Computers started making sense to Simon Malian when he was about seven—it was a time when he found it difficult to communicate with those around him. “Computers were my safe area,” says Malian, 29, whose Armenian parents migrated to Australia before he was born. “So I spent a lot of time on them.”
Though he spoke little English when he began primary school, programming gave Malian a voice. In 2015 he will head to Harvard University thanks to a Menzies Foundation scholarship (awarded in partnership with The Harvard Club of Australia and the Australian National University) to undertake a Masters in Computational Science and Engineering. He will focus on the intersection between economics and computation and on social enterprise.
Malian’s first computer was a salvaged Commodore 64. He taught himself to program it, creating an Armenian-language puzzle game that he shared with friends. “I realized the great impact computer programming could have on others,” says Malian, who lodged his first patent as a teenager (for a digital warranty system that he came up with after trying to return a faulty toaster).
Malian’s next big idea crystallized as a scholarship student at the University of Technology, Sydney. While on placement with IBM Consulting Services he became aware that charities were struggling to help others without the right tools. “That struck a chord with me,” he says. “They had the potential to do great things but were being held back – similar to the way I felt when I struggled with English as a child. I decided to start a website that provided management consulting [by volunteers] and open source software.”
A decade on, Malian’s online service has helped 2,500 organizations in 50 countries with tasks like volunteer development, online presence and fundraising. In his day job, Malian helps design information systems that support the rollout of the National Broadband Network Initiative.
Malian’s Harvard studies will mark a transition for his pro bono work – to a new model with, he hopes, even greater impact. “Rather than us being the bottleneck – whereby we train volunteers, certify them, then do matchmaking and prioritizing – we’re going to have a charity provide advice to another charity,” he says. “We are transforming our operating model from an expert-led consulting model to a client-to-client model. Then they’ll get credit that they can use in a mini service economy. It’s called Golden Hint. It’s that little idea that helps them move forward.”
Harvard, which counts Mark Zuckerberg among its past students, will connect Malian with the university’s experts – from marketing gurus to technology advisers. He acknowledges that moving into a dormitory will be an interesting shift. “I’ve never seen snow and there will be a bit of a culture shock!”
Malian’s long-term dream will no doubt involve computers. “I see myself continuing the theme of developing initiatives that lower barriers via the innovative application of technology,” he says.
In 2014, the Selection Committee awarded two Menzies Scholarships. An additional Menzies Scholarships was offered by HCA Philanthropy – ‘Class of 1970’, for a Menzies Scholar to study at the Harvard Business School. Depending on funding from Harvard, a Menzies Scholarship may be taken over one or more years at the discretion of the Selection Committee and the Committee on General Scholarships at Harvard University.
The Menzies Foundation is a non-political, not-for-profit organization established in memory of Sir Robert Menzies, Australia’s longest-serving Prime Minister.
As a catalyst for achievement, the Menzies Foundation’s vision is to identify and promote the next generation of Australian leaders, invest in world class health research and advance initiatives of national importance.
More information can be found at www.menziesfoundation.org.au