Thinking Big, and Winning

By Tessa Shaw

In Semester 2, 2016, The Big Issue Australia ran a national competition around social enterprise planning, culminating in the grand finals in November. BCom student Nina Liew and her team took out the grand prize with their winning idea, yumi.

Nina Liew
Nina Liew

This is Nina Liew. She has just completed her Bachelor of Commerce, and in her final hurrah, was part of the winning team of The Big Idea, an annual national competition around social enterprise organised by The Big Issue Australia.

Through this experience, students were guided and advised by social entrepreneurs, Australian ‘Thought Leaders’, and business leaders, who have included Daniel Flynn, (Co-Founder, ThankYou), Michele Goldman (Chief Executive, School for Social Entrepreneurs) and Sally Hines (National Manager, The Big Issue). The aim was for these teams to develop proposals into viable business plans for social enterprise. A total of 118 undergraduate and graduate teams participated, and Liew’s team won in the undergraduate category. It comprised of students from both the Faculty of Business and Economics (FBE) and the Faculty of Arts: Nina Liew (BCom, completed December 2016), Anisha Kidd (BCom, completed 2016), Jake Miller-Randle (BCom, current) and Jason Hu (BArts, current).

Their winning idea: yumi.

Given the importance of mental illness, the team sought to create a social business that could positively enhance the lives of people living with mental illness, and more specifically, assist youths living with mental illness (YMI) gain employment. Securing employment can be particularly challenging for YMI. “Yumi was created to help expand employment opportunities by addressing the practical and perception-based (or stigma) barriers that YMI face,” Liew explained. “It comprises of two great ideas; yumi socks and the yumipreneur project.”


yumipreneur project:

  • eight-week course for YMI guided by the concept of entrepreneurism
  • 2-hour sessions where participants will learn new skills and hear from business leaders who have lived with mental illness
  • provide vocational recovery, a formal qualification, access to mentors, and tangible employment opportunities supported by the yumipreneur project network and partnerships

Yumi is as much about youth mental health advocacy as it is about supporting YMI. Yumi socks are a unique product developed by the team to help people feel more comfortable talking about mental illness and provide a revenue source to enable the sustainability of the business model. Each pair of socks feature an important and positive message legible to the wearer. Each pair comes in product packaging that contains words from a yumipreneur project participant sharing their personal experience with mental illness.

In the long term, the team hope to employ YMI who have participated in the yumipreneur project and want to be a part of yumi.

yumi socks
yumi socks: making it OK to talk about mental illness

Early passion

Liew’s interest in social enterprise has been an inherent passion that started at a young age – a simple desire to help society as a whole.

“As I grew older, this developed into a particular interest at the intersection of business and social impact, an area broader than social enterprise alone,” Liew said.

She is grateful that, through her BCom, she has been exposed to learning more about social businesses, BCorporations (BCorps – certified businesses that use the power of business to create a positive impact on the world, for e.g. KeepCup and Ben & Jerry’s), and impact investing, a market that is expected to reach $32 billion in Australia, US$500 billion to $1 trillion globally, over the next decade.

This intersection of business with social impact makes sense to Liew, who explained, “In our current economic and political system, not-for-profits and government service providers regularly face funding and contract uncertainty, and sometimes rely on unsustainable and sub-optimal operating models that have not been changed for decades.”

“Furthermore, many businesses and large corporations have many negative externalities in the race for larger profits. Environmental degradation from waste, deforestation, overfishing, air/water/noise pollution, factory farming and more, as well as poor working conditions and wages for employees are common examples of this. Organisations need to remove and pay for these negative costs and promote sustainable operations, hence the need for regulation and the opportunities for social enterprise and other socially minded organisations.”

Also a campaigner for the environment, the 21-year-old is serious about making a difference and supporting action against climate change. She stressed, “Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing the planet and humanity as we know it. Furthermore, it is and will continue to affect the world disproportionately. It has caused a rise in the number and intensity of natural disasters, worsened a drought in East Africa and Syria, and right now in our own backyard, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people are losing their homes and land to rising sea levels and intense tropical cyclones.”

Australia and the world need to work together to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees which means acting now, and faster than we are. Nina Liew

She is fearless in campaigning for change, and believes that anyone can make a difference as long as they do not give up. She admitted to feeling daunted at times, but shared the importance of a can-do attitude.

“Don’t be afraid of failure. There have been many times I had bitten off more than I could chew, when I felt like I was going to let myself and others down, but if you learn from your mistakes, work hard, and surround yourself with supportive people, great things are possible. Nothing interesting ever happens if you aren’t at least a little bit uncomfortable!”

Next steps

Liew is set to join Nous Group this year as a graduate consultant in their Business and Digital Strategy team, where she will be primarily helping clients answer their most complex strategic questions and providing actionable business plans, financial analyses, and customer-centric service designs. With excitement, she said, “The main reasons I chose to join Nous Group include their commitment to achieving positive influence, their diverse range of challenging, yet interesting, projects, and their engaging, intellectual culture.”

She is confident that her time at the University of Melbourne provided a solid foundation for her to take on the challenging graduate role. “As students, we were given the opportunity to improve our critical analysis and problem-solving skills, which are crucial in not only management consulting but in all areas of work and life. I enjoyed learning about many real-life case studies which placed our theory into real-life and more relevant contexts,” said Liew.

During her time here, Liew also received a scholarship to go on exchange at the University of Hong Kong, undertaking classes in entrepreneurship and Chinese business. She was also President (2016) of the Melbourne Microfinance Initiative, where she developed consulting skills working on projects for a microfinance organisation in the Philippines and an international non-government organisation in Australia. “These experiences also gave me practical skills in leadership, teamwork, project management and built my confidence,” she smiled.

Nina Liew completed her BCom in December 2016. During the course of her degree, she completed a semester at the University of Hong Kong on Exchange, and was one of the inaugural recipients of the Westpac Bicentennial Foundation Asian Exchange Scholarships, and is currently on the Westpac 100 Scholars Network Advisory Committee as a Victorian Champion.

For support with mental health illness and crisis support, visit headspace or Lifeline.