Young & Extraordinary Series – Nathaniel Smith – Founder of Student Minds & Rotarian

Today is the fourth in our series of interviews with this years participants in Young and Extraordinary –  a joint initiative of the Foundation for Young Australians and Australian Youth Affairs Coalition celebrating young and extraordinary changemakers aged between 16-25 years. A huge shout out goes to Alissa Phillips for being the lead organiser of the inaugural event in Melbourne this year, and for putting these incredible young Australians in touch with Ideas Hoist.

Nathaniel Smith is originally from the UK, and while at university there he struggled with severe depression for over a year. In response, he co-founded and coordinated a student organisation called “Cardiff Mental Wealth”, which he considers his most extraordinary achievement to date as a number of students and peers informed him that the organisation was one of the only things that got them through university, and in some cases was what saved their lives when they were suicidal. Nathaniel made the move to Sydney to start “Student Minds”, a UNSW volunteer program that aims to promote positive wellbeing and mental health among students.

I basically have conversations with people, draw up documents, send emails and then suddenly things start happening.”

What are you working on right now? 

My haircut! That’s pretty much a full-time task, but that aside I have two main active projects which take up the majority of my time right now. The first of these – and it was for this that I moved over here from rainy England – is called Student Minds (ed check out Nathaniel’s Vibewire Pitch here). Student Minds is a university mental health initiative based around prevention. We empower students to promote mental health on their campus, through cultivating open conversation about the topic, the provision of information on how to keep mentally healthy and spot the signs of distress, and what services exist should you encounter a problem. Crucially, it’s entirely peer to peer, and I’ve already seen the benefits of this approach in the UK where we spread to 25 universities. I’m also a Rotarian, and am moving on to the Board of my club where I will be responsible for the club’s ‘New Generation’ (youth) initiatives. It’s an exciting time to be a young Rotarian, as I have the opportunity to drive changes within the club that will help it to adapt to the 21st century challenges and attract more young blood.

How do you make ideas happen?

I get attacked by many ideas per day…”

Good question. I basically have conversations with people, draw up documents, send emails and then suddenly things start happening. I get attacked by many ideas per day, so for me it’s first about filtering through each ideas and asking a) with my current skills/abilities/networks, can I turn this idea in to reality and thereby have a positive impact? and b) through it, will I develop and increase my ability to create a greater impact in the future? If the answer to both is yes, then I’ll give it a litmus test by doing research and talking to others in the field. Chances are someone is already doing it or something similar. It’s then about using my network to get the right people involved, drawing up a roadmap of how we’re going to achieve it and keeping an eye firmly on the end goal so we can overcome the many obstacles we’ll encounter on the way.

What does your typical day look like?

I’m lucky in that there are more differences between my days than similarities. I’m a sucker for variety. An average day will usually feature the following: cycling, Rotary, working with awesome people, tackling challenges, writing a lot of emails, home-cooked food, meditation and a hefty dose of laughing.

What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?

As an expat from the UK, a challenge distinct to me has been learning the field here – the players, organisation, attitudes, politics etc of mental health in tertiary education. It’s one thing to grow in to that naturally, quite another to take a crash course in it because it’s relevant for what you’ve set out to do. Also having come from the UK, there are more funding and support packages in place there for mission-driven organisations, although trends over the last 4 years here suggest Australia is catching up.

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

If someone else blazes away and turns an idea that came from me in to reality than good on them.”

I’d give any of my ideas away for free! It is the execution of an idea, not the idea itself, that has value. If someone else blazes away and turns an idea that came from me in to reality than good on them. I’ll throw out a realisation I’ve had from my work with mental health and own experience of depression – and that is how important it is to invest in ourselves. Be honest with yourself and acknowledge your own needs and fears, and act accordingly. It’s not easy, but so very worth it. If we take the time to look after ourselves well (physically, mentally, emotionally) then every single minute of every day is richer for it.

What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry at the moment in Australia at the moment?

What about internationally?

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?

NFPs have the heart and ability to do things on the cheap, corporates have the resources, and governments have the capability to create change on a vast scale. ”

An enormous, huge, gigantic, gargantuan (never used that word before) role. We’re seeing a trend towards ‘social business/enterprise’ now, which can be an interpreted as all kinds of things – but most very positive. Not for profits are utilising business principles to increase their efficiency and sustainability – often by receiving payment for their product/service, and both of these areas have been cripplingly poor for NFPs for decades. We’re also seeing a trend towards corporate social responsibility, with many businesses seeing it as compulsory to invest in social or environmental causes. But what I find even more exciting, is the move towards cross-sector collaboration between the NFP, corporate and government worlds. NFPs have the heart and ability to do things on the cheap, corporates have the resources, and governments have the capability to create change on a vast scale. I think this is where the big possibilities exist.

Name 3 websites you would recommend to Idea’s Hoist readers?

Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter?

Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea?

Sure, although at this stage the roles are regularly evolving along with the project. And if you’re interested in becoming a Rotarian then email me! If it isn’t the best decision you make that week, then I’ll pay you back…with awesomeness.

Our readers are smart, creative, talented and good looking. Here’s your chance to ask them anything.

What are you waiting for?

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

MacD? It is now ludicrously claiming to be a restaurant after all. Actually this question is making me realise I don’t eat out much these days. Back in England I lived near a quaint little village called Purton, which was home to an Indian restaurant called the ‘Maharajah’. It has a beautiful atmosphere and wonderful food, but most of it all it holds many special memories for me having celebrated many an occasion there with my family.

We thought it would be cool to crowdsource an annual prize to award to the interviewee’s choice (each person interviewed gets one vote) winner for the year’s best interview. Are you willing to kick in a prize?

Hell yeah! I’ll offer a chance to pick my brains over lunch on my 5 years’ worth of experience learning how we can each promote our mental health and wellbeing, and thus lead much more fulfilling, enriching and successful lives. I’ll throw in an optional hug on the house too.

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