Theia Gabatan On Youth In Social Enterprise


Theia is the CEO & President of IMPACT! Social Enterprise - an organisation run by youth for youth, delivering social enterprise education and resources to schools and universities across Queensland.

IMPACT! delivers events and content that engage young people in entrepreneurial action, enacting change that ripples throughout the community. Theia is passionate about social enterprises fulfilling their vision, and developing a strategy to maximise their social impact. Theia believes social enterprise will ensure young people are ready for the changing workforce.


Theia shares her learnings from leading Impact! Social Enterprise, an organisation led by youth, for youth, whilst speaking to the importance of communicating your vision and why social enterprise appeals to the Millennial generation.


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

[Olivia Roney] - Can you give us a bit of a background about yourself? [1:24]

[Theia Gabatan] - I was born in the Philippines and spent five years there, moved to New Zealand - lived there for four years, then finally came here [Australia] and have been here for about 10 years. I was really lucky to go to a private school here in Brisbane and that really shaped the way I am now. I am really passionate about creating change. The Philippines is a developing nation and my parents always made sure to bring me and my brothers back every two or three years. So seeing that poverty first-hand and seeing the disadvantage is really eye opening when you're young. I think having that background, being really privileged, growing up in a community where everyone is so lovely and welcoming and accepting and getting all the opportunities in the world... and then also the other side of your life where you're very aware that your parents don't get those opportunities. I think that has really shaped who I am.


Do you think you'll go back to the Philippines and maybe work in the social enterprise space there? [3:01]

[Theia talks about social enterprise in the Philippines.]

What does IMPACT! do and what social impact does it have? [4:54]

So basically IMPACT! is a youth run organisation based here in Brisbane. We're run entirely by volunteers and most of our volunteers are university students or young professionals. What we do is deliver really hands-on educational programs for young people and university students - ranging from early high school to university and post graduate. And how we do that is we have two streams of program. So for our high school students we've got our Schools' Program. We go in and we present a six week program or a one day workshop on social enterprise and take them through the basics of how to create a social enterprise. We start off with an introduction to what social enterprise is and take them through business modelling and ideation, so that by the end of the day they can confidently pitch their ideas to their schoolmates.

For university students, we also have two types of programs or events. We used to do a national conference, which is a one or two day program where people can come in, really quickly learn about social enterprise, hear from speakers, have some free food, and get some cool merchandise from social enterprises as well. We also do one off events, like networking events and panel discussions which are really popular. For university students we have our fellowship program students as well, which is our volunteer program. You sign up, do a year with us and can either continue on or do your own thing.

From the schools program or the university program, have there been any projects or social enterprises that have come out of them? [6:58]

We don't like to take full credit but we'd like to think we had some influence. We've got The Tippy Toe Co, which is Zach Fook. Little Delish as well, Hayley [Dunne] used to be our director. One Quarter - they are actually from our schools program at Brisbane Boys College. And of course, The Unknown Project.

With IMPACT!, you went from a Marketing Fellow, which is the volunteer program you just touched on, then on to Director of Communications and Marketing and Vice President. You facilitated the Schools' Program along the way and now in 2018 you are President. Please share your key learnings from any of these roles. [7:53]

I think when you spell it out like that, they all sound like really different roles. While they are all very different, working at IMPACT! and just being a young volunteer, there are quite a lot of commonalities between them, but I think one of the main things that I've gotten from them is that you've got to be really flexible and you've got to be willing to be open-minded in terms of what you're going to be doing and what your expectations are, as well as the people you work with.

As the Marketing Director I was purely focussed on the customer engagement side of things and actually getting people involved with IMPACT! It made me realise how important it is to understand what your customer needs are because you don't want to be delivering programs that your people don't want or need.

[Theia talks her experience with Schools' Program]


What do you think the challenges for social enterprises in particular are in developing their visions and marketing strategies? You developed IMPACT!'s vision and strategy a few years ago... [10:16]

I think from a marketing perspective and in terms of an organisation's vision and strategy, a lot of people think of the marketing team as the creatives, but actually that's not what we're trained to do. What we're there for, is to communicate that vision within their teams and to other people to create that strategy.

If you don't communicate your vision properly within your team and to other people you get lost in the day-to-day. You really need to work on that vision and make sure every single person in the team understands it so that your strategy achieves that or works towards that.

I think that's where a lot of startups go wrong. I think in the first year or two, it's really easy to understand what your vision is because it's at the the top of your head, you're always thinking about it, but once you start to get clients and start doing the work, you forget.

Your vision and your why should always stay constant. How you get there is what should change - so some things might need to be pushed out to make room, but your why should never change.

Through the Schools' Program and the Conference, you would have seen hundreds of kids and young people come through the doors experiencing social enterprise for the first time. So what is it that you think it is about social enterprise that is so valuable for young people that gets them coming back each year? [12:17]

Young people are so much more aware of different issues in the world and participating more in their communities. Social enterprise really appeals to them because I genuinely think a lot of young people want to create positive change and are just unsure how to do it.

When you're young, you want to make money and I think social enterprise gives young people the best of both. That's why I got into it because I very much wanted to create change but I also didn't want to compromise a career for that, so I think that's why young people keep coming back to it, because it says to them, 'hey you don't have to compromise on your values to be successful.'

The Foundation for Young Australians report "How Young People are Fairing" demonstrated that in 1986 it took on average one year to transition from full time study to full time work, a transition that now takes young Australians on average 4.7 years and includes multiple industry changes and of course we're also facing automation, so it's clear that employment for us, is not so linear. So how does social enterprise provide a viable solution in this job crisis? [13:33]

In the 2015 Foundation for Young Australians Annual Report they did a lot of research into the changing workforce and the skills that young people need now. All the skills they were listing that young people need to be employable in the changing workforce were skills that you're learning either in our programs or just by working in startups or social enterprises. And it's things like digital literacy, presentation, communication, critical thinking and creativity. I think every social entrepreneur knows how varied their jobs are day to day, even though you have a specific role. So I think social enterprise and just startups in general really equip young people with the skills to get into the changing workforce and makes them really competitive and appealing as potential employees.

You need to have a certain flexibility to work in social enterprise and it takes a special kind of person to switch and change between so many different tasks every day - and this is so valuable and can only be learned in start-up spaces - you can't really learn that in traditional spaces.


Can you give us a bit of a sneak peek and what's in store for Impact over the coming 12 months? [15:56]

It's a bit of transitional period for IMPACT! which for me personally, having been involved for so long, there's a part of me that's very excited, but a bit sad as well, because things will need to be pushed out to make room for new things. In the next 12 months, right now we are just re-evaluating who we are and what we're about. We've gotten a bit lost in our vision and what we are actually meant to be doing. We are just talking about what our vision looks like and what that will translate into in terms of the kind of projects we take on. There has been a of of talk of regional plans to expand into regional communities. That's where most of our impact is. IMPACT!'s social impact is giving students and young people a taste of enterprising skills and developing them.

Is IMPACT!'s impact going to change once moving regionally? [17:37]

I don't think it will because at the heart of it, our purpose has always been to teach young people about social enterprise, and through that teaching them enterprise skills. I don't think that will change our vision, it just means we have different ways of doing it. Our vision has always been to teach young people about social enterprise and prepare them for the changing workforce.

It sounds like IMPACT! will need some manpower. How can young people get involved? [18:06]

So right now we are in the ideation stage so we're talking about ideas, and what we're going to look like more long-term. If anyone out there has ideas or has been involved with us and has ideas on how to improve or areas to get into, please get in contact. We love engaging with the community and most of our ideas come from talking to people at our events. We're huge collaborators at IMPACT! so these have spiralled into our biggest projects. We'll be doing a new round of recruitment in September/October so if you're keen on joining the team we're super down for some new people and fresh faces!

Moving away from impact, have you personally been involved in any other cool projects? [19:03]

I am one of those people that over-commits - I get so excited about everything and I think everyone's ideas are amazing so I have this thing where I can't say no when someone asks for help, which means I am so over committed. I am on the Board of QSEC (Queensland Social Enterprise Council), which is really interesting because I have never been part of an organisation that is so mature in the way that it functions. But I really enjoy talking to people who have that idea and developing those ideas with them. So taking them through business modelling, sustainability... are they even viable, are they going to be legitimate enough to ask for funding and go to pitch nights? I also love talking to social entrepreneurs who are at that pivoting stage and where they're like, 'this hasn't worked or it has but our customer doesn't want that anymore.'

Can you recommend three books or resources that we should be accessing? [20:30]

I'm really into podcasts, so "Social Entrepreneur" by Tony Lloyd. Otherwise, I'm reading a book called "Sustainability"  by Jeremy Caradonna. It's taken me six months and I still haven't finished, but it's a really great book about the history of sustainability. Also, the documentary, "Chasing Coral" is really good.


Initiatives, resources and people mentioned on the podcast

Recommended books


You can contact Theia on LinkedIn. Please feel free to leave comments below.

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