Inspiring Stories
A collection of personal Interviews with celebrated leaders, entrepreneurs, corporate honchos or any success stories.

Vanessa Picker - Co-Founder of Play Forward

Preethi Kashyap (PK): Can you brief us about your background.

Vanessa Picker (VP): Yes. My background is very diverse, I've played state level sport (cricket) from a young age, which is where I developed a passion for sport and realized it can be a powerful catalyst for enabling people to achieve their potential. I have leadership/ management experience as I have spent time in the Royal Australian Air Force where I completed officer's training. I have just completed a Bachelor's Degree in Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

I founded Play Forward this year, with my colleague Leah Costanzo. We are now rolling out our programs around Australia and also overseas through forming partnerships as we did for the SEPC in India.

I am a '2012 Young Social Pioneer' as named by the Foundation for Young Australians and I was also just named as the '2013 Young South Australian of the Year'!

PK: Wow, you've got some great stuff in your bag! Sounds brilliant to me! Vanessa, can you please tell more on Play Forward? What is it all about?
vanessa picker,play forward
VP: Yes - our website is It has lots of info - basically we are using sports as a vehicle to build confidence and self-esteem amongst the disengaged, marginalized kids. So we do that in various ways - through running sports based community programs, through the collection and redistribution of pre loved sporting goods.

In a sentence, we are enabling kids to learn and grow through the power of play, regardless of their backgrounds. We have been named as 2012 'resolution fellows' - so we have joined a community of young leaders that are implementing powerful social projects around the world. So in India, we have been running the sports equipment procurement campaign...soon we hope to roll out a sports based youth development program which will incorporate important life skills such as leadership, teamwork and communication skills.

PK: Wonderful. Challenges are a part of every journey. Could you cite few of the strong challenges that you have faced in your life and also while setting up your organisation?

VP: Challenges in the early days included finding a suitable co-founder/ team members to ensure that the organisation had a team with a diverse skill set. Also, the challenges associated with being under resourced in the early stages as it can often be difficult to obtain funding/ resources in the start-up phase. Outside of Play Forward, challenges have definitely included the challenge of balancing elite sporting commitments, full time study and run-ning Play Forward at the same time.

I think another challenge would be the fact that I am relatively inexperienced at launching and growing entrepreneurial ventures - so I had to seek out mentors/ advisors that could fill any gaps in terms of knowledge. This enabled us to get started and learn along the way.

Challenges in funding were overcome by winning the 2012 Social Venture Challenge, held at the World Model United Nations Conference and through receiving a grant from the One Young World Social Business Fund.

PK: They say females have to face a lot more challenges than males. What's your take on it?

VP: Ah yeah. Interesting question. I think that in the past, this may have been a male dominated domain and female entrepreneurs evidently would have faced more challenges along the way. I think that this is definitely changing as there are more opportunities and pathways for young entrepreneurs regardless of whether they are male or female. I think that I am used to dealing with these sorts of challenges through my experiences in playing a male dominated sport (cricket) and through spending time in the Air Force. So overall, I can see how that may be the perception and depending on the location, that may still occur. But in Australia, I have received extensive support and I have definitely been provided with opportunities to grow the venture.

I have also worked hard to encourage more entrepreneurship amongst females through organizing events and Summits that focus on fostering more innovation/ entrepreneurship.

PK: Do you have a role model?

VP: Definitely, I think it's incredibly important to have role models to learn from. I am definitely inspired by entrepreneurs such as Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva. We were lucky enough to hear from her at One Young World. She shares such a strong message in terms of following your passion and believing in your concept.

PK: Very well said.

VP: Within Australia, social entrepreneurs such as Jan Owen, CEO of the Foundation for Young Australians definitely serve as role models. Jan has been a pioneer of the youth sector in Australia and she is creating pathways for young entrepreneurs/ leaders.

PK: You definitely will be a role model for many youngsters tomorrow. :)

VP: Thank you!!
PK: Vanessa, it was a fantastic time with you.. Thank you so much for that.
A final message to our readers from you?

VP: Great, a couple of messages. Firstly, a message would be one that I shared with 1,300 young leaders at the One Young World Summit: You don't need to be in technology to cause change, you don't need to build the next Microsoft, you just need to know who you are and what you're passionate about, and then go for it!!

A final message would be for people to join our movement and support our programs that we are implementing in collaboration with IU Cares In doing so, readers can help more kids learn and grow through the power of play :) :) Please direct them to our website, where they can learn more about how to get involved :)

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Any facts, figures or references stated here are made by the author & don't reflect the endorsement of iU at all times unless otherwise drafted by official staff at iU. This article was first published here on November 2012.

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