From Senior School students to co-founders of a registered charity in a year. For Class of 2015 graduates Adam Hegedus and Alexi Piovano, the College’s social justice program was life-changing. We caught up with the Old Boys behind Educating The Future (ETF), a not-for-profit that facilitates powerful change through education in Timor-Leste.
ETF works directly with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport in Timor-Leste to implement educational programs and build pre-schools that give Timorese children access to a quality education.
So, what’s the story behind Educating The Future (ETF)?
Adam: ETF came to life in 2016, the year after we left Waverley. I’d just started my Bachelor of Commerce at UNSW and Alexi was studying Media and Communications at the University of Sydney.
Alexi: Two Waverley experiences contributed significantly: the 2013 Walgett Immersion and the first Timor-Leste Immersion in 2014.
When we returned from Timor-Leste, we really started to appreciate how valuable our education in Sydney was – and how lucky we were to have received an education at all. As we sat on a hill in Railaco Motahare, surrounded by 30 smiling kids we’d just met, it didn’t seem fair that these kids weren’t entitled to an education just because of where they were born.
Adam: The next step was organising our first fundraising trek in 2015. We called it Schoolies for Schooling and started to raise awareness of the disparity in global education standards. ETF was founded out of the incredible momentum that Schoolies for Schooling gained. We registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission in 2016 and the rest is history. There are 33 of us in the team now!
Tell us a bit about your roles within the organisation.
Adam: I’m the co-founder and Managing Director, which involves leading the day-to-day operations of the organisation and holding an advisory position on our board. I support the major initiatives of the project and act as a voice for our vision.
Alexi: And I’m the co-founder and Director of Communications. I liaise with the board and work on strategic communications, which means that I also work alongside the communications team on a day-to-day basis.
ETF is now in its fifth year – congratulations! Talk us through your personal highlights.
Adam: Arriving in Byron Bay after our initial 758km trek for Schoolies for Schooling was definitely a highlight. The atmosphere at the gates was amazing.
Alexi: When we finished our first pre-school, looking back at that structure was one of the most visceral experiences. Another standout moment was our annual gala dinner in 2017. We were able to present the construction of that initial pre-school to our stakeholders, supporters and followers, and finally deliver on the founding promise of the organisation.
All good stories involve overcoming adversity. Have you faced any major challenges?
Alexi: When we started this journey as two 19 year olds fresh out of high school, we didn’t know much about organisational structures, strategy, planning or management. It was all completely new to us.
Adam: Yeah, not having any previous experience as leaders of an organisation! Formalising ETF’s governance and organisational structure presents an ongoing challenge.
Alexi: Our first pre-school construction project in 2017 was a logistical challenge. We had to coordinate selecting, purchasing and transporting materials with the community remotely from Sydney. This, combined with the language barrier and communication difficulties, made our first pre-school a very steep learning curve. From there, we were able to grow the organisation.
How do you think your time at Waverley influenced you – and do you have any tips for current students who want to make a difference?
Adam: Waverley gave us a holistic education and the tools to succeed in our lives. The emphasis on social justice and participating in immersions taught us to give back and think of others. The College harnessed our strengths, built our confidence and prepared us to tackle challenges.
Alexi: To any students out there who are thinking of how to make a difference, our advice would be this:
Your imagination knows no bounds. Don’t let people put limits on things you want to achieve, or tell you they aren’t possible.
When we announced the trek, not everyone believed that it was possible or that we could do it. It was up to us to prove that we could. This mentality is at the heart of ETF and our strategy.
Nothing is too difficult or outlandish. If you believe in something and the work you’re doing, nothing can stop you from achieving. It’s all possible.
Last but not least, what’s next for ETF?
Adam: In the next 2 – 3 weeks (pending COVID restrictions – August 22), Alexi and I are embarking on a fundraising venture along the Great Ocean Walk to raise $30,000 and build another classroom in Timor-Leste.
Our plan is to build 10 pre-schools in Timor-Leste. Having built three, we’re confident that we can reach that goal. We’re aiming to grow and expand our volunteer teams in Sydney, Perth and Melbourne. We want to continue to give young people a platform for philanthropy and the opportunity to develop their professional skills through an invaluable experience.
Thanks, both! We wish you the best of luck and we can’t wait to see how your venture progresses.
If you would like to support ETF, you can donate at https://www.educatingthefuture.org/donate/
ETF is always on the lookout for new volunteers. If you feel passionate about philanthropy and giving back, you can reach out to Adam and Alexi at firstname.lastname@example.org.