Project Unwritten, a “dreamnovator” aimed at helping Australian youth find their passions and thus write their own futures. Harry (center in image above) started the non-profit during their Year 11. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed talking to Harry about how he balanced the rigours of school with community service, cadetship, sports and realizing his vision.
Hey Harry! So nice of you to take the time out of your day to share your story. Let's start with your startup, Project Unwritten. How did it start?
Hi! My pleasure. So Project Unwritten was created in 2016 because we wanted to show high school students how important it was to find passions during this formative stage of our lives.
Did your high school experience have anything to do with it?
Definitely! I felt that high school should be the perfect time to explore the different fields - as hands-on as possible - and finding a passion. But being in a selective school, the culture was just "study first, figure it out later when ATARs come out". Doesn't that make it easy to end up in degrees and jobs we don't actually love?
I talked to a few friends and we saw the same issue.
How has your founding journey been so far? Any mistakes and challenges?
I'm pretty happy with our traction but we've made and learnt from mistakes, for sure. For example, our planning for Summit Unwritten was naive to start with in terms of budgeting and contacting people.
Another major lesson we learnt was that when you're in the "social benefit" side of business, which we are, you need to spend all your energy on your message. How to tap into the emotional investment and beliefs of your audience, as well as how to align yourself with other companies with similar visions.
Also, having mentors was critical to our growth - they gave advice on setting up the organization, finding sponsors, organizing catering etc.
There's so much to learn, and this stuff you have to learn by doing it.
I've heard a lot about your Summit Unwritten (pic below), could you talk a bit about that?
Summit 2017 is our first day-long program to bring together hundreds of students and keynote speakers who're all leaders in a range of industries.
It was a huge success in hindsight as the participants walked away knowing they needed to seize opportunities to step out of the mainstream. One said "the biggest takeaway was I need to not follow what others do with their lives and find my own passion". Passion is a word thrown around very often, but I think we all understood it properly that day.
Awesome! Who were the keynote speakers?
So we had Brett Murray who founded and heads the Make Bulling History Foundation. We also had Robert, who danced with Madonna; Dr Rowley, a renowned biologist; Jesse, a filmmaker for National Geographic; and Jamie Lee, recipient of Australia's Favourite EduTech Startup.
As you can see, we've really tried to show Australian teens how we could excel in every field out there if they were passionate.
I absolutely love that message. We at Woshi also believe in pursuing a passion and have interviewed people our age doing just that - in our different ways, Woshi and PU both aim to inspire others to live their fullest lives...
That's very true!
Coming back to the interview: let's talk about how you balance all your commitments.
Sure. I do a lot of volunteering, cadets, sports, and am always trying out different things. PU is a very time-consuming and rewarding activity, but I do make sure that I don't neglect my studies.
There was a time when I wasn't getting enough sleep last year, but I realized pretty quickly that when I compromised my sleep, I wasn't doing too well in my other areas either. Even if I had to skip homework one day, I was always making sure I got sleep.
Got it, sleep is #1. You go to a selective school, Baulkham Hills (one of the best in Sydney). Any practical study tips?
Our school was very intense academically and people around me were studying all the time, which is a great environment. However, I found that to study well and not procrastinate, I personally needed to allocate rest times, as ironic as it sounds.
Have a few friends that will take a break with you and watch a movie together, then get back to work with greater efficiency.
What subjects do you take and how have they helped your startup journey?
4u Maths, Physics, Legal, Advanced English and I accelerated Economics by one year. Eco was the most helpful because I finished it in Year 11 - right when we started PU. The skills of researching and using statistics learnt in Eco were super helpful to the initial stages of PU.
What does entrepreneurship mean to you personally?
I think it's such a major aspect that's often neglected in our society, i.e. when we consider jobs after school. Social enterprises provide some of the most effective solutions to the world's problems. I want to show students that it's not that hard even if we do need to try and try to do it ourselves because the Australian education system doesn't really cater for it.
My end goal is a cycle where lots of students can work together to influence governments to change the curricula and expose students to more individual thinking.
Love it. Good luck. What's the future of Project Unwritten?
A Summit Unwritten every year, where we perfect the event model to help the maximum number of people engage with their passions. Expand the program to years 7-12. Establish a strong mentorship network for participants after the event.
Most importantly, we want to tackle the problem of lacking empowerment in more impoverished countries - hence Global Unwritten.
To everyone reading, stay updated with Project Unwritten's Facebook page here!
Last question: say something to your 12-year-old self?
Thanks for that :)
I'd say challenge yourself more, get out of that comfort zone more, take up more opportunities. Don't get bulked down into studying and ignore what's out there.
It was a pleasure talking to you, thanks Harry!