About Us

Why We Exist

Many men are taught that they need have it all figured out and that emotions are a sign of weakness. They’ve learned to bury their feelings and deny their fears.


Whether it’s poor mental health, suicide or increasing rates of domestic violence, it’s clear that this narrative is no longer serving us. Our research suggests that four key factors appear to be driving this narrative.


These factors need to be addressed to transform the current state of masculinity in Australia:

Male Mental Health

Male Mental Health

1/5 boys are likely to experience depression before they are 18. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under the age of 25 and 75% of suicides are committed by men. Research suggests that this is perpetuated by outdated and ill-equipped systems men have in place for dealing with these challenges.

Gender Inequality (Men's Roles Specifically)

Gender Inequality (Men's Roles Specifically)

Gender inequality consistently predicts higher rates of violence against women. This is driven by violence against women being condoned, men’s control of decision making, rigid gender roles and stereotypical constructions of masculinity and femininity. Australia is ranked 35 out of 144 countries on the Global Gender Gap Index (2017).

Hyper-masculine Identity

Hyper-masculine Identity

“The Man Box” is a set of beliefs, communicated by society, parents, families, peers and the media that apply pressure to be a ‘real man’. These pressures tell men to be entirely self-sufficient, to act tough, to be physically attractive, to stick to rigid gender roles, to be heterosexual, to have sexual prowess and to use aggression to resolve conflicts.

Relationships & Connection

Relationships & Connection

Research by beyondblue shows that 1/2 of all males are not satisfied with the number of social connections they have and 1/3 are not satisfied with the quality of their relationships. Providing males with the tools to help them initiate a deeper level of conversation, especially across generations, including being able to talk about their problems and difficulties, should help to improve their satisfaction with the quality of their relationships.

Collectively, mental health and domestic violence costs the Australian
economy over $50bn per year. We believe it is time to invest in
preventative measures.

Our Philosophy

Our programs provide opportunities for young men, often for the first time in their lives:

To realise that their daily challenges are widely shared;

To redefine their experience of masculinity not as silence, isolation and indifference, but rather openness, vulnerability, trust and mutual responsibility;

To develop their emotional toolkit to powerfully deal with the challenges of life; and

To develop interpersonal skills that help them foster the important relationships they want and need.

We achieve this by creating emotionally-rich ‘male positive’ sharing environments, intentionally built to create trust, confidentiality and peer support. These environments are grounded in best practice and the latest research on positive psychology, social and emotional intelligence, personal identity, ‘masculinities’, mental health and youth work.

Research shows that such experiences build self-esteem, develop emotional and social intelligence, increase mental and physical wellbeing, build resilience and, ultimately, help our boys and young men lead a life of connection, purpose and positive impact.

Our parent/teacher/community workshops further strengthen the outcomes above by helping build a supportive community in which our boys can realise their full potential.

Our Approach

We are experts in youth-engagement strategies and facilitation

Our programs are tailored to suit each group’s specific outcomes

We combine evidence-based research with emotional connection

Our work is primary prevention and provide students with tangible skills

Our programs are co-designed with mental health experts and young people

We aim for long-term engagement and positive behaviour change

How The Man Cave Works

Our workshops create a safe space for courageous conversations that:

DECONSTRUCT

‘Traditionally’ held views of masculinity, the influence of mass media, the behaviour role-modelled around them, and the impacts of social pressures on identity, mental health and relationships.

CHALLENGE

The boys and young men to be actively present, to be vulnerable and real, to build authentic relationships, and positively impact the world around them.

REDEFINE

Their personal sense of self, of place and their abilities to make choices that positively impact their journey to lead a life of connection, purpose and positive impact.

We are proudly partnered with, and auspiced under, YMCA Victoria.

The Team

Hunter Johnson

CEO

Hunter Johnson is CEO of The Man Cave. Hunter has a diverse background in emotional intelligence, youth leadership and social entrepreneurship having facilitated programs with over 20,000 young Australians across the country with HeadQuarters Australia, FYA, Kids in Philanthropy (KIP) and YMCA Victoria. Hunter is a 2018 Queens Young Leader, Winner of the 2017 Emerging Leader of the Year Award by Third Sector Australia, Finalist for the 2017 Leadership Category of the Victorian Young Achiever Awards and an Honouree of the JCI Australia Ten Outstanding Young Persons Award.

Joel Lazar

Head of Operations

Joel Lazar is Head of Operations at The Man Cave. Previously, Joel spent a few years honing his craft in commercial law at one of Australia’s leading law firms. Joel has lead a colourful and passionate life, including as an educational program designer, editor and project manager (Stand Up), a youth leader and facilitator (Hineni Youth & Welfare), a human rights law intern (ISHR, Geneva) and a script writer (Castan Centre for Human Rights Law).  In every societal endeavour, Joel cares foremost about two questions: What is our purpose? What is our impact? These questions continually guide his work at The Man Cave. In his spare time, Joel plays a fierce game of table tennis, writes obscure poetry, and is a regular cantor at his local synagogue.

Matt Defina

Head of Programs

Matt Defina is Head of Programs at The Man Cave. Matt is a registered Psychologist, specialising in Organisational Psychology. This field has given Matt the knowledge, skills and experiences necessary to create organisations and community environments that allow people to thrive. His research includes understanding the balance of gender attributes required to be an effective modern leader and how to reduce burnout and increase engagement in organisations. Matt has worked in change management at PwC, built and facilitated crisis simulations at Business Olympian and coached the next generation of young Victorian hockey players. Matt is constantly finding ways to push himself and has Scuba dived around the world, trekked to Mount Everest Base Camp, completed a 10 Day Vipassana meditation retreat and is currently training for an Ironman.

Mandy Kota

Digital and Social Media Coordinator

Mandy believes that social media is a powerful tool for positive change in people’s lives and she has a history of managing a number of businesses striving for positive social change, including One Roof and Engine House. Mandy is an Australian Accredited Facilitator and currently facilitates for The Rites of Passage Institute and Flourish Girl, an organisation she founded which focuses on empowering teenage girls. Mandy is also a qualified speech pathologist and in her past life supported children with a range of communication difficulties.

Facilitators

None of the work we do with boys and young men would be possible without our facilitators who come from a wide range of backgrounds including coaching, youth facilitation, psychology, consulting, journalism and the law. What unites them all is they are exemplary role models for boys and have a powerful ability to create safe spaces for boys to connect with themselves and others in order to become great men. All our facilitators undergo regular and rigorous facilitation training with some of Australia’s leading youth facilitation experts and have valid Working With Children Checks.

The Board

Michaela Healey

Michaela is a founder of the International Women’s Forum Australia, a member of Chief Executive Women and Vice President of Berry Street, Victoria’s leading provider of care and support for children who have experienced trauma or family difficulties. She was previously Group Executive, People Communications & Governance at the National Australia Bank Group, responsible for people, leadership, culture, corporate responsibility, government affairs, communications, legal and governance.

Michaela was also a founding director of ShareGift Australia, a not-for-profit that enables shareholders to convert their shares into cash for tax deductible donations to a charity of their choice, and an advocate in the establishment of the Big Issue Homes for Homes initiative. As a mother of a teenage son and a director of Berry Street, Michaela is aware of the pressures and challenges young men face and the importance of the development of skills to navigate life. After many years in board rooms Michaela now seeks to spend more time out in nature on her stand up paddle board or in her vegetable garden. Michaela is also an aspiring apiarist and yogi.

Ian Ward-Ambler

Ian contributes widely to the community, and carefully considers each role before accepting. Mission alignment for him is imperative but it’s also about ensuring he can make a contribution (and learn much in the process!) In addition to Chair and Board Director at The Man Cave, Ian is Deputy Chair, Voyages Indigenous Tourism (Ayers Rock Resort) and Chair, Mutitjulu Foundation; Trustee Director and Investment Committee member, CBA Group Superannuation Fund; Board member and Chair, Finance and Audit Committee at Trinity College; Council Member and Chair, Investment Management Committee at Melbourne Grammar School; Advisory Board Member, Indigenous Leadership, Excellence and Achievement Program (I-LEAP) at Melbourne University; and Director, Foundation Five Nine.

Ian is also an executive coach.

Ian spent much of his career in Finance, retiring in 2012 from Goldman Sachs, as Head of the Asset Management Division. He is the former Chair of Hands on Learning and former Vice Chair of ANROWS. Ian is a family man, married with four children. His passions include travel, golf and enjoying life to the fullest.