Lisa Cunningham is the CEO of the Wirrpanda Foundation, which aims to improve the quality of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. The Foundation places priority on employing local Aboriginal role models who are empowered to build capacity in their own communities. Prior to being CEO of the Wirrpanda Foundation, Lisa was State Manager for AFL Sportsready. Lisa is a Leadership WA Signature Program Alumni from 2009.
The Wirrpanda Foundation started in 2007 with 3 staff and one local program and has grown to 60 staff (87% Aboriginal) and a nation-wide focus (including a presence in the Pilbara, Goldfields, South West, Great Southern and the Wheatbelt). While some not-for-profits have struggled to maintain momentum, let alone grow, the Wirrpanda Foundation has soared. Lisa uncovers what she believes was her secret.
“We believe, do the work and then success will follow. That’s how we established ourselves. We have grown organically, which is fundamental in this space.”
A key part of the Foundation’s strategy is to focus their efforts not only where they are needed in the community today but looking in to future needs.
“Closing the Gap targets have been used to shape the development of programs. An early established program was centred around employment, specifically with Bunnings. The program gave the opportunity for to source a job that could be a life changing opportunity, often creating a ripple effect through the community.”
But the success of the Foundation isn’t just down to targeted programs; a key component is the Foundation’s ability to be agile. At the time of this interview, the Foundation’s aim was to “improve the quality of live for indigenous people through education, employment, justice and sport”.
When mentioned to Lisa, she confirmed the agility of the Foundation with recent additions to the Foundation’s aim.
“We are enhancing the strategic direction of the Foundation by focusing on two specific areas: employment and education.”
Lisa believes by strengthening the specific focus of the Foundation, there is a greater ability to have a meaningful impact in the community.
“I think our challenge is to understand and concentrate on what our strengths are and enhance our offering, rather than attempting to be everything to everyone.”
In growing the Foundation, Lisa has concentrated not only on the Foundation’s purpose and aspirations, but the broader community. Not-for-profits are plentiful in the community and it is understood that there are areas for cohesion and areas for specialisation.
“Our overall mission is to improve the lives of First Australians. That’s the big picture, but then further down, we really are looking at getting kids to attend school, and maintain engagement through to our employment programs. For assistance outside of our scope such as; mental health or housing needs, we have partnered with organisations for their support and help.”
“We have recognised that there are specialists in providing housing assistance, that will be able to provide premium assistance outside of our capacity. We want to partner with organisations that have varied expertise to assist in achieving our overall goals. It is a matter of determining where the organisation’s strengths are and knowing that you are valuable and respected in that area, and can enhance the organisation’s offering by building relationships and partnerships with additional diverse organisations.”
The Foundation’s approach to agility didn’t come by accident. They engaged a consultant to take them through their Belbin profiles – a methodology that considers the strengths of different people in a team, acknowledging the importance of a diversity of skills and personality types.
“As the needs of the community changes, we transform and change as well. We have established a team that is diverse and unique. We all worked together to construct the new vision and mission.”
Lisa has also focused on reviewing and modifying the structure of the organisation.
“We have progressed from the traditional hierarchical model, rather, creating circles with the participants centred in the middle. The participants are our main focus with the remainder of the circle formed by the resources required to provide the participant the best support and assistance.”
That leaves Lisa to focus on her role as a leader within the organisation.
“The biggest part of my role is empowering, enabling and training our team. We have had team members move on to incredible opportunities from the Foundation, it is important that we inspire and develop role models in the community that are working to the same goal.”
This focussed vision, innovative structure and culture of empowerment lets the staff do what they do best – improve the life quality of indigenous people. But many issues faced by the community require a holistic approach to problem solving. Many of the people who are helped by the Foundation find themselves in spiralling situations due to problems which can initially seem minor, but without support, can branch out into more complex problems which are harder to solve. For example, many people who rely on the Foundation do not have a driver’s license due to outstanding fines.
“We get to know all of our participants and understand their current situation, including whether they hold a valid driver’s licence. Often in today’s workforce holding a driver’s licence can greatly assist with finding employment.”
Lisa believes that most vital pathway to improving the lives of indigenous people is early education.
“Education is critical not only for personal development but also to ensure that there are chances for employment. We have seen examples of positions being replaced by technology, for example, the automation on mine sites. There is a need for science and technology in schools to educate students and provide them an understanding of potential career opportunities in the future.”
A vital component of what makes the Foundation a success is trust in the indigenous community.
“Trust and respect is very important to the Foundation, we value the continuing engagement from the community and the Indigenous people. Without trust the Foundation would find it challenging to succeed.”
“In the early days, we used a fly in fly out model, but with collaborative feedback from participants and staff we realised that we would not be successful with this model. We did not want to be seen telling people how to do things and later flying out. We now only employ local team member in our regional programs. This model guarantees local knowledge and understanding with respect from and connection to the community.”
“We understand that a Foundation could have endless resources, but if people don’t trust us or want to engage then it is felt we couldn’t truly make a difference.”
Lisa is a graduate of the Leadership WA Signature Program, which she completed in 2009. Lisa still feels connected to her Alumni, almost ten years later.
“It has been ten years next year, and I could pick up the phone to any of them and ask them something and they would assist me.”
Lisa credits the Program with helping her better understand the complex social fabric of Western Australia. She says there were things she learnt on the Program that are were vital to understanding Western Australia, that they should be taught in schools.
“We went to see the incredible rock art in the Burrup Peninsula, which many people do not know exists. We deal with teachers that are anxious to talk about Indigenous culture, in case they make a mistake. As a result, many may not talk about it at all.”
“Wouldn’t it be great if an elder from the region came into the primary or high schools to speak with kids and share their incredible stories?”
After 11 years of growth, we asked Lisa whether she foresaw the Foundation growing even further over the next ten years.
“I think we will grow. I envisage significant growth and the expansion of offerings through partnerships and collaborations.”
“The future of the Foundation is emergent, we’re on the same page and striving for the same thing. It will be important that growth does not become unsustainable as the quality of impact within the community is the most important thing.”
As a final question, we asked Lisa what the biggest challenge would be for the Wirrpanda Foundation going forward.
“Our biggest challenge is measuring our impact. I think that’s a challenge of all not-for-profits.”
“That’s what we’re working towards. If you keep engaged with somebody through their education, continuing right through to their employment, then you can measure an impact.”
Jessica Machin has worked in the arts sector across Australia in a wide variety of senior leadership positions including as a CEO, Artistic Director, General Manager as well as an Actor, Producer and Lecturer. She is currently the Executive Director of West Australian Ballet, and is the former CEO of Country Arts WA. Jessica completed Leadership WA’s Signature Leadership Program in 2010.
If there is one thing Jess Machin believes in, it’s the value of the arts to all communities across Australia. Through her varied work in the arts sector, it’s been Jessica’s role to enrich the community with the arts. Indeed, Jessica believes the arts to be as vital to communities as hard infrastructure.
“The arts powers the community in a different way,” Jess said.
“The Country Arts WA model was about supporting the arts engine room in communities across the state.”
When reflecting on the Leadership WA’s Signature Leadership Program, Jess said that is helped to grow her professional networks outside the arts industry.
“The program really appealed to me because of the network of peers. I had a very strong arts network, but I didn’t have a very diverse network in WA. I love the diversity across industries and sectors represented in the program.”
“I also loved Leadership WA’s other value of giving back and wanting to make WA a better place through the Skillsbank program.”
“On the first day of the Program I met someone who’s now a Superintendent in the police force, and we both looked at each other and said, ‘we’ll never be friends.’ It didn’t take us long to become close pals.”
“It was amazing being exposed different leaders and having an opportunity to discuss their insights without judgement. It was a really seminal moment. I still draw on what I learnt there.”
The Signature Leadership Program didn’t take long to pay off for Jess. When Jess started at Country Arts WA, the then State Government injected a much-needed $80 million into WA arts through the Ignite funding program. Since that initial investment, Jess has continued to advocate the Government on behalf of regional arts.
When Jess began to put together her pitch to the State Government for increased regional arts funding in 2010, her fellow Signature Leadership Program graduates were the first people she went to and many of them formed part of a leadership group. I had Leadership WA Alumni from everywhere, from Corrections to Health. Many of them worked with me on a big Regional Arts Conference ‘Open Your Eyes’, held in Geraldton in 2011.”
“The result of this conference was the creation of a Regional Arts Manifesto 2029, which in turn informed the Vote Arts Campaign in the lead up to the 2013 state election where we gained bi-partisan support and worked very closely with the Chamber of Culture and the Arts. We got a pre-election commitment to put an injection of money into regional arts. In total it took five years, but it resulted in an additional $24 million investment into regional arts through the Royalty for Regions funding program.”
While regional arts play a vital role in helping a community tell its story, it also presents a significant economic opportunity.
“There are world-class artists and events happening across Regional WA that are great attractors for tourists. For example, the Boyup Brook Country Music Festival started on the back of a truck with a 600-person audience. Now it’s a major festival that attracts over 20,000 people. It’s a great economic amplifier.”
With such a disparate population, though, it was important for Jess to ensure Country Arts WA was truly representing its members, a challenge for any Perth-based organisation. In order to make sure that Country Arts WA wasn’t Perth-focused in its thinking, its board was composed of regional members from across the State.
“A regionally-representative board gives relevance. We would regularly organise a regional arts conference and festival that would bring everyone together.”
“From time to time there were some communities that felt they weren’t being heard, and you needed to listen and then find out ways you could help.”
Now as the Executive Director of West Australian Ballet, Jessica faces a different set of challenges – namely moving from a service-based membership organisation in Country Arts WA, to developing and executing artistic productions, and an extensive community and education engagement program.
“Producing work comes with its own risks, because people have to buy tickets. There’s always a risk associated with that. We have to raise a lot more money.”
“But it has been an absolute joy to work directly with artists again. I started my career as an actor, and dance has always been a big love of mine.”
While not a dancer by trade herself (Jess trained as an actor at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), and has worked in theatres across Australia), she has a history with the form. Whilst at WAAPA she was taught by Australian ballet great Lucette Aldous AC.
This knowledge of ballet, along with extensive experience working with Artistic Directors, has informed her professional relationship with Aurélien Scannella, the Belgian-born Artistic Director of West Australian Ballet.
“There is a co-leadership model at West Australian Ballet, where I’m responsible for the business side, and Aurélien for the artistic. We work together as co-leaders of the organisation.”
Jess brings a wealth of knowledge in fostering the arts in Regional WA and in communities.
“One of my core focuses is access and our engagement in the community. Our mission is to enrich people’s lives through dance, so we’ve been building our regional program.”
“We’ve initiated regional touring in 2017, and we’ll be doing another regional tour in March 2019 to Kalgoorlie, Karratha, Port Hedland and Mandurah.”
“It’s really important that people living in a regional community have access to the same quality of experience as anyone in the City.”
But Jessica isn’t just bringing ballet to Regional WA.
“Internationally, we’ve developed an Indo-Pacific strategy, and we’ve just performed at the Shanghai Dance Festival, and in 2020 we’re aiming to do a major China tour. We’ve been working in Indonesia since 2016 and, similar to our regional model, we’ll be partnering with local organisations in building capacity and international cultural exchange.”
“It’s an interesting time because the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are doing a review of their Soft Power strategy, and arts and culture can play a key role there. We recently performed at the Heath Ledger Theatre with the Beijing Dance Academy as part of China’s National Day supported by UWA’s Confucius Institute.”
As one of Australia’s three major ballet companies, and the oldest professional ballet company in Australia, Jess believes the organisation has a responsibility to the community and to the arts sector that goes beyond just accessible performances.
“As a Major Performing Arts Company in Australia, we have a responsibility to be a leader in our field and impact the rest of the state in a positive way.”
As well as contributing to a sustainable arts industry in WA by collaborating with small to medium companies, the Western Australian Ballet studios are a community asset that can be used by local groups, from Public Dancing Classes to organisations devoted to treating disease.
“Community groups like Dance for Parkinson’s Australia use our studios weekly. Dance has been shown to arrest the development of Parkinson’s Disease and give relief of the symptoms. Every Friday for two hours people who have the disease come and they dance.”
“We also have a program for schools and communities that don’t have access to the arts due to isolation, and we’ve just trialled some programs and workshops for kids with disabilities, which were really successful.”
One of the key features of ballet is its European roots. But Jess doesn’t see the program as being restricted by tradition. As well as the classical ballets like The Nutcracker, Western Australian Ballet has performed neoclassical ballets including The Great Gatsby, Dracula, and Radio and Juliet (a contemporary version of Romeo and Juliet, set to the music of Radiohead).
“Ultimately, we’re storytellers. We’re telling some very old traditional stories, but sometimes they’re retold in innovative contemporary ways.”
“Under Aurélien’s artistic directorship, we’ve been asking ‘how do you turn ballet into modern art?’, and ‘how do we build new audiences?’. With Radio and Juliet, we had men coming who had never been to the ballet before because they loved the music.”
“They had an image of ballet of just being tutus and men in tights; which it is on some level, but it actually is very exciting, very athletic, live art and actually can make some comment on a contemporary society.”
When Jess completed the Signature Leadership Program, one of her big takeaways was how the Program went beyond the standard wisdom.
“A big realisation was you can buy the Ten Tips to being a Good Leader at the airport, but leadership doesn’t work like that; everyone will give you a different version.”
“For me, it was really affirming that most leaders have had a very organic journey while being authentic to themselves.”
A key aspect of the Signature Leadership Program is self-reflection. For Jess, this is still an important part of her job as a leader.
“I take 15 minutes every three days to do some reflections on my leadership process.”
“It could be reading something, or just taking the time to reflect on a recent challenge and asking ‘how could I have done that better’?”
As a final question, we asked Jess what she would change about leadership in WA if she had a magic wand.
“I would like to see representation from the arts community in the key policy decisions that affect the state.”
“A dream would be to see a major arts investment integrated into areas such as tourism, education, local government, innovation and in the regions, as well as arts for art’s sake.”
Guy Chalkley is CEO of Western Power. He has worked across a diverse range of sectors in various continents including Asia, Africa, Europe, North and South America, and Australia. In 2013 he completed Leadership WA’s Signature Leadership Program, is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD), Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (FCCA) and is a member of CEOs for Gender Equity.
With its vast open spaces, low population density, harsh weather, delivering first-class utilities across Western Australia has always been a challenge. Increasingly, these challenges are being solved through innovation. But according to Guy Chalkley, CEO, Western Power, West Australians have always found a way.
“If you travel through WA, it’s amazing to see where some of the wooden poles are, and consider how somebody actually managed to get them there in the first place. It’s pretty amazing to see somebody repair one that’s been taken down by a storm. I think it is part of the psyche of people from WA; it’s just something that they’ve driven through.”
But the old “tough it out” approach is changing with technological innovations across the State. These changes, in turn, are changing the ways regional towns operate. One example is Kalbarri; located 140km from Geraldton, the nearest power hub, Kalbarri often experiences outages due to extreme weather taking down the powerlines. To give Kalbarri’s energy supply greater reliability, Western Power, in collaboration with EMC and Lend Lease, are building a renewable energy-powered microgrid that kicks in if the Geraldton feeder line is interrupted.
“Kalbarri will show you can use the power of renewables and batteries to effectively create a grid that can eventually become self-sufficient. There is a future where they potentially don’t need the feeder line.”
“It’s not just a case of buying time to repair the line. It can be just as reliable without the line. Instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars replacing poles and wires, we’re thinking differently for our customers. That’s where we really want to focus on for the future.”
Western Power connects homes and businesses to energy through its network infrastructure, with 52% of overhead assets serving less than 3% of customers. There is an opportunity to provide customers with different energy solutions as technology evolves.
Many innovators and investors see WA’s size and sparse population as an ideal place to test new energy solutions.
“People are coming into WA to pilot their product and partner with us to put a workable, alternative solution on the ground. WA is in a unique niche position now, in that we can offer those innovators the sandpit and act as a test case for where they can actually place their products.”
“We’ve got extremely good sun, we’ve got pretty good wave, and we’ve got fairly good wind. So, from a renewables point of view, we’re a bit of a hotbed in terms of where people want to come to.”
With innovative energy projects across the State, including Carnarvon and Newman, it’s easy to see why innovation will transform WA’s energy distribution. Guy says that WA’s future energy needs will be met by a range of options and all will be led by innovation – whether the answer is microgrids, nanogrids, standalone power systems, or other solutions.
“Customer generally lead innovation, and innovation often gets in front of legislation, government policy and regulation, but then you’ve got such a shadow that can actually prove it works.”
“Uber would be a classic example. Uber happened, and people can fight and fight it and fight it, but at the end of the day they gave the customer an affordable option that was just as safe and reliable.”
For Guy, large scale battery technology could be the final thing needed to make renewables work from an infrastructure POV.
“The challenge with renewables is they are intermittent. They may be cheaper, but cheaper is no good if you need three times as many. Cheaper is no good if you haven’t got the reliability and the security surrounding it. But now we’re finding that battery storage will be the link that we’ve been waiting for.”
The network accommodates any type of generation from solar, wind and other renewables to more traditional sources. The grid will always be the connection that allows electricity to flow between generators, users and in the future – sharing between customers.
By championing self-sufficiency, innovative energy solutions also have the power to change how regional WA lives and operates. A current project at Perenjori, 350 kilometres north of Perth, offers a few hours of battery energy storage in case the town is cut off from the main energy supply.
“The real goal is, just because you’re in a more remote community, doesn’t mean you have to have a worse supply than someone in the metro area. That’s got to be the goal, that a remote or rural customer can have something just as good.”
It’s not just local innovations that WA can embrace. With 50% of the world’s lithium – an essential mineral for batteries – coming out of Greenbushes, WA is perfectly placed to position itself as a global innovation leader.
“There is always vagaries about how long the sun shines, the wind blows and when. The gamechanger was always going to be storage.”
And while the rise of lithium batteries has made home energy storage more affordable, the real gamechangers, according to Guy, are utility-scale batteries.
“The investment’s there and the batteries are getting bigger. They are getting put into the network. People are using them to take the intermittency out of renewables and making it storable.”
“We’ve got to harness that opportunity.”
Despite Guy’s handle on the complexities of energy distribution needs of Western Australia, his background is in British finance. But Guy doesn’t believe that puts him at a disadvantage. If anything, the diversity of experience helps.
“I’ve been fortunate in my career that I’ve worked in a lot of different industries, including two different utility industries – water and electricity.”
“It’s no different wherever you work. People are people. It’s the people who lead your businesses, and if you can get the most out of your people and teams, you’ll get a good outcome.”
The experience of working in Europe was particularly helpful for Guy to help Western Power to avoid mistakes that didn’t need to be made.
“The electricity industry in WA is in its fourth regulatory period. The UK was way into double figures. I could point to examples that wouldn’t work because they had been done overseas.”
But just because Guy had the experience, didn’t mean becoming a CEO in Western Australia didn’t require a leap of faith.
“As a leader in a new organisation, you’ve got to take a leap of faith that somebody below you is going to know more than you. You have to trust that they’re empowered, and you’ve got to then develop your own skills so you can offer different things at the table.”
“It’s a big leap of faith, and you’ll be scared the first time you do it because you want to be in the detail and you want to do it all because you can, but now you’re in a different role. It’s no different from a sportsperson becoming a captain or a private becoming a sergeant.”
Guy is an Alumnus of Leadership WA’s Signature Leadership Program. He graduated in 2013.
“I’d just arrived in Perth from the UK where I’d had a big network. I’ve met people out of Leadership WA and got a really good group of people that have moved on since being in Leadership WA.”
“I think the other one for me is I’m not academic. I’m not a somebody who can be lectured, I didn’t go to university, I didn’t want to go to university. The way the program is structured in an experience-based way works for me. I learn from experience. I learn from listening, I learn from using my eyes, and from talking to people.”
As a final question, we asked what Guy would change about leadership in WA if he could wave a magic wand.
“I’m a realist and a pragmatist, so I’m not good on magic wands, because I can’t see what I can’t see. But I think what’s really important is that we’re positive, that we believe, that we’ve got drive, and that we respect other people.”
“Someone asked me recently ‘if you had all of Elon Musk’s money, what would you do with it?’ The answer is you don’t need money. What you actually need is determination, drive, belief, enthusiasm, and positivity.”
Ashley Reid is the CEO of Cancer Council WA, which celebrates its 60th year of operation in 2018. Prior to his appointment at Cancer Council WA, Ashley was CEO of Ngala for five years. With over 20 years’ experience in the community and public sectors, Ashley has demonstrated a strong commitment to social justice and advocacy. Ashley is a graduate of Leadership WA’s 2007 Signature Leadership Program.
Over its 60 years of operation, Cancer Council WA has helped an immeasurable amount of people through its support services, investment in research, and advocacy for public health. But that good work and success isn’t just powered by good intentions. For CEO Ashley Reid, a clear mission is the first step to achieving a goal.
“I’ve seen organisations that get into the situation of chasing funding or chasing corporate support, rather than focussing on what they are there for. We have a very defined mission. Our purpose in our constitution is to reduce the incidence and impact of cancer on the WA community.”
“Of course, within that you can put almost anything. So we prioritise to bring our strengths and capabilities to making sure we achieve that purpose. The way we do that is the hard part.”
In the current economic environment, fundraising to achieve these goals is difficult. That’s why Ashley and Cancer Council WA use a message of hope to cut through.
“There have been huge gains made in the cancer field. The five-year survival rates for cancers when we were founded were around 30 to 40%. They’re now around 70%. For some of the more common cancers, the five-year survival rate is over 90%.”
“The gains have come through a huge investment in research, improved screening, improved diagnosis, improved treatment. So as much as we concentrate on our history and we want to honour our history, don’t live there. We’re a forward-looking organisation.”
Part of that forward thinking has included the organisation evolving to respond to broader changes in society.
“We used to be the holders of information. In a world of Google, no one owns information. It’s ambient. But it’s unfiltered.”
“We want to bring the best and most up to date information to people, whether it’s about treatment, how to prevent cancer, or the risk factors.”
“Cancer is one of those topics where as soon as you think you might have a risk or you’ve had a diagnosis, the first thing you do is go on Google, and the information you can receive is completely unfiltered. So we are needing to re-position ourselves as not being the holder of information, but being the credible filter.”
Cancer Council WA are also the largest non-government investor of cancer research in the state, and have invested more than $47 million of donor money to research since the establishment of their research program.
“We are the custodians of donor funds and our donors and supporters expect us to do good things with them. The reason why we’re trusted is because we’re very transparent and open about how we utilise donor funds. Our absolute key commodity is trust.”
None of these gains happen quickly, though. Advocating for behavioural change is one thing, but seeing results in the community can take decades and buy-in from the Government.
“We are up against significant barriers towards good public health. We have an unsustainable health system. We all pay for it. We’re in a modern first world country with high expectations of the health system, and resources are finite. So, when working with Government, we focus on the evidence. We say, ‘you can save billions of dollars by having a healthier population.’”
One area in which Cancer Council WA and other public health advocates have succeeded by taking a long-term, evidence-based approach is prevention of skin cancers. Melanoma rates for 18- to 39-year-olds have halved in a decade. But Ashley acknowledges the added difficulty of tackling public health concerns that have the weight of industry behind them, such as the tobacco industry.
“Tobacco control didn’t take one political cycle. It took 30 to 40 years, building the evidence, going up against industry, changing government policy, bringing community and social expectations along with us.”
“The tobacco evidence took a long time to build. But once it was known, you couldn’t argue it. Government then found it easier to enact policies that changed behaviour, because the evidence was non-arguable.”
“Lung cancer is still the greatest cause of cancer death in Australia, but we are down to the lowest adult smoking rates we’ve had ever. Even as recently as the year 2000, the adult smoking rates was 25%. It’s now 12% to 13%. We’ve made incredible gains over a long period of time.”
Ashley also sees challenges in the alcohol industry, with consumption of alcohol not only being culturally embraced, but contributing to thousands of cases of preventable cancer every year.
“We’re not saying no one should ever drink, but there are health guidelines around reducing high level alcohol intake and therefore lowering cancer risk. Should Cancer Council WA say something? Yes, because that’s what the evidence says.”
“We’re in discussions around advocacy in the junk food space, restrictions on advertising to kids, and a sugary drinks tax. These kind of things come up as a significant push against industry, but it’s also about us using the evidence to have a healthier community.”
A key component of ensuring long-term behavioural changes across society is effectively communicating the evidence. This, Ashley believes, is a vital activity of Cancer Council WA.
“Donors invest in us, we invest in the researchers, the researchers build evidence and our staff communicate that evidence in a way that ordinary people can understand.”
“We turn complex research into palatable, easily understood information that can help change behaviour.”
“We know up to a third of all cancers can be prevented by using sun protection, reducing alcohol intake, eating well, exercising, keeping your body weight down and not smoking. That’s a very powerful message, and not complex.”
Ashley has now been at Cancer Council WA for over a year and is still pinching himself about it.
“I still meet people who are so grateful for Cancer Council WA. I love this job. We get incredible trust from the community to do really amazing work with world class experts.”
“The fact that we are predominantly donor funded also gives us a lot of choice. Unlike organisations that might be more government funded, we get to do things unencumbered by others. It means we can be brave.”
One of the key strengths that Ashley brought on board was his experience in community involvement. Ashley believes that by working closer with the community, there can be better public health outcomes. One stark example of this is the different rates of smoking in different communities.
“If you look at the smoking rates in Cottesloe are about 7%, but in some remote Aboriginal communities, they’re 60%.”
“We need to be focused on some of our more disadvantaged and vulnerable community members to make sure those education messages get through.”
Ashley is an Alumnus of Leadership WA’s Signature Leadership Program, graduating in 2007.
“When I did the program I was at a point in my career where I needed to expose myself to good people, good thinkers, different sectors and parts of the industry.”
“It’s probably the best program I’ve ever done.”
“It’s an opportunity to really both question your own views of things, and be challenged with new ideas and new thoughts. The people on it were awesome, smart people at points in their careers where they were aspiring to lead teams and run organisations. There was a great energy. I built some really strong relationships with my cohort. We caught up recently for our tenth anniversary, which was just fantastic.”
“I’ve still got the notes I took. I look at them occasionally and think, wow, that was one of those turning point experiences. It was the kind of development of that self-awareness that I really enjoyed.”
For Ashley, the emphasis on the time given for self-reflection was incredibly valuable, and something he carries with him to this day.
“We’re in an environment where everyone’s flat out. We don’t give ourselves permission to think, to contemplate.”
“We treat taking time to think as a luxury, whereas it’s actually the core part of what we’re here to do. We need to discern deeply on complex things. We never have enough time or resources or information, and yet we have to make decisions that will affect both the organisation, the people we employ, and the people we serve. That is a profound responsibility. Leadership WA taught me that giving myself time to think is not a luxury; it’s essential.”
As a final question, we asked Ashley if this approach still feeds into his management style all these years later.
“I hope so. I talk to our management team about how time to think is not a luxury. It’s an essential part of our job, because we’re all smart, all talented, but we’ve only got so many hours in the day.”
“Modern organisations are becoming more collaborative thinkers. There are moves to more self-managed teams and flatter structures with much less hierarchy. People feel much more valued in their jobs if they’re autonomous, without creating a risk for the organisation.”
“People come to Cancer Council WA because they want to change the world. They want to save lives. They want to contribute. They might have had a family experience or lost a loved one. There’s some motivation. Because many of our staff, and this applies to the whole not-for-profit sector, could go and earn more money elsewhere. Why do they come to us? They want to contribute. They want a sense of purpose. They want to see that their working lives are making a difference.”