Episode 011: Anne-Marie Elias (Chief Disrupter)

After 20 years in Government, Anne-Marie Elias has turned to the startup community to bring about social change.

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Anne-Marie has been involved in social change from the age of 16, being involved in Youth Action and Policy Association and the Ethnic Communities Council.  This advocacy leaning eventually lead Anne-Marie into government and working for NGOs, where she spent the better part of 30 years.  She became frustrated with a lack of advancement and innovation, watching $250b per year being spent on solving social disadvantage, but only seeing things getting worse.

It was only after a friend, Nicole Williamson, asked Anne-Marie to come along to GovHack, which was her first foray into tech and startups, that she found the answer she was seeking.  Needless to say she fell in love with the community.  In particular, she was blown away with "the effectiveness of bringing techs and startups together to play with government data and the outputs that occurred within 48 hours" that Govhack achieved.

In 2014 she was invited to speak at TEDx Ultimo.  This Ted Talk gave her the platform that she needed to begin talking about how ideas can be brought together through the need for social change and the innovation of startups.  She then went to every hackathon she could find and started to become connected to the startup and tech community.  It was incredibly telling for Anne-Marie that, coming from outside of the startup world, she was overwhelmingly accepted.  She was impressed with how generous, willing and committed the community was.  It became obvious that the lean, agile startup environment was worlds apart from government, and that this was where Anne-Marie needed to be.

In February 2015 Anne-Marie decided to start her own business, which was a difficult decision as a single parent, however she saw it as a lesser risk than not doing anything.  It was the realization that "in the business of social change, people's lives are at stake" that pushed Anne-Marie over the line.

The decision to join a co-working space was critical for Anne-Marie, as it allowed her to work in an environment where she was surrounded by others who have been through the struggle of starting a business, and are willing to pass on advice and tips.

It was clear to Anne-Marie was that she didn't want a "template" businesses.  Finding her "why" was important to her, and as she had started in advocacy at the age of 16, it was the combination of this and the discovery of the community of tech and startups that it all consolidated.  As she describes it, she "fell into a cloud that was fluffy and yummy and supportive".

In October 2015, when Annie Parker put the word out that she wanted to organise a hackathon for refugees in Australia called techfugees, Anne-Marie was all too eager to help.  Anne-Marie felt it was important to have "end-user" involvement, to which end she made sure there were refugees involved from the beginning sharing their stories.  "We do a lot of user design in our world, but the end user is not in the room.  We do things to people all of the time, but there is little outcome because the end user is not participating in the solution."  This was instrumental in bringing about the positive outcomes that were achieved at the hackathon.

With the recent release of the federal government's Innovation Statement, Anne-Marie's biggest concern with the agenda is the lack of collaboration.  The best results will be achieved if the government can be brought into the startup community where they can work together to bring about the changes that are required.

In Anne-Marie's view we need better engagement with the startup eco-system, by involving thought leaders from within the system.  Initiatives such as Startup Muster become pivotal due to the data available that provides a deep understanding of the startup eco-system.  "It will be a benchmark survey, particularly now that the innovation statement has been released."

The future for Anne-Marie will see her start managing her business better, consolidating the work she has started and further developing her product offering.

Anne-Marie's biggest dream is to see members of the startup community become a crack team that solves government problems.  This is something she is particularly passionate about.  She says "It's time.  I keep waiting for someone else to do this.  We keep looking the other way and keep saying maybe it's them, but it's us.  It up to you, its up to me, it's up to every person that's listening.  That's how we're going to change things."


If you have a passion for social change, or just want to get involved in something that will allow you to give back in a big way, get in contact with Anne-Marie.  She will absolutely love to hear from you.

You can reach Anne-Marie on Twitter and LinkedIn.  You can also find out more about her business on her website, www.anne-marieelias.com and chiefdisrupter.com.

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