Trading self-doubt for self-reflection: Mandy Lau's tips for aspiring Westpac Social Change Fellows

2023 Westpac Social Change Fellow Mandy Lau

Social entrepreneur Mandy Lau admits that applying for a Westpac Social Change Fellowship was daunting, but says the process ultimately helped her gain greater clarity around the mission of her enterprise, Reach & Match.


Just over a decade ago, Mandy Lau combined her background as a masters graduate in industrial design with her passion for empowering children with disabilities to create Reach & Match, a play-based, inclusive learning program. 


“By using play as a tool for learning, we can engage children with disabilities in a way that’s both fun and effective, helping to develop essential skills and reach their full potential,” says Lau of the multi-award-winning program which supports more than 20,000 children in Australia and around the world.


Lau has worked closely with educators and therapists to integrate Reach & Match into the curricula of a growing number of preschools, primary schools and specialist schools, and in early intervention services, libraries and homes. Endorsed by the Australian Government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the program is also used by humanitarian organisations such as Save the Children, UNICEF and World Vision.


With an eye to taking her inclusive education work to “the next level”, Lau successfully applied for a Westpac Social Change Fellowship, recognising the catalysing effect it could have on scaling Reach & Match’s impact.


“I was excited about the potential it offers to learn from global thought leaders, participate in advanced training programs and collaborate with other social innovators,” says Lau. “I was particularly drawn to Westpac's commitment to social change and the chance to be part of a community dedicated to making a difference.”


Pushing through self-doubt, time constraints


Lau admits she was initially hesitant to apply for the fellowship as she struggled with doubts about whether her work would stand out.


“Competing with numerous exceptional projects made me question whether I had a real chance of being selected,” she reflects.


“I was also daunted by the detailed and time-consuming nature of the application process. As a sole founder managing multiple responsibilities, I was concerned about finding the time and energy to prepare a comprehensive and compelling application.”


But she says the process of applying was in fact valuable. “It forced me to reflect on the work of Match & Reach, articulate our vision and impact clearly, and identify areas for growth,” she says. 


Self-reflection was key


While Lau was not surprised by the rigour of the application process, which required attention to detail and compelling, persuasive communication, she hadn’t expected the “deep self-reflection” involved.


“It pushed me to clearly define what I wanted for Reach & Match and my personal growth as a leader, which was very hard, as it required deep reflection on my goals, values, and the future direction of our work,” she says.


“But ultimately it was rewarding as it brought greater clarity and focus, which was both empowering and motivating.”


Transformative rewards


Since her selection as a 2023 Westpac Social Change Fellow, Lau describes the experience as transformative, offering numerous opportunities to learn, network and grow.


Participating in the Green Educators Immersion Course at the Green School in Bali was a highlight, enabling her to connect with international pioneers in educational transformation and broaden her understanding of innovative, sustainable educational practices.


“Meeting with education experts from Finland and Norway was particularly enlightening,” she says. “I gained insights into their strengths and gaps in early learning and inclusive education which will help inform and improve our own programs at Reach & Match.”


Another valuable aspect of the fellowship has been connecting with other Westpac Social Change Fellows across the network of Westpac Scholars, known as the W100. “Meeting with other disability advocates, such as Danny Hui, and sharing our passion and exchanging ideas has provided fresh perspectives and reinforced the importance of collaboration in driving social change,” she says.


Expansionary future

Lau has ramped up her plans to scale the impact of Reach & Match, including expanding its range of educational kits, and conducting additional research to drive continuous improvement.


“I also aim to expand our network, both locally and internationally, to collaborate with other leaders in design, disability, play and education,” she says.


“By working together, we can share insights and strategies to create more inclusive educational environments and better support for children with disabilities.”


Tips for aspiring Westpac Social Change Fellow applicants


To those considering applying, Lau says: “Go for it!”


“It’s important to take the time to understand and clearly communicate your vision and the impact of your work,” she advises.


“The application process itself is a valuable opportunity for self-reflection and growth. Be honest about your challenges and how you’ve overcome them and, importantly, believe in the value of your work and the difference it can make.


“And remember, the fellowship provides not just financial support, but also a network and resources that can significantly amplify your impact.” 


If you’re a social leader curious about applying for a Westpac Social Change Fellowship find out more by visiting our fellowship webpage. 2025 applications close at 5:00pm AEST Wednesday 24 July, 2024.

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