FEATURE Sowing seeds of change- The Herald Sun
HUGH Evans watched as his fellow 2020 delegates began to stray off task. The youth leader was excited, armed with ideas and anxious to get on with it.
He didn't know all the participants in his session but thought he would leap in anyway.
"Some of them were talking over each other, and I just said: 'Come on guys, we've got to work on this together'."
Later, a journalist, impressed by the young man's zeal, told him one of the people he had addressed, Marius, was in fact BHP chief Marius Kloppers.
Evans laughs, remembering the moment, "And I'm like, 'Okay, cool'."
"It turns out I had a great chat with Marius. I really liked him. He sends his children to Carey Grammar where I went to school and we ended up talking for ages."
Evans is no stranger to speaking with people in positions of power.
Every Wednesday, he is taught Mandarin by Asialink chairman Sidney Myer, and Macquarie Bank's Melbourne head Simon McKeon is one of his mentors.
Evans describes both as "men of real integrity".
"What often you don't see of Simon is that he might be the executive director of Macquarie, but on the weekend he plays the keyboard at his church. He's as connected in the community as anyone."
It has been four years since Evans' humanitarian work earned him the title of Young Australian of the Year.
In 2003, he founded the Oaktree Foundation, the world's first entirely youth-run aid organisation, which raised $100,000 in a year to develop a community resource centre in South Africa, and later lead Australia's Make Poverty History campaign.
Evans stepped down as Oaktree director in March, passing the baton to the new leader before a packed auditorium at Melbourne University.
"When it came time to finally say goodbye, I didn't think I'd be so emotional," Evans says.
"As I was saying my final words, I couldn't help (it), I shed a . . . many tears. It was just overwhelming.
"When you start an organisation from scratch, you invest everything in it. You invest your heart and soul. It takes every part of you. You work because failure's not an option."
EVANS had just finished at Oaktree when Alister Jordan - Kevin Rudd's chief of staff - phoned with an offer he couldn't refuse - co-chairing the 2020 Youth Summit.
"AJ gave me a call and I was a bit shocked actually. I actually asked: 'Alister, you know, are you sure?
"He said: 'We've all talked about it. You're definitely the one we want.' I was a bit taken aback. I was really honoured. I said yes straight away because it was a huge opportunity."
Evans was inspired by the young participants and proud that many of their ideas were taken further.
"The calibre of the ideas was fantastic and I think we punched well above our weight which is why there was so much encouragement out of it."
Raised in Kew, Evans grew up wanting to be a magician, then a circus performer, a vet and a doctor.
"I always wanted to serve people wherever I go," he says.
This passion came to a head when he spent time in the Philippines and India as a young teenager.
"It was those two years of my life that were probably the most significant in terms of shaping those values in me, and my hope is that they will remain forever."
Evans will never need a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People.
In person, he is warm and welcoming, with a hearty laugh.
His skills at thinking - and talking - on his feet, combined with an impressive ability to recall key statistics on the issues he champions, would make him an intimidating school debating captain.
He speaks with intensity about issues such as the importance of global thinking, investing in ideas and universities, and governments negotiating to achieve major outcomes for the world's poor.
The next major projects for Evans are writing his second book,The Future By Us, with friend and Oaktree head of operations Tom O'Connor, and a new television series called Change the World.
The show's premise is that viewers submit their world-changing ideas, the top six are selected, and the participants are given the support they need to see them through.
"It's all a bit hush-hush at the moment, but it's really exciting."
It is a big year for the university student, who will graduate with a law-science degree from Monash this semester before embarking on post-graduate study overseas.
With two international scholarships under his belt, Evans has applied for courses at the London School of Economics, Cambridge and Oxford universities.
His hopes are pinned on LSE, where the international affairs course includes one year at Beijing's Peking University, where he could perfect his Mandarin.
"I think the best way to be successful in business and enterprise, in philanthropy, in social action, anything that you're doing is to be able to speak the language," he says.
"I'm only into my fourth lesson now so all I can say is my telephone number."
EVANS has been asked many times whether he would embark on a career in politics.
His answer is long and considered.
"To say 'Do you want to be a politician?' is kind of saying 'Do you want to just choose one avenue?' I don't really'."
He names William Wilberforce, a British MP in the 1800s, as an inspiration, and tells how Wilberforce's goal to abolish slavery inspired people across political party lines.
"Three days before he died, slavery was abolished in England. For me, I am so inspired by that, and so I would certainly choose the vehicle of politics if I could make the kind of change that William Wilberforce wanted to make."
Evans has already been offered opportunities by some of the country's leading business people. Many interested eyes will watch his career unfold.
For now, though, Evans' priorities are clear.
"It has to be to finish uni, to head towards post-graduate study, and then to continue to be involved in projects that are going to have a big impact."
Considering what he has accomplished in his 25 years, who knows just what Hugh Evans will achieve.