Generation Entrepreneur

Suzanne Winterflood
Generation Entrepreneur

Althea Carbon is a memorable name, and it’s a moniker worth remembering. A lawyer at a top law firm, she also co-founded Charity-IT, a not-for-profit organisation helping charities improve their IT systems.

She writes a column called ‘Lawyering For Good’; is a mentor with the Asian Law Students Society at Victoria University; and has represented New Zealand at international conferences on entrepreneurship.

She won the Emerging Leader category at the 2014 Women of Influence awards.

Althea Carbon is only 25 years old. But she doesn’t think she’s doing anything particularly out of the ordinary when compared to her peers.

“One of the defining characteristics of my generation is that we want to do something meaningful with our job,” she observes. “As Millennials, we’ve been told we can achieve anything we set our minds to. Social media shows us ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary things, which helps fuel our desire to make our mark and be known for something.”

She is part of a new wave of ‘social entrepreneurs’, young high fliers who combine personal ambition with a strong sense of obligation to the community around them. They recognise that governments alone can’t solve the troubles of the world, and believe it’s up to private citizens to get involved.

“I was born in the Philippines and my family moved to Christchurch when I was 10,” says Carbon now. “Ever since I can remember, my parents have been volunteering. Spending my early childhood in the Philippines made me hugely aware that life is unfair.

“However, we all have unique talents and experiences that we can use for good. I need to play my part and help make life a little bit fairer.”

This deep-rooted ethos gained a practical focus at the University of Canterbury, where she became CEO of Entré, a student-run company that fostered entrepreneurship on campus.

“I realised that being an entrepreneur didn’t necessarily mean you had to start a business. It’s about fresh ideas and, fundamentally, identifying and solving problems.”

Carbon’s eyes were opened to the wider possibilities when she attended a conference in India.

“I was fortunate to meet the founders of various social enterprises, and all their stories were the same: ‘I saw an issue; no-one was doing anything about it, so I did.’”

Identifying that charities often have extremely poor IT systems, Carbon co-founded Charity-IT in Wellington in 2013. It connects IT professionals with charities, and holds weekend Hackathons where volunteers work together to significantly upgrade a charity’s systems and overall effectiveness.

The model of not-for-profits supporting other not-for-profits is a novel concept, and one that Carbon is now expanding across the country.

“Technology enables humanity’s innate self-centredness. And Millennials are more comfortable than previous generations with promoting themselves,” she laughs wryly.

“The flipside is that, having grown up with technology, I think we’re also more connected, informed and socially aware. So many of Gen Y work in the IT industry, and Charity-IT gives them the opportunity to share their expertise. We’ve improved the operations of eight charities so far.”

Her words tumble over each other, and Carbon apologises for talking fast. “I get so enthusiastic!” Coupled with a strategic mindset and a ferocious work ethic, that enthusiasm may just be Carbon’s most important attribute.

Althea’s advice for budding entrepreneurs

  • Find something you’re really passionate about. You need to be convinced about what you’re doing, and why.
  • Be prepared to work hard and put in long hours.
  • Develop your time management skills.
  • Have a capable, diverse team around you.
  • Be open to asking for help.
  • Make a note of all your ideas. Some may be bad, but that doesn’t matter. You need to keep your entrepreneurial brain sharp and inquisitive. 
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