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Ones To Watch: Claudia McEwen

Ones To Watch: Claudia McEwen

Life Advice, Ones To Watch, Young Australians, Alcohol, Inspirational Women, Wake Up,

Everybody is on the hunt for young up and comings and here at SHESAID we have been lucky enough to meet with just a few of them. These ladies are on the road to success and generating waves within their chosen field. Whether they be creatives, sporting talent, founders of start ups or someone striving to make are difference, these young women are definitely ‘Ones to Watch’.

At the tender age of 19, Claudia McEwen went through a series of traumatic events that no-one would wish upon anybody. Yet instead of letting this experience impede her, she chose to use her position for good. With a little help from family and friends Claudia founded Wake Up, a non-for profit that aims to achieve cultural change towards alcohol among young Australians through education and awareness. There is no doubt that Claudia is both hard working and forward thinking and last year was honoured with the NSW Young Leader Pride of Australia Medal for her amazing effort towards the cause. This week we managed to find a spare moment in her busy schedule and see what she’s been up too.

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Tell us a bit about you. Where are you from, what do you do?

I am a 21 year old born and bred Sydney-sider in my fourth year at Macquarie University, studying a combined Commerce and Law degree. Whilst studying full time I am also the Joint Managing Director of a not for profit organisation, Wake Up, which was founded just over a year ago!

What was the catalyst for starting Wake Up? When did you realise that this was something that you wanted to do?

I founded Wake Up shortly after my brother was seriously injured in an unprovoked assault. He was assaulted whilst out in Bondi in December 2013 and spent 8 days in a coma. His full recovery took about 6 months. Whilst my brother was recovering I began reflecting on how common violence is in our society, and how easily we accept it as normal. I was also reflecting on my own experiences at house parties, schoolies and clubbing. I saw risk taking behaviour all around me and reflected on my own mistakes. I realised our culture needed to change. I wanted to start a campaign for a good night out, not one that is ruined by violence, alcohol misuse or drug abuse. I have never advocated for lock outs or restrictions to alcohol. I believe as young people together we should change our culture and prove to legislators that these measures are not necessary. Wake Up attends schools and speaks to students about issues that will affect them on a night out: violence, alcohol misuse, drug use and/or sexual assault.

What makes Wake Up unique to other organisations? 

I am so proud of the Wake Up team. We are all young and passionate about inspiring and educating young people. Wake Up is unique because it is run entirely by young people, for young people. Being young allows us to connect with our peers on a deeper level and really motivate them to reevaluate their attitudes.

What have been the stumbling blocks for you, initially getting started with Wake Up and since then? 

Being a naïve 19 year old I thought registering a not for profit organisation would be easy. How wrong I was! I had to navigate through a complex maze of bureaucracy and there were many times I wondered if it was worth it. I’m so glad I stuck it out, and I have so much gratitude for the many mentors who helped me out.
12 months on, our largest stumbling block is funding. Running a charity and studying full time restricts my ability to take a part time job to support myself like many other uni students. My business partner, Georgina Prior, and I have been fortunate to acquire corporate funding to develop Wake Up to its current position. However, in order to grow, Wake Up will be seeking further funding to promote awareness and educate young people.

What drives/motivates you to keep going? 

Without a doubt, the biggest motivator is the reaction we get from students after our presentations. After listening to a Wake Up presentation, we ask students to fill out a quick feedback form. They are overwhelmingly positive and thankful for our presentations. A common theme is ‘I loved the personal stories’ and ‘Its nice being taught by people close to our age who are still experiencing these things’.
A teacher at one school even commented, “I’ve never seen them all write this much after a presentation!” To know that we are connecting so well with young people is the drive that keeps Wake Up going.

Wake Up is now 1-year-old, congratulations! What where your initial goals with the organisation and what are your plans for the next few years? 

Initially, I had no idea Wake Up would be where it is today. It started as an idea, and has expanded into so much more! Our goal is to work with government, industry, police and health to facilitate a cultural change. There is not one solution that will work and it is imperative that we work together, not against each other. From personal experience, local pubs are willing to work with police to reduce antisocial behaviour, and the alcohol industry is advocating for a responsible attitude to drinking. After all, it’s not a good business model to have people passing out in your venues or being hospitalised from your products! Our goal is to continue educating young people with our presentations, and at the same time work with government, industry, health care and policy to drive cultural change.

Through Wake Up you have been honoured with the NSW Young Leader Pride of Australia Award. How do this recognition affect you and Wake Up?

Being awarded the Young Leader award for NSW was so amazing, and so unexpected! I have never wanted praise for what I do, however I am humbled at the positive response to our message and I’m grateful for the recognition that Wake Up is making a difference.

Do you find your position, as a young person aiming to change the culture among young Australians, makes your message resonate with your audience?

As a young person, I found I didn’t connect with any young role models that could give me insights and practical advice about going out and staying safe. Wake Up is a team of young people, because of this we can connect with and speak to students on their level. After all, we are still young people who go out, drink and have fun. We’re relatable.

What are your plans and goals for the future? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 

The defining feature of Wake Up is that we are all young people, so I know I can’t do this forever. Our goal is to develop and expand Wake Up nationally – and then take a back seat as a Director when a new team of vibrant young people take over! As I am studying law in my fourth year, it’s time to start putting my education into practice and getting experience in the legal field. In the future I hope to be a lawyer, but will always maintain a presence behind the scenes for Wake Up.

If someone else were looking to follow the same path as you, what advice would you give to them? 

I would say persevere! It would have been so easy for me to give up when I got confused by the bureaucracy of registering and maintaining a not-for-profit. Also, appreciate the advice and help from others who share your passion and drive. You’ll be surprised how willing people are to help! If you have an idea, follow through. You never know where it will end up!

To find out more about Wake Up or to donate towards the cause click here

Image courtesy of Daily Telegraph

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