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Jon Davies likes to call himself Chief Energy Officer rather than Chief Executive Officer in batyr, an organisation of young people working to promote positive conversations about mental health with young people.

Sebastian Robertson founded batyr in 2011 after he became frustrated as a university student about the stigma of mental ill health. The name batyr means “courage” in Turkic, an Asian language, and the symbol of the not-for-profit group is an elephant, referring to “the elephant in the room” that is stigma.

Batyr reports that of every 30 students in Australia, seven are dealing with a mental health issue, yet only two will reach out for support, leaving five suffering in silence.

Davies, who studied science and law at UNSW, joined batyr five months ago after a decade working in big corporates, including 10 years at Woolworths working in strategy and technology.

Your mindset can predict how your day unfolds. My day starts with my mindset on balance. How to be present for my family and also my work. I have committed to managing the morning routine in my house: wake up, pack lunches, wake up the boys, re-wake up the boys, breakfasts, coffee (for me), iron shirt, shower, dress, teeth, bags packed, hugs, out the door, in the car, radio, through the tunnel. It’s a whirlwind.

Luckily, today is unique. My eldest boy’s school is having a Father’s Day breakfast. I get to mingle with the other dads, sharing some stories of school, best holidays taken and those planned. My son is in the choir at the event – it’s the first time I’ve seen him sing and it’s wonderful. I feel so proud.

He takes me on a tour of the school: the axolotl in the science lab, the artistic birds he has made from recycled rubbish, his favourite books in the library. What a special way to start the day. School starts and I’m herded off the school grounds.

I head back through the tunnel, drop off the car, pick up my bag, jump on my micro-foot scooter and start my trip to work. Exercise. Sun is shining. It’s been shining so often of late (a thought for the drought and its impact on our farmers). Through the local park, avoid a dog or two, and along the harbour. Sparkling water. How often do you appreciate where you live? #grateful

‘Inclusive’ is an important part of my work day. At batyr, we work in an open-plan, highly collaborative space. The team says ‘hi’ as I walk through the door, but it’s not just for me. They say hi to everyone. Batyr has a unique, inclusive and supportive culture and I love it.

When I started at batyr one of the commitments I made was to not ‘stuff the culture’. Eighty per cent of the team relate to having a lived experience of mental ill-health, and we are all so proud of that. There is no stigma here. In a recent staff survey, 100 per cent of the team agreed that ‘someone at batyr cares about their wellbeing’. The culture doesn’t just come from the management team, everyone plays a part. As I settle down at one of the shared tables to check my email, music is playing in the background, someone’s playlist, oldies from my uni days.

‘Collaborative’ is another key part of our ethos. Today I’m catching up with the CEO of another organisation. We order coffees and do the little ‘about me’ elevator pitches. For me it goes a little bit like … ‘with a broad education in science and law I have always loved learning new things and new challenges. I worked for many years in big corporates building my skills and experience in strategy, technology, efficiency and improvement. I jumped at the opportunity to move into the not-for-profit world, to use these business and leadership skills to make a difference where it is really needed.’

Eighty per cent of the team relate to having a lived experience of mental ill-health, and we are all so proud of that. There is no stigma here.

JON DAVIES,
Chief Executive Office, batyr

My legal education finely honed my logic skills. In a growing business with many funding contracts and policy changes, I find my legal background very useful.

Being positive is key. I have a board meeting tonight and decide to take some customer feedback into the meeting – it may be a good way to open. I sit down with the Sydney School Coordinator and we go through the student feedback from a batyr@school program yesterday. This year we are delivering 350 school programs across Australia.

One quote in particular catches my eye. A student writes, ‘Mental health is often taken more as a joke in school environments, programs like this help a lot with education and letting those who are struggling know that there’s hope.’ Wow, how good is that? Empathy is really important. Our programs have very high (85 per cent) engagement rates and hearing the stories of young people who have experienced mental ill health is a key reason for this. These stories create the empathy and the connection.

We call our speakers the ‘Being Herd’ team. The word ‘herd’ is a link to the batyr elephant logo, but it’s also because we should listen to their experiences. This morning we ran a batyr@work program for a media and advertising organisation and the team has just arrived back, beaming about how well it went. At the end of the program, one of the managers stood up and shared his experience. Truly leading by example and #smashingthestigma. We need more leaders like this. We have a bold vision to reach one million people with our programs by 2022. That means we need to grow.

I’ve got an awesome board that supports and challenges the organisation. I’m looking forward to tonight’s board meeting. One item on the agenda is the business case to support employment opportunities for young people living with mental ill health. Research shows 60 per cent of unemployed young people have mental ill health. For the last 12 weeks, batyr has been part of an innovation challenge with the NSW Government.

The meeting goes well and finishes late. I’ve missed the boys’ bed time tonight, but I will see them in the morning for our usual routine.”


Photography: Jason McCormack