10 non-profit change-makers who studied at La Trobe

Meet 10 dedicated La Trobe alumni who are helping people seeking asylum, empowering women in Nepal, supporting young parents, caring for elderly homeless Australians – and much more.

Combining your knowledge from La Trobe with a cause that’s close to your heart is a powerful prospect. Here, we introduce a passionate group of La Trobe alumni who’ve built careers doing just that.

As leaders and founders of non-profit organisations in Australia and overseas, they’re tirelessly supporting those in the community who need it most – and changing the world in the process. Get to know them, and the complex social issues they’re tackling.

1. Bernadette Black – CEO and Founding Director, Brave Foundation

Aged 16, alumna Bernadette ('Bernie') Black became a single mother. This experience inspired her to later create Brave Foundation, which advocates for over 8,000 expectant and parenting teens. As the only national organisation of its kind in Australia, Brave Foundation equips expecting and parenting teens with resources, referral and education opportunities to facilitate happy, healthy and skilled families over time.

Bernie has previously been awarded Barnardos Australian Mother of the Year (2009) and Telstra Tasmanian Business Woman of the Year (2016), and in 2019 became Tasmanian Australian of the Year. In an interview with Girl Magazine, she describes feeling overwhelmed at winning the Barnados Mother of the Year award: ‘What it was that affected me so much was that my 16-year-old boy nominated me, because he thinks I’m an okay mum! It was great that my teenager believed that I'd done an okay job,’ she says.

When not overseeing the Brave Foundation, Bernie works as a professional speaker and volunteers as an ambassador for Small Steps Hobart City Mission and the Australia Day Council.

Bernie completed a Bachelor of Nursing (1999) and a Postgraduate Diploma in Perioperative Nursing (2001) at La Trobe University.

2. Jason Trethowan – CEO, headspace

A passionate advocate of good mental health, alumnus Jason Threthowan commenced as CEO at headspace in January 2017. The organisation provides tailored and holistic mental health support to young people, delivered online and through over 100 centres across Australia. As headspace CEO, Jason speaks regularly about the need to actively maintain your mental health as you would your physical health, and shares simple ways to do so – things like eating healthily, getting more sleep and fostering close and connected relationships.

In 2018, Jason shared his career and life advice with new La Trobe graduates as a guest speaker. In his speech, he reflected on the rewards of a career in mental health:

‘The most surprising thing for me over the years has been realising the impact I can achieve professionally, yet see the impact I’ve had on both family and friends. My increased understanding of the complexities of mental health and my willingness to openly engage in conversations with those close to me has been so important. And it’s helped me recognise the signs within myself that I might be starting to feel overwhelmed, stressed and even isolated at times.’

Before leading headspace, Jason spent 10 years in CEO positions focused on health and community services, including at Barwon Medicare and Western Victoria Primary Health Network. Today, Jason is involved in many national health system networks and is a company director with Barwon Health and Professionals with Alzheimers.

Jason completed a Bachelor of Medical Record Administration (1996) at La Trobe University.

3. Simone Carson AM – Co-Founder and Director, SecondBite

Alumna Simone Carson AM co-founded SecondBite with her husband, alumnus Ian Carson, after deciding ‘they could no longer watch good food go to waste while people went hungry’. When their food rescue initiative started in 2005, it was run by just three volunteers in Victoria. Today, SecondBite works across Australia, partnering with over 1,300 community food programs to rescue fresh, nutritious food and redistribute it to the people who need it most.

As a current Board Director at SecondBite, a member of SecondBite’s Food Security Advisory Committee and Volunteer Committee, and a Trustee of the SecondBite Future Trust, Simone has a strong commitment to ensuring the organisation stays true to its mission. She also has a keen interest in volunteerism, an approach that’s enabled SecondBite’s expansion across Australia, and she actively promotes the value of volunteers in her role as Foundation Board Member of St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research.

In 2018, Simone was jointly awarded Melburnian of the Year with her husband, alumnus Ian Carson, in recognition her work at SecondBite. For her significant service to the community, Simone has been inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women (2016); has received awards including the Schwab Foundation’s Global Social Entrepreneur of the Year award (2015), City of Stonnington’s Citizen of the Year for Community Services award (2013) and the Victorian Premier’s Sustainability Award (2010); and is a Member of the Order of Australia (2017).

Simone completed a Bachelor of Education (2001) at La Trobe University.

4. Ian Carson AM – Co-Founder, SecondBite

Alumnus Ian Carson AM (La Trobe Distinguished Alumni Award, 2015) co-founded SecondBite with his wife, Simone Carson AM. He is a current member of SecondBite’s Fundraising Committee and a Trustee of the SecondBite Future Trust. In an interview with the Australian Financial Review, Ian describes the moment he was inspired to contribute to the food rescue sector:

‘I went to a business function with a big smorgasbord and at the end of the lunch I said to one of the waiters, "What are you going to do with the food?" and he said, "We have to throw it out". I said, "Why don't you take it to the Salvation Army?" And he said, "We are not allowed". So it got me motivated to do something about it and we started to explore whether we could get the food and whether people wanted it.’

In recognition of his work at SecondBite, Ian has been jointly awarded Melburnian of the Year 2018 with his wife Simone. For his significant service to the community and to business, Ian has received awards including EY’s Social Entrepreneur Award for Australia Southern Region (2015), Schwab Foundation’s Global Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award (2015) and the Victorian Premier’s Sustainability Award (2010). Ian was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2017.

Outside of his work at SecondBite, Ian is Chairman and founding partner of PPB Advisory, Chairman of Markets at PWC and President of the Victorian Arts Centre Trust, which oversees the iconic Arts Centre Melbourne, Australia’s largest performing arts complex. He is also a member of the Social Ventures Australia Leadership Council (Melbourne), a Trustee of Melbourne Cricket Ground Trust, and a Fellow of both the Institute of Chartered Accountants and the Australian Institute of Directors.

Ian completed a Bachelor of Education (2001) at La Trobe University.

5. Kon Karapanagiotidis OAM – Founder and CEO, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

A passion for human rights and dedication to the community led alumnus Kon Karapanagiotidis OAM (La Trobe Alumni Young Achiever Award, 2011) to found the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC). What began in 2001 as a small food bank in Footscray has now developed into an organisation of more than 1,000 volunteers that supports and empowers people seeking asylum, and mobilises and unites communities to create lasting social and policy change.

Kon’s own experiences of racism, along with the exploitation his parents faced in factory work, inspired his passion for human rights. Established in just eight weeks as a class project while Kon was a teacher, the ASRC has now gone on to deliver services to some 7,000 asylum seekers.

Kon has been a finalist for Australian of the Year (Victoria) in 2007, the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Human Rights Medal (2012) and Maribyrnong Council’s Citizen of the Year (2016). In 2011, he was awarded an Order of Australia Medal. Most recently, Kon’s work has been acknowledged by a Pro Bono Australia Impact Award (2019), a Distinguished Service Award from the Migration Institute of Australia (2018), a Community Service Award from the Hellenic Australian Chamber of Commerce (2017).

Kon completed a Bachelor of Behavioural Science (1994) and a Bachelor of Laws (1999) at La Trobe University.

6. Stephanie Woollard OAM – Founder and CEO, Seven Women

Alumna Stephanie Woollard OAM (La Trobe Alumni Young Achiever Award, 2016) became aware of social justice issues early in life. In an interview with Talking Business, Stephanie describes a perspective-shifting moment she had in an Aboriginal community in Australia’s far north:

‘At a young age, I was fortunate to go to north-east Arnhem Land with an anthropologist from La Trobe University. That really shaped me and gave me the desire to make a difference, because my eyes were opened to a lot of injustice.’

Stephanie began Seven Women at age 22, after meeting seven disabled women working in a tin shed in Kathmandu, Nepal. Moved by their stories of social isolation and struggle, she spent her last $200 to pay for trainers to teach the women how to produce products for sale locally and abroad. Since then, Seven Women has empowered and employed over 5,000 marginalised women in remote Nepal. And to complement the organisation’s work, Stephanie has also founded two further social enterprises, including a Nepalese cooking school and ethical tour company Hands on Development.

Stephanie’s work has been recognised through myriad awards, including the Rotary International Responsible Business Award (2016), the Nepalese Association of Victoria Award (2016) and the Woman of the Decade Award, Women’s Economic Forum, New Delhi (2017). Stephanie is a Rotary Peace Fellow (2013), a Foundation for Young Australians Young Social Pioneers Program Fellow (2011) and an Honorary Member of the Golden Key International Honours Society (2017). In 2019, Stephanie received a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the community.

Stephanie completed a Bachelor of International Development (2011) at La Trobe University.

7. Bryan Lipmann AM – Founder and CEO, Wintringham

Social work alumnus Bryan Lipmann AM (Distinguished Alumni Award, 2009) established Wintringham in 1989, just three years after graduating from La Trobe. He founded the organisation in response to his frustration at seeing elderly men and women die in homeless persons’ night shelters, blocked from access to mainstream aged care services. In Bryan’s words:

‘The sole motivating philosophy at Wintringham is that of social justice. We believe that all elderly people, regardless of poverty or lifestyle, have the right to live an independent and dignified life.’

Under Bryan’s leadership, Wintringham has evolved into a specialised welfare organisation that provides both housing and care services to many elderly men and women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. In 2011, the organisation won the United Nations Scroll of Honour for its efforts in housing and serving the needs of the aged homeless, and in 2018 received an Outstanding Organisation Award at the HESTA aged care awards. Bryan became a Member of the Order of Australia in 1999 and, more recently, was 2015 Melburnian of the Year.

Bryan completed a Bachelor of Social Work (1986) at La Trobe University

8. Emily Maguire – CEO, Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria

Arts alumna Emily Maguire has been a leader in the prevention of violence against women for over a decade. She is currently CEO of Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria (DVRCV), an organisation that prevents and responds to family violence, with a particular focus on men’s violence against women in intimate relationships. DVRCV is one of Victoria’s most expert sources of information and training on family violence and the prevention of violence against women.

In an interview with ABC Drive, Emily describes the challenges organisations like DVRCV face in the violence prevention sector:

‘Awareness raising and education is the first step in preventing violence against women. You can’t prevent what you don’t know. But one of the biggest challenges ahead of us is getting people to understand what all of the research, globally, has shown for many years: that gender inequality, cultures of masculinity and the way that we do gender, in terms of masculinity and femininity, those things combined cause violence against women.’

Prior to becoming CEO at DVRCV, Emily has worked at Our Watch, VicHealth and the Australian Human Rights Commission, where she developed a national workplace sexual harassment campaign. She has shared her insights as a contributor to the Family Violence Royal Commission and, outside of her work at DVRCV, is a Board Director at Respect Victoria, the Queen Elizabeth Centre and a member of the Family Violence Steering Committee.

Emily completed a Bachelor of Arts (2011) at La Trobe University.

9. Conny Lenneberg – Executive Director, Brotherhood of St Laurence

Alumna Conny Lenneberg (La Trobe Distinguished Alumni Award, 2014) has devoted her career to social justice. Through leadership roles at Australian Volunteers International and World Vision International, she’s confronted some of the most devastating global humanitarian crises, including conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Today, Conny is the Executive Director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence, a community organisation that prevents and alleviates poverty across Australia. She is the first woman to lead the organisation since its founding in 1930.

In an interview with La Trobe, Conny describes how La Trobe shaped her passion for equality:

‘My time at La Trobe has really been absolutely formative in setting the direction of my life. It was through my studies that I really had my eyes opened to a much larger world, and I was very inspired to start working with organisations on issues of justice with the poor and in developing countries. We live in one world, and regardless of the differences in our culture and our ethnic backgrounds and our religious backgrounds, we are all the same. We all have equal human rights.’

Prior to her role at the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Conny was a Board Member for Oxfam Community Aid Abroad, an Executive Committee Member for the Australian Council for International Development and Co-Chair of the Development Practice Advisory Committee. Read Conny’s alumni profile to discover what her social justice career has taught her about leadership.

Conny completed a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) (1981) and a Master of Arts (1989) at La Trobe University, and has also been awarded a Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) (2017) from the University.

10. Yanti Turang – Founder and Executive Director, LearnToLive

Alumna Yanti Turang is a force for global good health. In 2011, she founded global healthcare non-profit LearnToLive in response to family members in Indonesia dying from preventable causes. In an interview with La Trobe, Yanti describes what prompted her idea for LearnToLive:

‘My family’s from North Sulawesi in Indonesia and they have very basic healthcare. Over the last seven years they’ve experienced health problems that ended up being fatal. I feel like those problems and fatalities could have been avoided, if they’d had access to good healthcare and preventative measures.’

In 2011, Yanti raised $7,000 and travelled with two colleagues to meet Indonesian government officials to discuss bringing healthcare workers to Northern Sulawesi’s rural villages. She proposed doing a basic healthcare assessment on villagers, to see whether she could create a positive change through better health services. A year later, she returned with a team of 27 people from all over the world to bring LearnToLive to life.

Today, LearnToLive connects communities worldwide to healthcare, education and clean water and has staff and volunteers in Indonesia, Laos and South Africa. Read Yanti’s alumni profile to learn more about her career, including which major disaster inspired her to retrain as a nurse, and what she’s learned working on the Ebola frontline.

Yanti completed a Bachelor of Arts (2002) and Bachelor of Nursing (2009) at La Trobe University.

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