From student volunteer to major events entrepreneur

National Student Volunteer Week annually recognises the enormous volunteer support to communities given by students.

On an impulse to build on his own positive experiences of volunteering, in 2010 ex-student volunteer, Alex Rixon-Booth formed I Need Helpers, a student volunteer organisation. At that time he did not realize from the seed of an idea, the diversity of opportunities that would unfold in the years to come.

Student volunteers with I Need Helpers can look forward to bucket loads of unique experiences, shared camaraderie and heaps of fun on the job in an actual working environment. Think working on the set ofMasterChef, assisting behind the happening vibe of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival or helping out during the prestigious Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival.

Student volunteering with I Need Helpers

I Need Helpers functions as a centralized community of student volunteers that supports the major events industry. In the last four years since its inception, Alex has welcomed many voluntary ‘helpers’ and seen them flourish on the job and beyond.

“They are bubbly, excited, enthusiastic to support events and gain valuable experience to aid their careers,” said Alex when we met over coffee recently.

On the job, student volunteers can familiarize themselves from the ground up with all that is involved in staging major events. Also the experience is a great resume booster. There are lots of roles to choose from including ushers, back of house dressers, events assistants, marketing support, PR support, sponsorship support, food preparation assistants and ticketing assistants.

If anyone typifies the profile of a switched-on young entrepreneur it is Alex Rixon-Booth. Is it his engaging personality or maybe his curly Afro and cheeky smile? But immediately you feel comfortable in his presence. These attributes come packaged with amazing business savvy. He is quick to notice a market niche. He also possesses the diplomatic art of persuasion, a skill needed when putting his ideas across to CEOs, festival coordinators and student volunteers.

But before I Need Helpers was conceived and he was graduating from high school, Alex confessed to being almost directionless.

Surrounded by his friends who were all excited about going to Uni to study accountancy, design, economics or media, Alex just wasn’t sure. He was about to graduate from St Michael’s Grammar School but had, in his words, “no clue about what I wanted to study.”

But the key to his future success lay in his recent past. While doing the school syllabus subject of business management, he created his own publication for the retail shops of the Chapel Street precinct.  A percentage of the profit was donated towards The Prahran Mission assisting those who are experiencing homelessness, the effects of poverty, mental illness or physical disability.

Following this successful spark that revealed business acumen, the following year he decided to run another event.

“I’d written a proposal to Maribyrnong Council and National Youth Week to stage a cultural and linguistically diverse event at the Footscray Community Arts Centre. To my great surprise the proposal gained funding,” said Alex.

Studying event management

Referring back to this surprise success gave him the impetus to study Event Management at William Angliss Institute.

“It’s a field that is always evolving. Problem solving is crucial and its fast paced environment would always challenge me,” said Alex.

Though the course was stimulating, Alex yearned for more practical experience. His passion for event management was blossoming and he couldn’t wait to work in the field.

“In my first few months of starting the course, I was looking everywhere for voluntary positions to enable me to build industry networks and to find what type of events I was interested in being involved with,” explained Alex.

Student volunteering

So just three months into his course, his first volunteer position was as a logistics coordinator’s assistant with the L’Oréal Melbourne Fashion Festival. That’s when the magic happened. From that volunteer experience almost overnight, his career direction was set to soar.

“I suddenly wanted to work in the major events industry. It was just the vibe, the energy of being at the vortex of organizing such incredibly large-scale events involving so many different organizations knitting together to deliver one program,” Alex told me.

Volunteering transits to full blown career

His volunteering stint led to full-time employment as Logistics Coordinator at the following year’s L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival. Alex then found himself in a curious position. He had to defer his course at William Angliss.

‘I threw myself into the job. The role started in November and there I was in a dream job without a qualification, minimal experience and less than a year out of high school!” remembered Alex.

Volunteering and then working the full time role at the L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival suddenly gave him an exciting idea to provide the same opportunity to other students. I Need Helpers was born.

I Need Helpers was born

Alex’s direction now turned to providing students with the same opportunity to build networks and find their career niche through the practicality of volunteering in the field of Event Management.

In the first year that I Need Helpers was formed, Alex began building his stable of student recruits, achieving this with full-on cold calling and lots of bravado.

“As it was such a new concept to the industry, I set out to change the way event managers approached volunteer recruitment and coordination. I rang event managers and told them I had helpers ready to assist them at their event,” recalled Alex with a grin.

His initial outlay was $20 for printing of I Need Helpers promotional posters and armed with his posters, he also visited educational institutions to spread the word further about student volunteering.

“I would share my story with students and teachers as well outlining the benefits of volunteering” said Alex.

I Need Helpers at the ready

As a result of a team effort, he has developed a student database which now sees over 2,500 student volunteers signed up across Australia.

“We have also built a thriving online community where students throughout Australia can share opportunities with each other and list work events all over the country. Right now there are 170 events on our site!’

I Need Helpers is one of the first organizations to have such a significant influence in the development of volunteer programs for the event sector. Last year through Australasian Special Events, it gained the title of Melbourne’s Leading Volunteer Management Organization.

In fostering the organization, he and the I Need Helpers’ team overcame another hurdle. They successfully transformed the mentality of Gen Y students away from the idea of grabbing the quick dollar to understanding the unique value of volunteering.

“We always look forward to seeing the familiar faces of our student volunteers and continue to be the connective tissue between them and their future careers,” said Alex.

By Lesley Sharon Rosenthal – volunteer writer

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