Charity founder blazes own trail with tech training

Jessica Macpherson spent twelve years building and leading Melbourne charity St Kilda Mums before deciding it was time to hand over the reins and launch technology training social enterprise Blaze Your Trail.

St Kilda Mums and its associated charities Geelong Mums and Eureka Mums all use business software giant Salesforce to organise their fundraising and activities with a “steady stream” of volunteers using the platform to help the charities while also mastering the technology.

“I saw value for a guided program that gave people the opportunities to get hands-on experience but kept the project on course in the best interests of the charity,” she says. “They can probably do more harm than good if they are let loose in a charity organisation and they don’t know what they’re doing.”

Former St Kilda Mums chief executive Jessica Macpherson has launched tech training social enterprise Blaze Your Trail.

Former St Kilda Mums chief executive Jessica Macpherson has launched tech training social enterprise Blaze Your Trail.CREDIT:JASON SOUTH

When the coronavirus pandemic hit Macpherson says it wasn’t the best time for St Kilda Mums to start a new business so she stepped down from the charity she had founded and grown to a network of 3000 volunteers to build the social enterprise herself.

Macpherson launched Blaze Your Trail in April to provide tech training, mentoring and employment placement for migrants enabling them to get a start in the workforce.

The social enterprise’s main focus is training and placements using Salesforce as the company provides its platform for free to charities and so is widely used across the not-for-profit sector as well as large corporates and consultancies.

“A lot of my students are working mums,” Macpherson says. “So they’ve been out of the workforce and they’ve decided to retrain in Salesforce. They’ve gone ahead and got certified but they can’t get their foot in the door, they can’t get their resume to the top of the pile because they’ve got no local work experience.”

Macpherson says job advertisements for jobs involving Salesforce often required two years’ experience using the platform. “I could just see very clearly that we could give these people the two years’ work experience doing free projects for charities who can then get the skills and the experience that they need in order to make the most of the technology,” she says.

Blaze Your Trial has also seen interest from big corporates who want to use the social enterprise to recruit new talent and hire a more diverse workforce.

This includes global technology consultancy MTX which launched in Australia in May this year and is partnering with Blaze Your Trail. Its staff are contributing to training and mentoring programs and MTX aiming to employ candidates out of the program.

“MTX recognises that in order to get more women into tech roles and more women into leadership roles and technology what they have to do is they need to fill the pipeline at the bottom end,” Macpherson says.

The first project for MTX and Blaze Your Trail is with Melbourne charity One Ball, which connects disadvantaged people through soccer.

Kamal Ibrahim, founder of One Ball, says Blaze Your Trail created a new online system to help manage registrations and volunteers for the charity through Salesforce and the team was now working on a fund-raising and sponsorship system.

“We couldn’t afford to run Salesforce as we are such a small organisation,” he says. “I have to wear a lot of hats and do a lot of things but now we can use Salesforce to do lots of the work and we can focus on other things whether it is coaching or helping reach more kids.”

Cara Waters The Age 28 September 2021