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Meet Sara Austin, Founder & CEO of Children First Canada.

2021 Social Change Award Finalist: National Impact

My first job ever was… working as a babysitter, and then my first formal jobs were working as a summer camp counsellor and as a receptionist in a doctor’s office when I was in high school.  

I chose my career path because… advocating for children is what I was born to do and it’s the perfect combination of my skills, passion and purpose. I believe every child has the right to have a safe and healthy childhood and live in a family, community and country that respects their rights. It’s an enormous privilege to get up every day knowing that I’m making a difference in the lives of millions of kids all across Canada, and to have spent my life improving the lives of kids all around the world.   

The part of my role that I love the most is… being able to work directly with children and youth and watch them be so bold and brave in advocating for their rights, whilst at the same time work towards achieving systemic change that will dramatically improve the lives of every kid in Canada. 

If you Googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I am an adrenaline junkie. Whether it’s trying the flying trapeze, white water rafting, traveling off the beaten track, or speaking in front of the UN – I am driven to get out of my comfort zone. It’s both terrifying and exhilarating.  

My best advice from a mentor was… take more risks. Her advice helped me to see that while I had been brave and pursued a lot of big risks in my life that led to some great rewards, I had gotten comfortable in my role and plateaued. It led to a pivotal shift in my mindset that spurred enormous growth and ultimately led to some major changes, including moving across the country with my family and ultimately launching Children First Canada. 

My advice for anyone who wants to build a not-for-profit is… do your due diligence to figure out what already exists and whether there is a void that needs to be filled. There are more than 170,000 charities and nonprofits in Canada, many of which are doing amazing work. Your research and networking might lead you to join an existing organization, or it might clarify what the gaps are and lead you to start something new. We need less competition and more collaboration, so put your skills, passion and experience to use where there is the greatest need. 

I stay inspired by… working with amazing young change makers. Kids aren’t just the leaders of the future; they are leaders today. I get to see these kiddos achieve incredible things at a very young age and watch them grow up and reach even greater heights. Often when they join Children First Canada, they are learning about their rights for the first time, and its amazing to see this light come on inside of them and to see their creativity and passion to make a difference on issues like mental health, racism, climate change, and reconciliation. We provide them with knowledge, skills and mentoring, along with a platform to speak directly with key decision makers at the highest levels of government and to Canadians through national media. They have an enormous sense of urgency to address the problems because its very real for them. Every single day matters in the life of a child, and I’m inspired and motivated by their sense of resolve that we can’t afford to wait.  

Success to me means… every child being able to achieve their full potential. Canada’s future depends on the strength of our children and youth. What we do now, or fail to do, will change the trajectory of children’s lives and the future of a nation. As a society, our most sacred and solemn duty is to ensure that every child not only survives, but also thrives. The health and wellbeing of kids in Canada has declined dramatically over the past decade: Canada has fallen from 10th to 30th place amongst wealthy nations, and the pandemic has had a devastating impact on their mental and physical health. We need a big bold plan to improve the lives of all 8 million kids in Canada, and to make this the best place in the world for kids to grow up.