Griffith alumnus Elise Stephenson has made a career out of taking Griffith Business School’s values of socially responsible leadership to heart. The former Bachelor of Government and International Relations student has spent the second half of 2019 travelling the world in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to deliver a public diplomacy program as part of the Government’s Australia now initiative.

The project has seen Elise travel across South East Asia with her business Social Good Outpost, co-founded with her sister Lara, running the Youth Entrepreneurs and Leaders Speaker Series, aimed at bringing the best and brightest youth changemakers and thought leaders from Australia to the region.

Funded by the Australian Government, the initiative is aimed at making a difference and addressing inequality that will see them inspiring future business leaders and youth change makers across South East Asia right up until December in 2020.

“The idea has been a long-time passion of mine: I have always advocated for the role that youth can and are playing in Australian foreign policy and international affairs,” Elise says.

“It’s a dream come true, being able to design and curate a program that places young people across the region at the centre of our diplomatic efforts.”

Elise at panel of branding for Impact Hub and SHE Investments Phnom Penh

Elise at panel of branding for Impact Hub and SHE Investments in Phnom Penh.

She says one of her career highlights so far included working with the Australian Embassy and Ambassador Angela Corcoran to launch the program across Cambodia, which drew huge crowds from business, government and beyond.

“We were then able to work across the country, with some incredible human rights and youth organisations, including the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, Future Forum, Politikoffee, SHE Investments and Impact Hub to build collaborations and foster links between the future leaders of the two countries,” she says.

“I was thrilled with how well-received the project was; one lady even travelled four hours one-way, for two separate events on two separate days, with two small children in tow and while pregnant just to take part — that was really phenomenal to see!”

Recently, Elise and fellow speaker Felicity Furey travelled to Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi running events as part of Gender Month, as well as working with nearly 30 different organisations around topics including increasing women in non-traditional industries, such as engineering; using entrepreneurship to problem-solve gender inequality and other crucial social issues; and creating innovative and impactful communications campaigns, particularly for topics such as gender-based violence prevention.

As a result of the success of the first five months of the program, just last week Elise was awarded the Spotlight Award as part of the Foundation for Young Australian’s Unleashed Awards for her advocacy and thought-leadership on increasing young Australians’ representation in international affairs.

Elise has always been passionate about volunteering and working for social enterprises and not-for-profit organisations, determined to make a change in the world. After beginning her PhD with the School of Government and International Relations at Griffith, she saw a gap in the market for a social enterprise graphic and web design agency and combined her business skills and her digital designer sister Lara’s talents to create Social Good Outpost.

“When I learnt that women-owned business is underfunded by $1.5 trillion globally, and that women-owned business only receives one per cent of procurement globally, it became part of my mission to address this gender inequality through our business,” she says.

“We knew that good design improves profitability of organisations by up to 200 per cent, as well as improving business credibility and trust, and so since then we have used design as a tool to empower women-owned business and organisations to increase their sustainability and competitiveness.”

Participants at the Youth Entrepreneurs and Leaders Speakers Series.

Participants at the Youth Entrepreneurs and Leaders Speakers Series.

Their agency provides one hour of design services pro bono for every 10 hours of full-cost design they provide, as well as traveling and partnering with government organisations to host innovative festivals and events promoting everything from women’s empowerment, to human rights and youth development.

She says that her time at Griffith Business School was instrumental in fostering her desire to be at the forefront of creating world change for good.

“I had some incredible opportunities to study and volunteer overseas,” she says. “All these opportunities enabled me to see mind-blowing ways that the world is changing, and encouraged me to imagine degrees and pathways completely different from any preconceptions I had.

“By the time I finished, I had a really fantastic education from a leading institution, plus I had an immense wealth of volunteering, work experience, international experience, regional and rural experience, and a depth of critical thinking which I think is crucial to creating change and carving out an impactful career.”

“Griffith Business School encouraged me to see no limits. The School didn’t just equip me with knowledge from leading experts, but it encouraged us students to use critical thinking skills to imagine all kinds of futures — no boundaries.

“The quality of education and experiences at Griffith truly is unmatched by any other institution I know. It is a supportive, nurturing and exciting place to study, and I couldn’t be prouder to be associated with Griffith.”