Nathan Scolaro on Jan Owen
No one waves the flag for today’s generation of young people like Jan Owen. As far as she’s concerned, Australia’s future is bright—indeed, the world’s future is bright.
We just need to invest the energy into empowering the next crop of leaders and give them the tools to act while their visions are big. Jan’s the kind of antidote to cynicism that every teenager and 20-something needs—especially in these times when just about everyone else is accusing them of being lazy, narcissistic and disengaged. She’s the one who believes in you, who knows you can do it.
Mentorship has been a big part of Jan’s experience. She’s both been a mentor and had mentors—of all ages, from all walks of life. And she’s observed that for more and more young people today, valuable mentors are found close to home—they’re parents and friends as opposed to celebrities on Instagram. After all, if young people are to succeed, they need someone real in their corner. Jan has been that person to thousands of Australians for more than 30 years.
As a child in Brisbane, Jan grew up watching her parents perform incredible acts of social justice, like rescuing mothers and children from domestic violence incidents and giving them a couch to sleep on. They were the kind of people who acted when something needed to be done, and that’s exactly how Jan has approached her work in youth advocacy—ever since she started out as a drug and alcohol educator in her early 20s. After various roles in child and family welfare, and having three children of her own, Jan applied that grit, determination and massive heart for social justice to establish CREATE, a foundation dedicated to supporting and connecting young people in foster care. It was during this time that she took in a homeless 15-year-old named Liz who has since become a much-loved member of the Owen family.
In 2010 Jan was made CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians, an independent not-for-profit that runs a range of initiatives designed with and for young people to achieve their full potential and deliver change across the world. When we talk, I’m moved by her fresh perspective, how she sees teenagers and 20-somethings as this incredibly savvy, compassionate and socially aware force. It’s particularly stimulating as someone on the cusp of that cohort, who for too many years now has been fed only demoralising rhetoric about his generation.
Through the Skype cam I watch Jan pace from the couch to the kitchen table to the bottom of the staircase, drawing the laptop in when she gets passionate, pulling it away when she reflects on something. I can feel her great sense of urgency about what needs to change in Australia, and she knows exactly who can deliver it. We just need to listen.