An award honouring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. has been presented to 21-year old Canberra-based youth advocate Yasmin Poole. Poole was crowned Youth Influencer of the Year from the The King Center via an online ceremony as part of the 2021 King Holiday Observance Beloved Community Awards.
The announcement of the awards coincided with Martin Luther King Day, an annual public holiday in the US observed on the third Monday of January marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.
On The Project last night, Poole told host Waleed Aly she was “absolutely speechless” when she found out she had won the award.
“Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the first historical figures that really made me think about my place in society, so to realise that I’d been given an award in his legacy…was just a pinch yourself-kind of moment,” she said.
In 2019, Poole was the youngest member of the Australian Financial Review 100 Women of Influence and a Top 40 under 40 Most Influential Asian Australians. As a board member of Australia’s leading food rescue organisation, Oz Harvest and YWCA Australia, she has championed for the voices of young Australians.
She has led the global business development of 180 Degrees Consulting and represented Australian youth at APEC and the UN Commission on the Status of Women. She’s also the National Ambassador for humanitarian organisation Plan Australia.
On The Project, Poole said she would like to see more young women engaged in Australia’s political scene, and for the government to do “far more around girls’ education.”
“After Covid, girls are estimated to become almost a generation behind after being torn out of schools because of the pandemic,” she said.
Poole believes that creating a better nation involves hearing the voices of young women. Appearing on Q&A last June, Poole spoke out about the gender disparity in COVID relief efforts and how it reflected wider imbalances.
“The COVID-19 response has been led by men,” she remarked. “The COVID-19 Coordination Commission only has two women.”
“We’ve long known women’s productivity in the workforce enhances economic activity. All that COVID-19 has done is revealed the existing flaws in the current economic system.”
“Often, young women are expected to sit down and listen, but there is so much scope in unpacking their lived experience,” Poole told Mills. “It’s also about telling young women, you have the right, as much as anyone, to think about the future you would like to see and create.”
“I always thought that leadership was older, largely white men, to be honest,” she continued, explaining that for her, challenging conventional leadership styles and replacing it with empathy, collaboration, and kindness would improve the state of our society.
“I really resonate with when she says to lead with kindness,” Poole said. “I think that’s a really undervalued trait, unfortunately in politics.”
“To be kind. And to have the humility to know you don’t have to be the strong man and to know absolutely everything, but to bring in others who have that knowledge and experience.”
This week, she told Her Canberra her passion remains focused on supporting and amplifying the voices of young people.
“Often, the youth of Australia are completely disenfranchised,” she said. “They’re not included in ordinary decision-making.”
“Instead, decisions about their well-being and future are made in boardrooms by people completely disconnected from their reality. I want to shift that paradigm and make sure young people’s voices are heard.”
At only 21, with countless awards and leadership experiences under her belt, you’re bound to ask, “Where does all that motivation and drive come from?”
“Something that always motivates me is using my background and experiences as a means to give voice to others,” Poole told ANU’s Inspiring Women of ANU Law publication last year.
“I often think back to high school, where for most of it I felt powerless about issues like climate change, job uncertainty and political issues. I felt that I couldn’t speak out about them until I graduated and got a career.”
“When I realised I didn’t have to wait for this, it was transformative. That feeling of agency is something that I want all young Australians to experience. That in of itself is a driver to why I want to keep creating a wider platform for youth, showing what we can offer and why we should have a seat at the table.”
When asked about the kind of future she’d like to see for women in her field of law, Poole said formal mentoring programs should become a more common occurrence.
“I would love to see more formal mentoring programs supporting women from culturally diverse backgrounds,” she said. “I’ve loved connecting to the Asian-Australian legal community, who have been a big support in my journey and have helped me understand what I want to achieve with law. I’d love to see these groups be more visible and build greater connections between women of colour in the law.”
Next month, Poole will resume her studies at ANU, where she is completing a Bachelor of Law and International Relations degree.