Chris Varney is Founder and Chief Enabling Officer of I CAN Network. Growing up with Asperger’s, Chris was inspired to start I CAN from the support his family, schools and mentors gave him, which he shared in his TEDx ‘Autism – How My Unstoppable Mother Proved the Experts Wrong’.
In the past year alone, I CAN Network has mentored 1,052 Autistic kids, teenagers and adults nationwide through schools, TAFEs, workplaces, camps and online programs. Since inception in 2013, I CAN Network has employed 34 Autistic people to deliver mentoring programs.
Chris has a background in children’s rights. Chris spent 11 years with World Vision Australia and World Vision International where his roles included Youth Ambassador, VGen Co-Director and Manager of Youth Supporters. VGen was instrumental in achieving commitments to fair-trade from big chocolate companies.
In 2009 Chris was Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations. In this role Chris successfully campaigned for the closure of the Magill Training Centre and created Dear Kevin: a book of 789 handwritten letters by children and young people given to then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Chris’ efforts as Youth Representative were recognised in this letter from then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Chris used the stories from Dear Kevin to inform his work on the steering committee of the Australian Child Rights NGO Taskforce. The Taskforce successfully influenced the creation of Australia’s national Children’s Commission.
In addition to I CAN, Chris is currently an advisor on Autism to the Queensland Government and is Patron of the Australian Association for Special Education.
- 2017 – Best Achievement Award in Human Rights, Supreme Court of Victoria Inspire Awards
- 2015 – Inspiration for Individual Achievement (Adult), Aspect Recognition Awards
- 2012 – National Award for Youth in Advancing the Legal Rights and Interests of Children and Young People, Children’s Law Awards
- 2012 – Future Justice Award, Future Leaders Awards
- 2011 – Student Alumni Award, Monash University
- 2014 – Monash Vice-Chancellor’s Social Inclusion Award
- 2013 – Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws (with Honours), Monash University
- EducationHQ, 2018, Autistic-led student mentoring program turns five
- Pro Bono Australia, 2018, Autism Bringing a New Perspective to Business
- ABC Online and ABC Lateline, 2017, Meet the ‘Mutants’: The students who wear their autism with pride
- The New Daily, 2017, From those with Asperger’s: ‘Don Burke, we are not your shield’
- The Age, 2017, Bringing the outsiders in: autistic pride
- Sydney Morning Herald, 2016, Students with disability shouldn’t be underestimated
- ABC News and ABC Australia Wide, 2015, I CAN Network program aims to inspire Victorian students on the autism spectrum
- Sydney Morning Herald, 2015, Education system failing students with Autism