It’s Time To Wake Up

The wake up foundation is a not for profit organisation that is run by young people for the benefit of young people. Channelling the power of education and awareness, wake up has and continues to inspire young people to re-evaluate their cultural norms and take responsibility for their own actions.

Established in 2014, Wake Up was a reaction to an incident involving the brother of Joint Managing Director & Founder, Claudia McEwen.

“My brother was assaulted by two strangers [on a night out in Bondi] and was very badly injured,” explains Claudia. “This incident caused me to reflect on the issue of violence in our society. I also reflected on my own choices and choices I had seen my friends make surrounding alcohol, violence, drugs, sexual assault and our general cultural expectations of what constitutes a good night out.”

As a result and via the winning combination of positive education and awareness campaigns, Wake Up works to address the issues that young people face on a night out – including drug use, alcohol misuse, violence, sexual assault and peer pressure.
Jointly run by Claudia McEwen and Georgina Prior, the Wake Up team is also comprised of seven young ambassadors. Together, they present workshops and seminars to young people at secondary schools, sporting clubs and community events, where both male and female ambassadors share their own personal experiences and instil in our youth the confidence to make responsible decisions.

“When we are speaking at schools and community events we are encouraging young people to rise above peer pressure and know what to do in an emergency situation,” says Claudia. “It is because we are young and sharing our own experiences that we are able to connect with this demographic on a deeper level.”

Not knowing what to expect at the time of launch, Wake Up has experienced exponential growth, changing the lives of young adults with some well placed positive prompting.

“My favourite personal reaction was when a young girl came up to me after the presentation and told me that because of me she wasn’t going to do drugs this weekend,” shares Joint Managing Director and PR Manager Georgina Prior. “I told her no and that it was because of her; she made the decision not to do drugs. Our presentation had merely helped her reach this decision.”

A similar sentiment has also been reflected on student feedback forms, as 94% of students have answered ‘Yes’ to the question ‘did this presentation make you think about your choices?’ “This is a clear indication that our program is working and that students across Australia should hear it,” says Georgina.

It is with thanks to the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) that the Wake Up program has been heard across communities in 2015, as the AHA NSW provided the funding for this year. “We first met Stephen Ferguson, the National CEO of AHA at a conference in December 2014, discussing alcohol and violence in Canberra,” Claudia recalls.

“As the only young people in the room we felt it important to represent a younger perspective and Stephen supported our concerns giving us the opportunity to ask questions.

“After this introduction, we were fortunate to connect with John Whelan from AHA NSW who has provided Wake Up with funding for 2015. The funding has allowed us to keep the cost of our school 28 the publication 2015 presentations low and expand through NSW.

“The relationship between the AHA NSW and Wake Up is aligned through a shared objective; keeping young people safe on nights out,” finishes Claudia.

Looking towards the next 12 months and how this funding may be positively utilized, Georgina has expressed an interest in expansion – locally, rurally and interstate.

An ambition that looks as though it will be achieved, as Wake Up has already secured almost 40 presentations between now and the end of the year. The foundation is also in talks with schools in Geelong, Victoria and Brisbane to expand internaitonally. Distancing themselves from any political conversations regarding legislation, Wake Up will continue to challenge young people and their decision making processes, with the intent to produce cultural change concerning attitudes towards violence, alcohol, drugs and sexual assault.

Wake Up would like to see a situation where young people are responsible for their actions and legislative restrictions are not necessary,” Claudia concludes.

Another strong advocate for taking responsibility for ones own actions is prominent UK anthropologist, Dr. Anne Fox.
Explicating the behavioural profile of individuals likely to engage in alcohol-fuelled violence, Dr. Fox released a detailed report on the underlying causes of violence and anti-social behaviour in the night- time economies of Australia and New Zealand.

The report draws on extensive field research in both countries and more than 20 years of analysis pertaining to drinking culture and human behaviour in order to deliver new insights and propose practical measures for sustainable change. “In a nutshell, the central point of my report is that it’s the wider culture that determines the behaviour whilst drinking, not just the drinking,” explains Dr. Fox.

“I use a range of international examples, demonstrating without question that violence and anti-social behaviour are not the inevitable consequences of a vibrant night-time economy.

“Cultural attitudes and norms play a defining role. Only by understanding these underlying drivers can a community hope to make lasting improvements to the way people behave when they are on a night out.”

Elaborating on this point, if a society is serious about implementing a sustainable solution to damaging behaviour in the night-time economy, then we must consider the following questions about the minority of instigators.

  • Who are these people?
  • Under what circumstances do they behave poorly?
  • What social and cultural signals are they receiving that are influencing how they act?
  • Why do they think it’s acceptable?
  • What can we do to reduce the triggers?
  • How can we create a culture that stigmatises and therefore reduces damaging behaviour?

“The result of my research, and many previous studies, is that alcohol can, in certain cultures and situations, be a facilitator of aggression if aggression is there to begin with, both in the individual and in the cultural environment” says Dr. Fox.

Drawing on the values instilled by Wake Up, Dr. Fox has concluded that: “The child with high self- esteem, good reasoning skills, personal ambition, self-awareness and sound knowledge of drugs and alcohol will be more resistant to peer pressure and the lure of risk- laden thrills.

“All education must include a very clear message that self- control over behaviour is always possible, even when very drunk.”