Interview by Christian Winch and Athalia Foo
Images from Milaana
Tshirts by The Print Bar
It's National Youth Week! We, more than anyone, know how powerful the resourceful and innovative minds of young folk can be (after all, The Print Bar started from the wicked hard work of one Australian youth!)
Sometimes the hardest thing about being a youngster in university is knowing how to develop your brilliant brainwaves further and where to get support. Enter Milaana, a non-profit organisation working to link students with Charities and organisations, who have expanded interstate and have managed to engage state universities, national charities and organisations for the benefit of students in only two years.
Started by Brisbanite Hollie Gordan, while she studied, and her team of enthusiastic ambassadors, Milaana are the perfect organisation to get acquainted with as semester one draws to an end and exam time approaches!
Milaana's National Student Co-ordinator, Malika, gave us a minute of her time to tell us what makes Milaana so unique, and to share her tips and tricks for standing out, getting connected and making the most of your time at uni!
We really appreciate you taking the time to speak to us. Milaana is a very unique organization – unique from its contemporaries – could you tell us what sets Milaana apart from other similar organisations or initiatives?
There is a severe lack of opportunities for young people to build their confidence, capabilities and connections to enter the job market. Students need experience and our charities need skilled volunteers – it’s the perfect match! Also, as most internships today are unpaid, we figured that if you're volunteering your time, you should be volunteering in something you care about.
Milaana combines the best of a structured internship with the meaningful outcomes of skilled volunteering. It's all project based so students know exactly what they will be working on and supervisors have to really think through the role for students before posting.
So who made the decision to start a not-for-profit organization rather than to join a company?
Hollie Gordon started Milaana whilst she was in university and was seeking experience herself. She saw a gap between Charities and students and decided to fill it! While it is a product for the community, Milaana needs to be economically sustainable so it was set up as a social enterprise. Hollie’s story resonated with our team because we are all in similar situation.
What’s been the hardest aspect for your team as a national start-up?
Definitely the fact that each university is very different and unique, which means that there is no set way to gain presence on campus and communicate the Milaana mission. Instead, each team has had to take on the challenge and develop processes and methods of engagement that are most effective at their university. By embracing the differences between campuses, the Milaana team has developed into a tribe of social leaders who understand the importance of knowing your target audience.
Your team has done incredibly well in garnering national interest from large and small stakeholders. We know it can be hard for freelancers, students and smaller enterprises to connect with larger organisations like universities of MNC’s – do you have any tips on how to engage large stakeholders to gain interest and support for your cause?
If you can figure out what motivates them (ie what they get excited about and what they are afraid of) you can figure out how to be of unique value to them. We started by talking about the benefits for students, but you need to talk about the benefits for THEM - their organisation, their particular role. If you're selling something (even your own skills) your job is to make their life easier. This is true when it comes to community projects as well, how would supporting Milaana align with their CSR goals? And with a crowdfunding campaign, why it benefits them to be part of the Milaana story.
Okay, super weird question time! If each of the Milaana team were a piece of stationary in a student’s pencil case who would be what?
Great question! We love the use of metaphors to describe our existence and have adopted the symbol of a tree (pictured). Like glitter pens in a student’s pencil case, the Editorial Team are the flowers which creatively communicate what the student societies are doing and empower youth through image and word. The State Executive Leaders are like single coloured pens – strong and multi-talented individuals who provide guidance and support. The University Societies are colourful crayons – each characterised by an array of diversity, talent, passion and drive to paint the picture.
That was a perfect answer, Malika!
So, what advice would you give to students and interns to help set them apart? We know education is incredibly important, but it can be much harder to gain a point of difference over your peers. How would you suggest combating that?
Firstly, grab the opportunity in any formal or informal setting to develop professional relationships as it is through such networking that personal and professional development is facilitated and opportunities are created.
Secondly, keep an ongoing journal or diary about your work experience journey – reflect upon what you have learnt, what skills you have developed, what has been challenging and any future objectives you might have.
Lastly, embrace your uniqueness and be true to yourself! In the twenty-first century innovation, creativity and passion are an indication of success and what employers are looking for, however it is your personal branding of these aspects which is what will set you apart.
Time to spill the beans! How do the cities in Australia compare with each other in terms of proactively engaging with Milaana’s projects and philosophies? Who’s a standout?
South East Queensland is where Milaana started so there is the strongest grassroots support and community around what we do in this area. In contrast, Sydney is exciting and fast paced and the students involved there are very capable and self directing. We haven’t expanded to Melbourne yet; however, if we find the right student leaders it should be an easy expansion as there are so many amazing and innovative social organisations in that region.
What’s something you have personally learnt in working with Milaana that you could pass on to students, interns and organisations?
The fundamental importance of following your passion for personal and professional success! Personally, I have always been interested in social issues, education and helping others, though before I heard about Milaana I found it hard to find opportunities where I could truly ‘make a difference’ with the skills I learnt at university. Consequently, I didn’t flourish in these circumstances and felt that my time spent volunteering was something that ‘I had to do to get a job’. Instead, my time at Milaana has showed me that passion is what motivates and drives everyone’s personal and professional development and by taking the leap and embracing this notion, so much can be done for yourself and the community.
What’s next for Milaana?
While Milaana connects students with projects and community organisations for internship opportunities, we realised students need more on-campus support so they have a community and the confidence to actually seek out these great opportunities. As a result, we are continuing to focus on building a tribe of Milaana university societies who run events and workshops throughout the semester. These societies help connect students with like-minded peers and community leaders, build student’s skills and understanding so they have the confidence in their ability to impact change and help students find real-world opportunities.
The local university teams from the Queensland University of Technology and the University of Queensland each have exciting events coming up. As part of National Youth Week, the Milaana QUT team is hosting a Picnic For Purpose to fundraise and bring light to serious issues which effect youth around the world.
The picnic aims to raise funds for two different charities that are working hard to support youth in need. The first is the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation (ACCF) who has a team of volunteers travelling to Bhutan in October to deliver the Gardasil vaccination to young women who would otherwise be without. The second is Red Kite, an Australian charity who provides support to children and young people with cancer.
Milaana’s “Picnic for Purpose” aims to bring together a large variety of people to celebrate young people and their achievements but also help those that need it most. We'll be providing food and ask for each attendee to donate an amount that they would normally pay if they were going out to lunch or dinner. We will also be having short speeches from representatives from the ACCF and Red Kite so we can all have a better understanding of where our donations are going too.
Secondly, on the 22nd of April the UQ team is hosting a Speed Dating event for internships. This is an informal opportunity for students to hear from and speak to social enterprise representatives about how their businesses are making a difference in the community and the internship opportunities on offer.
Want to tell us about your own awesome projects? Share the love!