MERCURY SERIES: MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Melissa Ljubic's passion for social justice has taken her from her St Mary's College classroom across the world.
Now aged 23, she has served with charities in the Illawarra, worked on conservation projects in South Africa and secured an internship on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Unsurprisingly, Ms Ljubic was named the inaugural Illawarra Business Woman of the Future earlier this year.
She was recognised by the Illawarra Women in Business judges for her leadership at school, university and in the community and also for her compassion for other people and conservation.
Ms Ljubic's interest in social justice began during her school years at St Mary's, where she organised activities including a hush-a-thon to raise money for a Catholic development organisation.
"The participants made a mini vow of silence to empathise with those who have a voice but cannot make it heard," she said.
"For this sacrifice they collected sponsorship. The teachers were very pleased with the quiet that I generated within the school and that year we raised around $3000."
Motivated by her success, Ms Ljubic took her interest in social justice to university where she initially enrolled in a Bachelor of Medical Science and a Bachelor of Commerce.
"I had these noble ideas about becoming a doctor and working with Doctors Without Borders," she said.
However, she turned her focus back to economics, which had been her favourite subject at high school. She is now in her final year of Bachelor of Arts/ Bachelor of Commerce degrees at the University of Wollongong.
She has continued her community service through the university's Black Opal leadership program and Rotaract.
"From these experiences I was able to get my first internship at a welfare organisation, Anglicare Illawarra," she said.
"My time at Anglicare showed me that poverty is not an abstract concept. It is not limited to poor countries. It is right here in Wollongong. But we hide it well."
Ms Ljubic said her time at Anglicare showed her how lucky she was to have had a good education and to have been blessed with parents who had always encouraged her to study hard and follow her passion.
"I still do emergency relief work ... but now as a volunteer for the St Vincent de Paul Society," she said.
During a talk to the Illawarra Women in Business conference last week, Ms Ljubic showed images of herself reluctantly abseiling down Table Mountain in South Africa, where she had volunteered to help with conservation efforts.
In the process she was also able to fulfil a dream of visiting the country of one of her heroes, Nelson Mandela.
"I went there as part of a group with International Student Volunteers," she said.
Ms Ljubic shared a hut with six others and helped refurbish animal enclosures important to South Africa's conservation efforts.
Her internship on Capitol Hill could not have been more of a contrast.
A year into her political studies, she was one of 12 chosen from a field of 50 applicants from 10 Australian universities to experience the US political system.
Her next adventure will be a trip as a youth ambassador to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day in 2013.