Be the Change Conversation with Ted O'Brien

Author: BM Team
Issue 69

Be the Change Conversation with Ted O'Brien

Congratulations to Ted O’Brien who we believe is being the change when it comes to giving young adults aspiration to be the absolute best they can. We caught up with Ted to find out all about his initiative ‘Generation Innovation’.

What is your background?

Generation Innovation is a new not-for-profit organisation aspiring to ‘unleash the innovation of young people’.

Based on a new concept (the first of its kind anywhere in the world), Generation Innovation will run its first youth entrepreneurship program – called the ‘GI Challenge’ - for 15 to 25 year olds to turn their ideas into commercial reality with a mix of training, mentorship and seed capital from the local community.

By adopting a collaborative business model, we partner with a range of groups from the private sector, the community sector and individual citizens to bring together the old (proven methods of business start-up training and mentoring) with the new (leveraging social media and using techniques from the modern day reality TV programs) to give young people an opportunity to start their own businesses. It is a high profile and very interactive program that engages two groups of people: young people who either participate in or follow the Challenge and the broader community who similarly follow but also make micro donations that go towards getting new start-ups off the ground.

How do you think you, or it, is being the change for this problem?

No matter how wonderful Australia is, we have problems. For example, over two million Australians live below the poverty line; there are about 40,000 substantiated cases of child abuse annually and up to a third of our young people have suffered a mental illness. Here on the Sunshine Coast, we have nearly 800 young people sleeping rough every night; we have a serious problem with suicide; about a third of our young people drink alcohol in amounts that put them at high risk and issues like youth prostitution are on the rise.

Generation Innovation is being the change in our approach. Not only are we dealing with the entrenched problem of youth unemployment in a creative and innovative way, we have adopted a highly collaborative operating model that allows us to work – rather than compete - with existing community organisations to create new opportunities for young people.

I’m really proud that our flagship program, the GI Challenge, is designed to solve a local problem by building up and investing in the local community, with the ideas, funds and moral support of the local community rather than by relying on a big cheque from Canberra.

Tell us how you personally got involved?

Generation Innovation first started to brew when recently I began to see firsthand just how serious the problem of youth unemployment was for our region. The stories of young people having no choice but to leave the region to pursue work resonated as I’d been there, too. But worse was the sense of desolation faced by young people who felt truly helpless about their economic future even though they were in the prime of their lives - it really hit me.

The idea of entrepreneurship as a solution to unemployment first came to me while spending time at Kings Beach. I don’t recall a light bulb moment that led to the creation of Generation Innovation. The basic idea of incentivising a positive pathway out of unemployment through commercialising people’s existing passions and skills via small business start-ups just made sense. I started to investigate crowdfunding platforms and thought about mechanisms to encourage micro-financing for youth-led start-ups.

On a personal note, it has been really fulfilling working on this project together with my wife Sophia. While her day job sees her lecture in corporations law, she is on the Board with me and is every bit as dedicated to the project as I am. While it’s time consuming, we’re really energised about getting our program up and running and hopefully make a difference. 

Share a little about you?

I bring 20 years of blue-chip commercial experience, including experience as a company director.

I’m the youngest of nine children and come from one of Queensland’s pioneering business families, the O’Briens, who started Defiance Mills and built it into an international flour milling, baking and food manufacturing conglomerate. I then joined the Australian Ricegrowers’ Cooperative, focused primarily on Japan whose rice market had opened to imports via the World Trade Organisation (WTO). I then joined Accenture, a $30 billion global technology and consulting company. I started Barton Deakin Queensland – a government relations firm – and served as Managing Director through a phase of rapid growth, when it was recognised as a BRW Top 100 Growth Company.

I am a former Chairman of the Australian Republican Movement, Chairman of the Advisory Board for Ronald McDonald House Charities SEQ, Chairman of the LNP Futures Committee and a 500 Club Director, and served on an Advisory Board of Queensland Catholic Education. I am a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and have recently

(and proudly) added the title Founder and Chairman of Generation Innovation to my resume.

Most importantly though, I’m husband to Sophia, and Daddy to Alexandra, who turns three in June. We do everything together – from political campaigns to running our business, to our community work. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

How could our readers help or become involved?

Your readers could get involved by spreading the word, making a $50 donation, sponsoring us or encouraging young people between 15 and 25 years of age to apply for the GI Challenge.


Details are on our website: