When she stood up to give the keynote address at the Beacon Foundation National Conference in April, Coca-Cola Amatil Group Managing Director, Alison Watkins had one key message: “It’s not the mountain we conquer—but ourselves.”

Addressing an audience of teachers, business and community leaders, Alison spoke about her personal journey from her upbringing in regional Tasmania to working in companies such as McKinsey & Co, ANZ Bank and Berri.

A mother of four, Alison attributes her success to the “four Ps”: people, partnership, parents and teachers, and personal growth. The support of people around her, she says, is crucial. The Beacon Foundation applies a similar principle to its work with disadvantaged young people, who often lack role models and mentors.

More than one mountain

“My story, and the story of the many students that the Beacon Foundation assists, is not about reaching the summit of one very tall mountain,” Alison said.

“Rather, it’s the opportunity to climb several different mountains, all challenging, not always getting to the top but learning from the experience each time and knowing to be better equipped to climb the next.”

Acknowledging that she has climbed several mountains so far – from changing career paths to having kids – Alison says these challenges have led her to where she is today.

“When people give you what you know is a big break it evokes a strong response,” she said. “I was determined not to let them down.”

Beacon Youth Foundation
More than 50 schools were represented at the 2015 Beacon National Conference.

Hope and possibilities

Alison acknowledged the extraordinary tools of empowerment the Beacon Foundation offers disadvantaged youth to help them transition from secondary school to full-time employment, further study or training.

“It’s about helping students find their motivation and giving them the skills they need to break out of a cycle of generational unemployment, into a future with possibilities and hope,” she said.

Since 2011, the Beacon Foundation has been the recipient of a National Coca-Cola Australia Foundation grant. Through the National Grant program, Beacon has supported 18 schools across the country, with some schools receiving nonstop funding over 4 years.

This year the partnership has extended to include the Happiness Cycle, an initiative that gives bikes to schools to encourage students to get active.

This growing partnership highlights the remarkable work Beacon does for schools with students who are experiencing challenges.

In 2015, with Coca Cola Australia Foundation support, the Beacon program reached 11 schools across Australia.

Investing in the future

“Coca-Cola Amatil also has an established graduate program that offers skills building and commercial experience to young people. The two-year rotational program, which has been running for more than two decades, allows graduates to learn about business, themselves and their passions,” Alison said.

“Take a chance — invest in developing our future employees,” she added.

“Work with organisations like the Beacon Foundation who do extraordinary work to unleash the potential of young students in disadvantaged schools. With the combined support of business, educators and community leaders they can make a valuable contribution.”

Similarly, Alison had inspiring advice for the students that Beacon helps: “Believe in yourself. Yes, you do have mountains to climb but you can and will climb them with self-belief, perseverance and hard work.” 

Beacon Youth Foundation
Alison Watkins with Beacon Foundation CEO and Director, Scott Harris (middle), and Greg Woolley, Executive Director, Woolley Holdings and Beacon Foundation Board Member (right).