We asked two of the alumni of our Emerging Leaders’ Dialogue to share their thinking on the importance of young people being involved in civil society. This is what we learned… 

On defining civil society…

John – I define civil society as citizens living and working together in a community to pursue a common interest and achieve goals associated with it. NGOs contribute to the sustainable development of our country and exist to bring about change in society.

Carly – Governments and corporations are often chastised for being out of touch with the citizenry they represent, serve and service – to which civil society steps in to respond. Alongside an independent media, civil society is a crucial element to any functioning democracy.

Primary school children receive laptops in Gaire PNG (credit: One Laptop One Child)

On why it is important for young people to be involved…

Carly – Many of Australia’s youth are looking for compassionate leadership on issues that matter to them, and they’re finding it in civil society. The challenges we’re facing as a human race: climate change, rising levels of inequality, degradation of the environment and persistent poverty (12.8% of Australians live below the poverty line) are increasingly finding their best and most effective voices in civil society.

John – Papua New Guinea is a young nation, only 39 years old. This nation needs young people to rise up and take the lead in all sustainable activities in their own communities and societies for the betterment of their people and PNG. It is critical that young people get involved in civil society because they are such a large part of our population. They are the hope for this nation. Their contribution will have a big impact in our country.

On why being involved in civil society work is rewarding…

John – The rewards are astonishing. There is no regret for those young people who have invested in activities for society and for the betterment of everyone. They see changes happening in their communities and they are motivated to do more for them and for PNG. Getting involved with community activities leads to networking with other young people of the same calibre to help create change. It creates opportunities to get more help and know each other and have an impact for the common good.

Carly – I am absolutely certain that the most rewarding work I’ve ever done has been within the bounds of civil society. Being directly involved in affecting positive change or a cause close to my heart, strikes at the rich vein of human compassion and connection for me. Whether it’s tutoring a refugee student, entertaining children in hospital, advocating for women’s rights and empowerment, or the work I do in community development at the Centre for Social Change – engagement with civil society captures my passion like nothing else can.

John Taka with a Seeds of Hope project at Waknam, WHP 2013 (credit: Seeds of Hope PNG Facebook)

On the challenges of working with civil society…

Carly – It can be tough working in civil society when the road appears long, arduous and the wins are seemingly small. You don’t necessarily see the benefits of efforts for years, and when you see broader society swinging away from the ideals of compassion, acceptance and care for people and the planet, frustration does mount. Passion sees you through these times.

John – It takes courage for a person to stand up and do what is right for the betterment of society and Papua New Guinea. You need to be prepared to sacrifice scarce resources. It costs time and money to be involved in activities for the betterment of our people.

On how to get involved…

John – Young people only realise their hidden talents when they get involved in sustainable activities in their societies that benefit everyone. Most of they can also partner with the existing NGOs in PNG. Every NGO exists to facilitate change but the onus is with young people to get involved. Doing that will help them contribute meaningfully and lead their societies and PNG to greater heights.

Carly – Becoming involved in civil society is as easy as doing a Google search, finding a cause or movement that is in alignment with your values is only a mouse click away. There is an increasing number of niche and active groups all over Australia, including in regional areas. Opportunities also abound in the burgeoning social enterprise sector, which is currently being buoyed by high levels of youth interest and engagement.

Credit: DFAT



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About the Authors

Carly Stephan - Professional mentor and coach - Lowy Institute

Carly Stephan

Professional mentor and coach

Carly is a professional mentor and coach who specialises in guiding women to align with and embody their highest potential. After over a decade working in international aid and development in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Carly began her own consultancy and advisory service. She now uses her extensive professional experience as an international development practitioner, including a strengths-based approach to empowerment, within both her private 1:1 coaching and group coaching programs.


John Taka - Accountant and charity co-founder - Lowy Institute

John Taka

Accountant and charity co-founder

John Taka is the Co-Founder and President of Seeds of Hope PNG Inc., a charity organisation based in Mt Hagen. It exists to help raise funds to support unfortunate students, youths and people in rural communities. He is currently the Senior Accountant (Auditor) with KPMG. He recently completed his Master of Science (MSc) Accounting & Finance at Leeds University Business School, UK. He graduated with Bachelors Degree in Business Accountancy at Divine Word University (2008-2011) Madang, PNG.