youth


Max Wasley is a technologist and social entrepreneur, passionate about combining design and technology to solve tricky and sticky problems.

Max is CEO of Youth Without Borders, a platform that empowers young people to create the change they want to see in the world. Max is a passionate advocate for Human-Centred Design, a beginner alpinist and freelances as a Designer, Developer and Product Manager in his spare time.


Max discusses ways to align your purpose with work, shares challenges for young people getting involved in social entrepreneurship & provides tools & tips to help you get work done.


Highlights from the interview (listen to the podcast for full details)

[Tom Allen] - To start things off could you please share a bit about your background and what it was that led to your passion of empowering youth?

[Max Wasley] - I grew up in Byron Bay, went to high school at Byron Bay Public School and absolutely loved being involved in Science and Maths. I was the Physics and Maths guy in high school. When I was there, I had the opportunity to go to the National Youth Science Forum when I was in year 11. 

That was the really a transformational experience for me, because coming from the laid-back beach town of Byron Bay and all of a sudden being amongst a massive group of like-minded, passionate, creative and curious people showed me the potential of where I could go with what I enjoyed doing. That really set me on the path to going to university and studying electrical engineering at the University of Queensland. It was there that I came across this camp run by a friend of mine that I met at the National Youth Science Forum. This camp was called Spark Engineering Camp. He absolutely roped me in to get involved. 

The premise of this camp was to basically provide very similar access to the university experience and feeling a part of that larger group and meeting other like-minded people for young people in high school who face barriers and might not have all the things that you need to be able to get to a place like NYSF, which can cost a bit of money. This programme would provide that entirely for free. I went on that as staff and had an absolutely incredible time. 

The creativity and passion and motivation of the people who were on this camp, and the fact that we were opening doors for them that they didn't even know existed was absolutely incredible. Now fast forward seven years, a lot of them are graduating from university and have got into jobs and are getting back in touch. They're telling us how much of a transformational effect Spark had on them in the exact same way that this other camp had on me when I was in high school, which is excellent.

After that, I got involved in the management of that camp in Brisbane. Then after that, we grew and expanded into Melbourne. Then I was the National Manager across Brisbane and Melbourne for a year, which was excellent. We had a team of 150 volunteers between the two cities and a lot of logistical coordination, people management and all that kind of thing.

Meanwhile, throughout all this I'm working on my engineering degree. I got to the end of it and realised that while I loved engineering and it was great fun, I much more enjoyed the people side of it and figuring out how to solve problems in a holistic way.

I took advice from a speaker that I met at the Impact Social Enterprise Conference. At that time, I was really unsure of what I wanted to do. My options were do I go into the corporate world and get a job? I had an opportunity to go into management consulting. I really wanted to get involved in the social enterprise world and the startup world straight from the get-go. His advice was to go into the corporate world first and learn those skills that you need to learn to navigate the corporate environment and then come back.

I took his advice and I went to work. I worked at one of the big four firms in consulting for two years, had an incredible time and learnt more than I could ever, ever imagine. I'm incredibly grateful for this advice that I got, because it set me up to do what I then did after that, which was the role of ... I'd been on the board of YWB for the previous two years, once I was in my corporate role, and the role of the CEO job came up. I decided to take that.

I left my corporate job and did the classic millennial move of following my passion and leaving the strong, stable and secure job to work in a not-for-profit.

It's lived up to all of the cliches of being the most rewarding but the most difficult time of your life.

Can you, please, share a bit more about the work and projects that you're undertaking at Youth Without Borders to empower the younger generations?

Youth Without Borders as a whole is like a portfolio project organisation. Our major project is the Spark Engineering Camp, which I've already spoken about. We have two other major projects in that. We have a big strength in the leadership style camp to help people who face barriers in life and growing up and trying to equalise that playing field. 

Our next biggest projects is called Stride. That's a weekend leadership camp for recently arrived women refugees. That has a similar aim as Spark of increasing the network and connecting like-minded people who might not necessarily have met otherwise, and through that, giving them a sense of belonging and also confidence to chase after what it is that they're trying to do. That's being led by a wonderful lady called Jenny. She's doing an excellent job moving that forward. Hopefully, that will be running in early December.

The final programme is called Surge. You might notice the name consistency through it. Again, that's a leadership programme for the school leaders as part of the Enable network that operates in Logan. Finally, our newest programme, which doesn't actually technically have a name yet, is a platform that helps young people get involved in social enterprise. By auspicing them and mentoring them and helping them through workshops that build up their skills we hope to enable these young people to be able to create the change that they want to see.

What we found was the biggest barrier stopping young people from getting involved in social entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship generally is perceived difficulty in all the business-y side of things, particularly the accounting, legal and financial aspects, and all that kind of stuff, which a lot of young people don't really understand and can take a while to get your head around.

By removing those barriers, we're hoping to basically get more people in and involved in social enterprise. As an equally important outcome of this it'll be getting young people involved in and learning the skills and building and creating and designing; building a product that makes tangible impacts on a person's life. By doing that, it builds up those skills in creativity and strategic thinking and people management that you could build in those kinds of roles. Even if these projects aren't necessarily successful, we're building up the skills in these people to succeed in the future work where these kinds of dynamic skills are absolutely crucial for success.

You've spoken about some of the barriers that the younger people face. What have been some of the biggest barriers that you've come up against on your journey and how did you work around them?

That's a really interesting question. I guess, a lot of the opportunities that have come my way throughout this whole journey that have required some pretty big decision. I mean the biggest decision that I would have made along this whole journey would have been to leave my corporate consulting job and to take over a unpaid role running a not-for-profit.

I guess, even that wasn't an overly difficult decision given I'm fairly young and I don't have a mortgage, I don't have children. So I could see the value from a personal perspective in that what I would learn, and by extension, the impact that I could create through doing this was absolutely worth that move. I guess, throughout that process there was difficulty. Talking to my parents about, "Hey, I want to quit my great job at a big firm." Their response was, "What do you mean? What do you mean you're quitting?" I guess, those were the main barriers.

As a white, middle-class male I don't face a lot of the barriers a lot of people around Australia do.

Particularly through the work that we've done, I don't think it would be fair for me to say that I faced any massive barriers, beyond those. Having said that, as an extension, I have found that there are some people who would question the authenticity of a lot of people who might want to get involved in this industry, would give up time and energy and to do a job that you're not paid for. I think a lot of that just links back into being sure in what you're doing and having confidence that you're doing the right thing and making an impact.


It certainly sounds like you found your passion, and in many ways, your purpose. I don't think that's necessarily always an easy thing. What advice would you give to our listeners to help them align their work with that purpose?

Classic millennial topic right now. I've had a lot of discussions about this with a lot of people. It's funny how starting that, "I quit my job," to work in not-for-profit creates a lot of these conversations. I think that my first response is that you don't necessarily have to.

There is a lot of rhetoric now around aligning your work and your passion and your purpose and all of those things.

I think that there's a lot of cases where that can absolutely happen. In which case then, obviously, you do. Just like a lot of the work that you do, Tom, around Impact Boom and design which I find really inspiring.

To take that in a different lens, I've recently come across the concept of the portfolio life, from the perspective that there's a lot of people who have the focus on just the one job and that that one job is all you can have. But I like to challenge that.

Your passion is not always monetisable. It doesn't have to be. In many cases that I've heard anecdotally, it can potentially ruin it, because once you add in clients and money and all that kind of thing and do your own passion, it can make things quite difficult.

I would encourage anyone, if you have a passion of some kind, I think the number one thing that you can do is just try and experiment with different ways of how you could potentially monetise that passion. To go try it.

The other view is that there's a lot of people with passions who talk about how they can monetise it, but don't necessarily just try and see how that happens.

Another way you can look at it is around seeing, or taking some elements of the passion. Not necessarily everything about it, but parts of it and aligning that with the work that you do.

A lot of that still comes back to just trying and experimenting with different things. Often you might find that you actually don't like it and you want to try something else, which is totally fine as well.

Are there any particular tools, or processes that you commonly use that have proven invaluable in helping to organise your work, complete projects or quite simply just get stuff done?

I was talking to someone recently, and I feel like I use all of the new, fancy innovation tools, like Agile Frameworks to manage how we do things in YWB and we have Kanban boards and all that kind of thing. 

I think the most important tool that I've learned in the past couple of years is the tool of human-centred design. I first came across this on a +Acumen course online, which I would recommend anyone to have a look at, if you're interested in this kind of thing. Basically, it teaches a number of frameworks and tools and ways of thinking that centres the people that you're trying to impact on what it is that you're trying to do. By applying those tools primarily on all of our projects, they're all centred around that, but also in how we run the organisation itself. How the people like meeting? How do we organise Youth Without Borders around all of the people that are involved? How do we communicate between the different projects? That kind of thing. I think that is by far the most influential tool that I have come across.

To extent that led on into other tools on the Business Models Inc. set of tools. To Design a Better Business, Business Model Generation, Value Proposition Design. For a lot of people who haven't come across those concepts, they're absolutely invaluable in basically gathering all the evidence, so that by the time that you get to release a product or a service, or even making design decisions around your organisation, is that you know that it will be successful because you've taken into account there's no unknowns and there's very little risk, which is excellent.

What are the top three tips then you'd give to a high school or a university student wanting to work in a social innovation sector? [16:29]

I think the top tip is:

start now.

As a high school student you have a fair amount of free time. If you're a high school student listening to this, I know it doesn't feel like you have a lot of spare time, but you'll find out later that you do. The only thing I can recommend is to start now.

By starting as soon as possible, you will learn what works, what doesn't work and all those other little skills that you need to get.

Come talk to me and Youth Without Borders can help you out in our sandbox platform to get you started.

What are some inspiring projects or initiatives that you're come across recently, which are creating some really great positive social change? [17:14]

There's so many incredible organisations that are coming out doing very, very cool stuff. Just thinking locally in Brisbane, and I feel like I want to say a massive shout outs to Brisbane community generally and the people who are helping build it out. There are some amazing things happening here locally. Organisations like Words With Heart, Good Beer Co, and Spur Projects and Spur Labs. These socially-minded businesses that have taken products and services that people and organisations need to use. Through that process of consumption finding ways to solve some of the world's most pressing issues.

I can't answer this question without mentioning, looking a lot more globally, is IDEO and the work that they do. For anyone interested in human-centred design and those kinds of processes, this was obviously the source of those. Every time I read a case study of the kind of work that they do and the processes they follow and the insights they find, and then the subsequent impact that it creates just absolutely blows my mind.

To finish off, are there any good reads that you could recommend to our listeners?

[Max discusses the books listed below in detail.]


Recommended books


You can contact Max on LinkedIn or Twitter. Please feel free to leave comments below.

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