- Attending the One Young World summit in Ottawa, Canada in 2016 changed Charles Zhang’s life.
- He met his company co-founder there.
- They co-founded a social enterprise called Journey Crowdfunding.
“It was all very dramatic if I’m honest,” laughs 22-year-old Charles Zhang as he looks back on his One Young World experience.
While finishing his University of Sydney commerce degree in 2016, Charles entered the Grad Connection Top 100 Future Leaders Awards. He won the CA ANZ-sponsored Accounting and Financial Management Award – and with it, a trip to Ottawa, Canada for the One Young World leadership forum.
It was an experience, he says, that was life-changing.
Each year, One Young World summit gathers thousands of young leaders from across the world, for discussions and sessions with leaders from former UN head Kofi Annan to digital media entrepreneur Michelle Phan.
But it was his interactions with two fellow delegates that would have real lasting impact for Zhang. One would go on to co-found his company Journey Crowdfunding with him, while the other, a young man from Sierra Leone, would change his perspective on life.
“I was fortunate enough to meet this young man from Sierra Leone,” explains Charles. The young man was P.J. Cole. He grew up working with child soldiers and opened an emergency response clinic during the Ebola crisis. His work won him a Queen’s Young Leader Award. “Speaking to him completely transformed my perception of what was possible for a young person to achieve. He’s done things at such a significant level.
“He’s making such a difference in these people’s lives, so it was very compelling,” says Zhang.
The start of Journey
The three-day event was a humbling experience and a chance to discuss issues such as global warming. “One of the speakers was from Marshall Islands in the Pacific. They are already experiencing severe flooding and they were chatting about how their island is going to disappear. That was such a frank reality,” he reflects.
With so many inspiring people gathered in one place, One Young World is the perfect opportunity to network and make lifelong connections. It was through this that Zhang met his future business partner, Michelle Aneli.
“She had the connections and thought it was a great idea. She worked in an organisation that works with refugees and she said: ‘let’s make this happen’.”
‘This’ was Journey Crowdfunding, which Zhang and Aneli launched on 1 February last year, with the help of two other business partners, Angus Gibbs and Sajith Howpage.
(Pictured: Charles Zhang, Co-founder of Journey Crowdfunding)
The company is a social funding platform which partners with social organisations to tell stories online about worthwhile projects, which then attract investment from members of the public. Charles likens it to the famed Humans of New York photoblog – “but you can donate straight to the individual”.
While at One Young World in 2016, he pitched the social enterprise to an organisation called The Resolution Project. The pitch was a success and the company offered some seed funding to get Journey up and running.
In the months following One Young World, Zhang and his business partners signed partnerships with two social organisations and were able to officially launch in Sydney in February with four crowdfunding campaigns. “We are currently partnered with migrant and refugee organisations and I think we are on our way to helping some very deserving people,” says Zhang.
Looking back on his pitch, Zhang says it was important not to be intimidated by the huge scale of the One Young World event. “There are some seriously intelligent, capable and well-connected people. It’s important to trade your ideas and not be scared to speak to other people about theirs,” he says.
Accountants are absolutely pivotal in effecting change in the world
Zhang believes he built the foundations for a career in accounting and business when he worked as an accounting cadet in EY. He then moved to online food delivery company Deliveroo, where he spent a year on the operations team.
Those experiences also gave him a new view of accounting’s power as a tool for transformation. “I’ve really learned that businesses shape the world. Accountants all over the world are charged with driving and leading these businesses.
“Accountants are in a very unique and extraordinary position to use their skills and leadership to effect positive change. So it is at the individual level, the company level and I think that accumulates to be at a global level. Accountants are absolutely pivotal in effecting change in the world.”
Resilience makes a business
When it came to setting up his own business however, it wasn’t all plain sailing. There were plenty of times he felt like calling it quits. But it was in those moments that Zhang learnt the biggest lessons about business.
“There were so many points we wanted to throw in the towel, moments where the next step or the answer to a problem wasn’t clear. Nonetheless, we continued to show up day after day and the answer soon appeared. Beyond any technical skill, I learnt that resilience is the key determinant of entrepreneurial success.”
Passing the reins
After some travelling around the world, Zhang has returned home to Sydney to start a management consulting role at LEK. So he and the other business partners have decided to pass on the reigns of Journey to Enactus, a student organisation that brings university students and staff together with businesses to develop community outreach projects.
He plans to continue working with Journey but describes Enactus as “stellar” and sees a continuing evolution for the organisation. “The goal, as it always has been, is to help as many people as possible. That means transitioning from working just with migrants and refugees to actually working with homeless individuals and families as well.
“Of course the dream is to be Australia’s go-to social funding for individuals. But that is five years away.”
He advises other aspiring young business leaders to go for it. “I was very hesitant to begin with, but the moment I got started on even the smallest steps towards starting the business, I realised that it wasn’t as hard as I’d made it out to be. Plus, you’ll find that once you get the ball rolling, support is surprisingly abundant.”
Share your ideas generously, says Zhang. “You never know where it’s going to take you.”
Related: Challenging world views at One Young World
Attending last year’s One Young World summit in Colombia proved to be eye-opening and challenging for Chartered Accountants ANZ delegates Jozo Frankovic and Harry Flett.