Jan Owen: a woman of influence:
The inaugural 'woman of influence' was shaped by her own happy childhood to help and empower young people.
Date: October 16 2012
Jan Owen grew up with a passion for ‘doing’ and for caring about others.
Her parents were both practising and practical Christians who helped established Lifeline Australia. She explains that in the early days of Lifeline counselling if you took the call from a distressed person you generally also got in the car and did something about it.
That early experience has shaped her professional life which has always focussed on a better life for and the potential of young Australians.
Although Jan describes herself as a “failed university student” – she started studying social work but did not complete a qualification – it hasn’t held her back.
When she moved to Sydney and had three children, she became a ‘mumpreneur’ getting together a group of friends to start a direct marketing business for children’s clothing.
In 1993, she established CREATE with the initial aim of advocating for young people in care and also offers programs that help build confidence and self-esteem amongst young people in care. Her inspiration for CREATE was her happy and comfortable childhood in suburban Indooroopilly in Brisbane as well as the part time work that ultimately drew her away from university helping children going into foster care.
She listened to their stories and wrote a book based on 12 of them entitled Every Childhood Lasts a Lifetime that was published in 1996.
Six years later, Jan was inaugural executive director of Social Ventures Australia, a leading organisation in social investment, where she stayed until her appointment as CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) two years ago.
FYA was formed in 1999 with the objectives of providing increased opportunity and access for young people of disadvantaged backgrounds and supporting the leadership development of young Australians. Under Jan’s leadership, FYA has mobilised young Australians “to disrupt the status quo” in a positive way through initiatives such as Student ShoutOut!, Change It Up and the National Safe Schools Symposium.
Last week, Jan was named The Australian Financial Review and Westpac Group inaugural ‘Woman of Influence’ from 350 nominees. The award recognises the important contribution of women leaders to Australia’s future.
In accepting the award, Jan paid tribute to two of the Top 100 women of influence who included FYA’s Board member, Marita Cheng and National Manager of the National Indigenous Youth Leadership Academy, April Long.
“It’s actually these women who inspire me to continue my work with FYA to ignite, equip and invest in all young Australians to be agents of change,” Jan said.
“FYA is relentlessly optimistic about the young people of this country and their capacity to envisage then co-design the country and world they want to live in.”
“As a woman who has lived through the 70s, 80s, 90s and now the 21st century I have seen and experienced first-hand the change in women’s ability to influence society and challenge the status quo.”
She said the current ‘gender debate’ indicates we’re “not a grown up country”.
“To me, the definition of feminism is to believe in and advocate for women having equal social, political and economic rights to men – seriously, isn’t every single person in this country a feminist?”