Where are you from?
I live in Canberra but I’m from Sydney originally.
What’s your background?
I grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney, in Fairfield. I went to school at Rosary High School.
I’m a social innovator and a systems thinker. I started out life in the New South Wales public service and ended up working in a minister’s office in the New South Wales Government. I then went into contract publishing.
That took me eventually to London where I ran the contract publishing office through the London office of an Australian outfit. When I came back, I went into working in international aid and development and that’s where I worked on social and economic change initiatives across 24 countries. I worked in that until my son got sick in 2010 and I left work to be his full time carer.
He had a bone marrow transplant and it was really the line in the sand for me in terms of my life. When I emerged from holding my son’s hand, he survived. I came back from that horror and did a masters degree and then I started my own business and around the same time I started a not-for-profit called Missing School. And really i’ve just been in endeavours that involve social change. In Missing School, in particular, it’s been around school connection for seriously sick kids. I mentor and teach social change missions, help people identify what they are, and help them build them, as well as build my own businesses.
Describe your life right now
My life right now is more amazing than I ever expected, in a nutshell. My most difficult experience in life today was what happened with my son. It was an absolutely transformative process and experience that gave me the fuel to do something that had that turned out to be the thing that showed me more about my potential than anything.
So I guess that wound ended up being the catalyst for personal transformation that’s led me on a journey of the unexpected in terms of the things that have happened. Like, I never imagined I’d be a finalist in the Australian of the Year awards. I never imagined I’d be a Churchill Fellow or a finalist in the Telstra Business Women’s Awards.
It sounds a bit glib to be naming those but I suppose they are that public recognition of the work that I’m doing to transform our education system as it stands in this country. And that will be a lighthouse for change in other countries as well, that I’ve had the courage to do what I’ve done. If I never had the courage, if I never stepped so wholly outside my comfort zone I probably never would have experienced those rewards that have come.
What’s important to you and your life?
The golden thread through everything I do is about potential. I’m so passionate about people’s potential, our potential as humans and our potential in our world. And when I stand back and look at it, it flows through everything that I do. It’s what I read about. It’s what I talk about. It’s how I parent. It’s what my businesses are all about. It’s what I talk to people about. It’s what I think about.
And there’s another element there that’s not coming to me but it’s around the potential and possibility which necessarily carry within them the change component. If you’re going to realize these things, you have to be welcoming and sitting in a process of change, positive change.
What does that look like in your experience?
In my experience it’s the reveal of what’s invisible but that’s already there. That’s both sides of the coin. That can be the thing that’s hurting people that’s there but that no one can see.
That’s what Missing School is. It’s a wicked problem and an invisible issue. As soon as you shine a light on it for people they get it. Of course sick kids would need school, of course they’d need hope but it’s not seen in the classroom. That’s why it’s not solved.
There’s something there that’s masking it. And it’s causing problems but people can’t see it. So there’s that side of the coin. And then the other side of the coin, the solution part of it, is that the answers and the solutions are already there, we just can’t see them until we have this “Oh!” and it can sometimes just be this blinding flash of realization.
And it’s not until we’re ready that we go “Oh yeah. How did I not see that?”
And it’s just like it’s a gestalt thing. It’s like it’s holistic. Those moments encompass so much. And so it’s about integrating that into making the invisible visible and integrating it into the practice of living or being or humanity. So it can happen at the micro level right through to the global level.
What specific experiences, people or events have shaped your view?
It’s always my family at the centre of things for me. My first family but also the family I’ve created is the heart of it for me. So that is the centre.
But then, what I remember is, in my teens, whether it was just a case of there was a vibrational match for me like a resonance there or whether it jolted me into a world view, was the mod or the alternative or punk music scene. So it was particularly British punk or mod like Paul Weller or The Jam. Those bands shaped a lot of my political and world view. And that stayed.
So as I say, whether it was just something that matched me and I saw an external expression of things… I suppose it’s a bit of both isn’t it? Like, there’s a match and then it shapes you as well. So it’s a bit of an interlocking thing. That I think that has been fundamental, funny enough— Music…and it surprises me too when I answer that.
Megan Gilmour is a social innovator, global changemaker, tech entrepreneur and champion for human-centred solutions to complex social problems. She is also the founder and CEO of Missing School.