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I want your job: Interview with Lachlan Ball, Social Entrepreneur

Lachlan Ball

“I got the marks and thought it would be really interesting,” says University of Technology, Sydney student Lachlan Ball of his decision to study law. “I’ve always been interested in social justice but I have never thought of law as a career.”

Even before he finished high school, Ball found his passion in working in the community sector. Since Year 11 he has volunteered with the Matthew Talbot Hostel in Woolloomooloo, which assists thousands of homeless men every year. “More than one third of homeless people are under the age of 18, and through volunteering in the sector my interest and concern developed into a real passion,” he says.

“In my first year of uni I saw that a lot of service providers for homeless people were not talking to one another.” Ball began to ask the City of Sydney Council about how young people could help tackle the issue of homelessness. This led to his involvement in organising Sydney Homeless Connect, an annual event that brings together more than 1,300 homeless people and 80 service providers.

Ball’s work in homelessness and youth engagement was recognised in 2011 when he was named NSW Youth Volunteer of the Year and later National Volunteer of the Year for Sydney.

These experiences also opened his eyes to the disparity between adult and youth volunteering rates. “Statistically young people don’t volunteer as much as adults – the gap is about 25 percent.”

The causes of this are twofold: young people don’t always know where to go to find volunteering opportunities, and “the contribution of young people isn’t always seen as something which is valuable or something that needs to be harnessed,” he says.

“We could be doing 25 percent more if young people were engaged as community builders and I think that’s a massive potential we must work harder to realise.”

Recognising the challenges to youth participation in the community sector, in March this year Ball launched Sydney Youth Engagement (SYE) with the aim of providing an online community for young people interested in volunteering.

Although his interest centres on homelessness, SYE caters to a large variety of programs, including environmental sustainability, animal welfare and the arts. The site promotes a range of opportunities including international roles and voluntary positions within the legal sector. He says an enormous number of opportunities exist in Sydney but have traditionally been difficult to find because they are not well publicised.

For the past 6 months, Ball has been using his contacts to centralise information about volunteering opportunities, and sharing it with young people via Facebook and the Sydney Youth Engagement (SYE) website.

“Participating in your community isn’t just for building your own skills, which you’ll do, making friends, which you’ll do, or gaining professional networks, which you will do, but to also be an agent of social inclusion,” he says.

“I see social disadvantage from two perspectives: there’s an entry point and there’s an exit point, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to think of how can they close the existing entry points and create new exit points. That’s what social inclusion is all about,” he explains.

Looking ahead, Ball hopes to secure government or corporate funding for Sydney Youth Engagement and to see it expand. Groups in other capital cities are already expressing an interest in creating local equivalents. In recognition of his service to young people and advancement of child rights, he was also recently named as a finalist for the 2012 National Children’s Law Award.

But for the next few months, his focus is on completing a scholarship course with the School for Social Entrepreneurs and finishing his law degree.

Although he has no intention of practicing, Ball believes his LLB will serve him well: “I see law as a great opportunity to develop your critical reasoning, analytical skills, and disciplinary knowledge. If you want to make any change then you’re going to have to communicate that to someone and law is certainly a great experience to develop your communication skills. It teaches you how to argue, how to convince people. It also teaches you about complex frameworks, the role of public policy and how to navigate government.”

When asked about his career ambitions, Ball says, “Entrepreneur, community builder, agent of change, [something] along those lines!” He adds, “I couldn’t imagine not volunteering.”

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