A giant impact

Rachel Yang – recipient of the 2022 Rising Star for Young Alumni Award – shares how she arrived at a place of making change.

When Rachel Yang was young, she knew she wanted to make an impact with her work but didn’t know how, so she decided to study the two broadest degrees she could combine – Commerce and Arts, where she also picked up a diploma in Italian.

“My arts degree helped me to think critically, and also creatively, combined with the kind of practical knowledge of my Commerce degree. I felt lucky to be exposed to different people throughout these degrees as well.” From her studies in Global Movements all the way through to Macroeconomics, Rachel was (unbeknownst to herself at the time) finetuning her practice in impact investment. The lack of certainty which had plagued her younger self, ended up steering a wider breadth of experience.

From University, she catapulted into a circle of consulting at KPMG. “Working in a government advisory group, I felt there would be an ability to create change at a policy level. “I was leveraging both my Arts and Commerce degrees, because I was working on business cases, doing financial modelling, but also working on policy across various levels of government.” After several years, it was hard not to become jaded by the politics though, she admits. Working in a government advisory team exposed Rachel to all sectors, providing the kind of knowledge that would become very beneficial further down the track in venture capitalism.

Professor Paul Kofman, Dean of the Faculty of Business & Economics, presents Rachel Yang with the Rising Star for Young Alumni Award.

It was after a stint in northeast Arnhem Land where the real shift began. Returning to Melbourne, she felt a kind of reverse culture shock. “A 12-year-old girl died of septicaemia while I was there, and that just shouldn’t have happened. We have all the available medical care, for free. She should have been treated, but for whatever reason, it didn't happen.”

This experience had a profound impact on Rachel, and upon her return, she decided to do something about it.

To see what a huge ripple effect something like that has on a community…something that was entirely preventable…I got back and asked, ‘What am I doing with my life?’…It was a big turning point.

Rachel then explored her interest in public private partnerships and social impact bonds, moving into deal advisory with the hope of being able to work on hospital or school projects to get a feeling of greater proximity to more tangible impact, but the speed and scale of change did not feel like enough.

“When I came across Giant Leap. I thought, this is everything I want to do.” Giant Leap backs mission driven founders solving the world’s most pressing problems at scale. Giant leap launched in late 2016, and Rachel joined the company in early 2017.

Giant Leap is performing alongside top quartile venture capital funds in Australia, demonstrating that there is no need to trade-off financial returns for positive social and environmental impact.

To date, the organisation has invested in over 20 companies across three themes: health and wellbeing, sustainable living, and empowering people, including Seer Medical, Australia’s largest epilepsy diagnostic service; Who Gives A Crap, a sustainable toilet paper brand that donates 50% of its profits to build toilets in the developing world; Amber Electric, an electricity retailer shifting the world towards renewable energy by providing wholesale prices directly to energy consumers; and WORK180, the only jobs platform that pre-screens employers to empower women to find workplaces that support them in their careers.

Rachel is also working to create a more inclusive startup ecosystem through her role as the Chair of Startup Victoria, one of Australia’s largest founder communities to support people along their startup journey.

Rachel Yang is this year’s recipient of the Rising Star for Young Alumni Award, presented to an individual aged 35 and under who has demonstrated an outstanding level of professional achievement and community involvement since graduating from the University of Melbourne, as well as recognition by colleagues and peers of outstanding leadership and impact as a global citizen, over a period of at least five years. Learn more about the Rising Star for Young Alumni Award.