Pierre Johannessen

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Pierre Soheil Johannessen
Born (1982-09-11) 11 September 1982 (age 36)

Pierre Soheil Johannessen is an Australian Human Rights activist, journalist and recipient of the ACT Young Australian of the Year award for 2010.[1]

Pierre is the current CEO of the international NGO Big Bang Ballers [2] whose aim is to use the game of basketball to tackle poverty and social disadvantage. Pierre's expertise in international human rights and development was cemented with his involvement in an Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development posting in Bangladesh.[3]

An accomplished speaker and writer, Pierre has presented to schools, corporate groups, has had writing published and has been a Tedx speaker. [4]

Widely considered an expert in social, grass roots development, Pierre has coached and counseled charities worldwide through Johannessen Legal.


Early life[edit]

Born in war-time Iran in 1982, the son of an Iranian mother, Jaleh Hafezi Johannessen, and a Norwegian father, Per Johannessen. Raised in a household of UN Diplomats, Pierre was exposed at an early age to the harsh realities of war and poverty. At the same time he says his parents ensured he saw the incredible resilience and strength of the human spirit, from the Afghan refugees taking shelter on the Iran-Iraq border, to the incredible generosity and openness of Albanian refugees struggling to make a living in modern Greece.[5]

Having been brought up around the world, along the way picking up an American accent, a French name, a Fijian disposition and a love of all languages, not to mention a European appreciation of food, his mom and Pierre eventually settled in Australia after the untimely passing of his father.

Academic career[edit]

In spite of having spent the majority of his academic career in French-language schools, Pierre eventually established himself at Canberra Boys Grammar, diving into all the options presented to him and taking advantage of every opportunity to expand his understanding of and appreciation for other cultures.

He then attended the University of Canberra, studying both Law and Journalism, where in 2003 was named the president of the Isaacs Law Society. [6] In 2005, he received a scholarship to attend the University of Georgia, USA, where he was the 1st undergraduate student admitted into the prestigious UGA School of Law. Pierre's concentration was international civil, criminal and human rights law, presenting a paper on the scope, function and jurisdiction of international law on sovereign states.

On completion of his semester at UGA, Pierre was accepted into the Cornell University International Comparative Law Program at Universite Paris-I Sorbonne in Paris, France.

On return to Australia, he completed his Journalism degree, and began full-time employment as the Legislation Officer for the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing in Canberra, while continuing his legal studies.

Australian Youth Ambassadors for Development[edit]

In 2007, Pierre Johannessen was named an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development, and spent 12 months working and living in Bangladesh as a Resource Development and Communications Officer at Habitat for Humanity, Bangladesh.

Pierre was part of the AYAD DOcumentary, "No Ordinary Journey", which has been featured on the Australia Network worldwide.

Pierre has been an active supporter and spokesperson for the Ausaid-funded program since his return to Australia.

Australian volunteer Pierre Johannessen takes his turn on the rickshaw in Bangladesh, 2008. Photo- Pierre Johannessen (10675835314)

The Big Bang Ballers[edit]


In 2007, Pierre was accepted as an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development, and spent the next year working with Habitat for Humanity International, Bangladesh. From creating a marketing and fundraising platform to Program Evaluation to the development of Habitat Bangladesh's first disaster rehabilitation program, Pierre immersed himself in Bangladeshi language and culture, and successfully helped revamp the Resource Development Department of the organisation, ensuring the future sustainability of the program.

It was while on this assignment Pierre created the Big Bang Ballers. From just a team to a squad to a registered NGO, the Big Bangs grew from 4 boys playing basketball to a worldwide organisation using basketball to fight youth poverty and social disadvantage.

It all began on a dusty basketball court in Bangladesh.

Influenced by this father, Pierre always wanted to work in International Development. He now found himself in one of the poorest countries on earth, one least unable to help itself, which had just been hit by the worst cyclone in 3 decades. On visiting the worst affected areas, Pierre found himself at times so overwhelmed by the pain and destruction, the loss and helplessness felt by ordinary people. One night in Dhaka, when it all got too much, Pierre ran into someone who told him of a basketball court He hesitantly made my way to this place.

After playing with locals for a couple of weeks Pierre knew there was huge demand for a tournament; knowing the only way he could really compete was to do it themselves, Pierre and 3 friends organised "Hoops for Habitat", a charity tournament to raise money for Habitat for Humanity. They were told we could not secure a court and ended up convincing the International School, Dhaka to lend them theirs. They were told no foreigners would come; they had 12 teams full of embassy and company staff participate. They were told no locals would come; they had 14 teams made up of locals from all parts of town, people who traditionally never mingled. They were told no females would come, not in that culture; 4 teams solely of girls showed up, ready to play.

Their success that day fuelled their every activity thereafter; they coached teams, created tournaments, sponsored other teams and groups who wanted to run tournaments. Pierre helped the Bangladesh Basketball Federation promote a tournament, ran camps and clinics at schools and orphanages, all while increasing their volunteer base across the board, from school-kids, both foreign and local, to adults from all walks of life, all different types of communities and cultures they brought food and clothing and basketballs and school materials to schools and orphanages around the city, along the way creating partnerships and establishing teams in every corner of Dhaka.

Australian volunteer Pierre Johannessen explains his work with Habitat for Humanity to an Australian film crew. Bangladesh, 2008. Photo- AusAID (10675765675)

Big Bang Ballers today[edit]

Three years on the Big Bangs are bigger than ever, registering in Australia while conducting activities in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Philippines, with many more not far away. By running tournaments and camps, raising money and supplies for orphanages and schools, by running skills clinics and engaging in community activities such as Habitat builds, emergency pack delivery and fundraising for worthwhile causes, the Big Bangs have gone from strength to strength.

“It’s a tool we can use to teach kids about their surroundings. In basketball, if you don’t look after the people around you, you’re not going to be successful. It’s that simple. It’s not a man-on-man game, it’s not a one-person game; you can be the best player on the planet, but without a good team, you’re not going to win.” [7]

ACT Young Australian of the Year[edit]

In November 2009, Pierre was awarded the ACT Young Australian of the Year Award 2010 as CEO of the Big Bangs. Chief Minister Jon Stanhope presented Johannessen with the coveted award at the National Portrait Gallery recognising his tireless efforts in humanitarian aid globally. [1]

2015 University of Canberra Distinguished Alumni Awards[edit]

Pierre was awarded the Chancellor's Young Alumni Award Winner at the 2015 University of Canberra Distinguished Alumni Awards. [8]

Johannessen Legal & Migration[edit]

Pierre is a partner at Johannessen Legal & Migration. Johannessen Legal is a boutique firm based in Canberra, Australia. Practice areas include broad range of legal fields, from administration and constitutional law, through to property, contracts and corporations law.

The firm also provides accredited migration services, specialising in business migration to Australia from all over the world, as well as a focus on human rights and international law. Pierre overseas the NGO Support Program, which provides legal support of community-based charitable organisations.


External links[edit]