A magic brew of innovation and commitment | In conversation with Marcus Watson - CEO, BackTrack

Anyone who has any contact with BackTrack will tell you they’re special. 

Founded by Bernie Shakeshaft in 2006 in Armidale NSW with a magic brew of strong community support, a shed, some working dogs and a group of young people. Bernie saw that these young people deserved an opportunity to connect to something meaningful to stay out of jail, learn skills for work and follow their dreams.

Fast forward nearly twenty years and BackTrack now operates across the New England region and beyond, with a network of supporters and members who are growing the BackTrack ethos of connection and partnerships while showing young people there is a place they belong, for the rest of their lives. 

Like other social enterprises and non-profits that TFN champion, it is BackTrack’s innovation, insight and commitment that is making headway into what has seemed like intractable social issues facing young people.  

Marcus Watson, the newly appointed CEO of BackTrack, has taken some time off hanging out with the working dogs on the BackTrack farm in Armidale, to tell me about how he became involved. Many years ago, Marcus worked in mechanical engineering in Ballina and had a friend who was doing street work with young people in that community. When the opportunity arose to drive the night bus, Marcus agreed to take it on, beginning a lifelong love of being at the coal face of youth work. He has since worked in juvenile justice and understands just how important it is to get to these kids before they find their way there.

Marcus grew up in a family business run by his grandfather who lived the ethos that BackTrack promotes - to ensure work opportunities are made available to those that would otherwise not get them. “Work is what gives us pride and sense of meaning in our lives, not to mention a means to survive,” he says. “I feel like young people learn so much through the trade and apprenticeship process. It can be a rite of passage to learn who you are.”

Marcus reflects on the relationship that BackTrack has had with TFN over a number of years. Their last pitch, to an enthusiastic crowd at the Social Enterprise World Forum in Brisbane, raised over $82,000. “It was so incredible to meet that many people - effectively it’s a year’s work done at that one TFN event.” Trust-based giving is something Marcus is passionate about, “Trust-based giving is at the heart of what we like to do. We build a connection, trust and understanding with all our relationships.” The connections that emerged from the TFN experience have been significant for BackTrack, especially in the last 12 months. And while the funding is crucial, it’s also the pro bono support and that has made a really big impact on what they’re doing. 

It takes an organisation like BackTrack who consistently turn up every day for young people to chip away at barriers and build sustainable opportunities and consistent care that make this difference. And now with 8 organisations in the BackTrack network, Marcus hopes TFN can be a rite of passage for each of them, providing a crucial ingredient to establish those important connections and sharpening the vision of what they aim to do. 


Written by Jacinta Parsons for The Funding Network