RMIT Marketing graduate Madeleine Buchner, founder and CEO of Little Dreamers, has been recognised with a prestigious Queen’s Young Leaders award for 2017.
Founded when Buchner was just 16 years old, Little Dreamers is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to ensuring that young carers have someone to care for them.
The now 24-year-old, together with her team of one staff member and 15 volunteers, has through a range of initiatives has helped more than 1,200 young carers across Australia.
“It is a massive honour to be selected as a Queen’s Young Leader,” Buchner said.
“It’s an award for all young carers, all young people who have been told their dream is too big, too crazy, or that they are too young to make the change they want to see in this world.
The Queen’s Young Leaders Awards celebrate the achievements of exceptional young individuals who have proved themselves to be inspiring leaders in their communities. They were set up by The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, in partnership with Comic Relief, and the Royal Commonwealth Society.
"Grandma always said: ‘Learn your table manners, you might dine with royalty one day’,” Buchner said.
Good advice, it seemed. One of 60 recipients from the 37 Commonwealth countries – and just three from Australia – Buchner received her award from Queen Elizabeth II in June at Buckingham Palace, followed by a dinner at Australia House.
“I got to sit next to Prince Harry for the whole dinner,” she said.
Drawing on her own experiences as a young carer, Buchner is committed to supporting young people who are caring for siblings or parents with a chronic health problem.
For as long as she can remember, she has been caring for her younger brother Charlie, who has encephalitis and epilepsy and has been "in and out of hospital" since he was an infant.
She took on more caring responsibilities at the age of 15 after her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Over the years, she became aware of the number of young people struggling in situations where they were supporting other family members.
It is estimated there are 490,000 people under the age of 25 in Australia who care for a family member with a serious physical or mental illness, disability or drug/alcohol addiction.
At the age of nine, she ran her first event to raise money for an organisation that supported the brothers and sisters of sick kids. She continued to organise fund-raisers for six years, leading to the establishment of Little Dreamers to help and support young people aged four to 18 who care for a family member with an illness or disability.
More recently, Little Dreamers joined forces with Carers Victoria to launch the first Young Carers Festival.
The festival has now been running for three years with the aim of facilitating connections between young carers – a form of support Buchner felt she missed out on when she was younger – and raising awareness of the need for ongoing support.
Buchner has also published a children's book about her childhood experiences, titled My Brother is Sick Again.
“As a young person working in a sector that is often overlooked by government and the community, I am extremely excited about the opportunity presented here to further inspire positive social change in the young carer sector, both in Australia and around the world,” she said
When Buchner applied for a degree in Marketing at RMIT to help her grow the charity she established, she found not only the ideal course but also the support she needed.
A passionate believer in the importance of mentoring, Buchner is a member of RMIT Launchpad, an online network where students and alumni can quickly find a person or resource to help them on their business journey.
Launchpad profiles the new generation of entrepreneurs, showcasing the best and brightest business ventures while promoting communication and collaboration.
“Having a mentor is extremely important to me,” Buchner said.
“I have a number of mentors at the moment who all help me with different aspects of Little Dreamers – from growth planning and management to program development and social media marketing.
Her advice: “Find your tribe of like-minded people and surround yourself with them – learn from them, bounce ideas off them, have them there to help you come back from any failures but also to celebrate all your wins.”
Story: Pauline Charleston