How one young Indigenous Australian is paving the way for others

Ben Abbatangelo
Image from AIME
Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
6 December 2017

Virgin Australia is a proud supporter of the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME). AIME provides mentors for a fairer world. Based at university campuses across Australia, the model brings together university students and the most disadvantaged school students to AIME.

In 2016, AIME committed to giving 10 young Indigenous Australians the chance to work with them as co-CEO for a year. This fast-tracks them into executive leadership roles faster than a traditional pipeline of development would. Ben Abbatangelo has been AIME’s co-CEO for 2017, we caught up with him to find out more…

How did you first become involved with AIME?

Out of school, I was gifted some opportunities to play elite cricket with the Melbourne Stars. It was during this time that I learnt of AIME. 

I remember receiving a phone call from an AIME staff member, providing me with the opportunity to meet some Indigenous high school kids at the local university campus, in Melbourne's north. It was there that my story had been profiled and the kids were brave enough to invite me to their session. This was when I realised how much impact I can have on the next generation of kids.

From that moment I was hooked. Not only could I see the vision of AIME but the infinite scope and potential that the program and kids within had.

It wasn't long after my session visit that my time in elite sport came to an end. I knew AIME was where I wanted to be. It was the kids courage and leadership that thrusted me on to the path that I am trekking today.

What motivated you to want to be the Co-CEO for 2017?

A couple of things motivated me.

The people that have come before me. It's because of them that we are faced with the opportunities of today and off the back of their legacy, it's now my turn to not only pick up the baton but run as fast as I can with it.

Secondly, the opportunity to play a lead role in navigating our countries challenges & opportunities is something that you can't pass up. I want to leave the world in a better place then I entered it, so when I was presented with the opportunity of not only fulfilling the role of Co-CEO but actively shaping the country for the better, I knew I had to take it.

What do you hope to have achieved by the end of your term as Co-CEO?

I'm simply continuing a legacy that has been standing proud for thousands of years. A legacy of high expectations, selflessness and success. I'm not the hero in this story, but more so a small cog in a much greater machine.

At the end of my term, I hope to look back and know that I’ve been a prime example of what young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids can achieve in this life. I want the kids to know that our stories are unique, our Indigenous lineage is the most prized possession that we own and our potential is limitless.  We don't have to compromise our Aboriginality to succeed in this life but more so, lean on it as a point of strength.

Have you had any mentors in your life? And if yes, what have you learnt from them?

I've been fortunate to have the good, bad and the ugly surround me from a young age. It's because of these people and their experiences that I’ve been able to fast track my journey as a young Aboriginal leader and person. I can't imagine doing this life thing on my own. No way. 

In your opinion, are the issues that AIME looks to tackle becoming more commonplace in society?

Global inequality is thriving in many parts of the world and we've got to ask ourselves, 'what are we doing to address it?'. I know the world would be a much better place if we all used our positions of privilege and power to lift up those around us.

So, ask yourself this. What are you doing to address the global inequalities of yesterday, today and tomorrow?

What's the most rewarding aspect about working at AIME?

There is no greater gift than positively impacting the people around you and I get to do this every day. It's a special existence knowing that you are not only changing kids’ lives but also playing an active role in changing the country we live in... And I don't take that lightly.