Conservation Systems Adviser at Bush Heritage Australia
Recipient of the 2015 Fulbright Professional Scholarship in Non-Profit Leadership, funded by the Origin Foundation and supported by the Australian Scholarships Foundation
What sort of work does your organisation do?
Bush Heritage is a national non-profit organisation conserving biodiversity in Australia. We do this by buying and managing land of outstanding conservation value, and working in partnership with other landowners. We help protect native habitats on millions of hectares of the most ecologically important landscapes.
Describe a typical day's work.
My role aims to improve the way Bush Heritage plans, implements and monitors its conservation projects, by using standardised process and systems. A typical day involves collaborating with other staff, volunteers, and colleagues in the broader conservation community. Conversations with staff revolve around how aspects of our processes and systems work, or don’t work! These processes and systems are constantly evolving and we need the insights from people using them to help improve them. We are fortunate to have some dedicated volunteers who support our underlying systems, and I work with them to define requirements and test new features. I am also in regular email collaboration with people around the world who are using the same process and system; these chats range from developers in the US through to people applying the systems to projects in the Amazon. This flow of ideas helps all of us improve the way we do our work.
How did you come to be working in the not-for-profit sector?
Most of my career has been spent in the commercial world, firstly in a range of roles the Information Technology industry and then in corporate strategy roles in Financial Services. This work was always interesting and rewarding, and I was very happy with the friendships and lifestyle that it provided. But eventually the feeling that “there was something missing” became overwhelming; my work helped to keep the wheels of industry turning, but I wanted to have a stronger connection to something that advanced the human condition.
I opted to look for a role that was more closely connected with my passion for nature conservation - to make some small contribution towards saving the planet for future generations. I was lucky to find a role at Bush Heritage which provided the opportunity to combine my skills and interests. My initial role was a general management position overseeing finances and administration, and at the outset I expected to stay a few years then return to the commercial world. Ten years later I’m still at Bush Heritage, now in a very different role, and playing my small part in protecting the planet.
What do you feel is most needed to sustain and build the impact of the not-for-profit sector?
I often characterise the NFP sector as “high on endeavour but low on resources”; I constantly meet smart and dedicated people who are achieving amazing things with very limited resources, especially in comparison to the commercial world. In the conservation sector this is doubly amazing given that in general it lacks many of the standardised tools and processes that are taken for granted in the commercial world, and which help make businesses efficient and effective. Until recently every conservation organisation has had its own way of doing its work, generally with little or no systems support for managing information; new recruits have to climb a steep learning curve before becoming productive, and originations struggle to prove the value of their work. Additionally, a lot of effort goes into “reinventing the wheel” to define tailor-made processes unique to each organisation. This is slowly changing, with the advent of a standard process for defining and managing projects (called the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation) and supporting software (Miradi). There’s still a long way to go, but the conservation sector is starting to attain a much higher level of efficiency and effectiveness, capable of measuring the impact of its actions.
What is something interesting / unique / unusual about you?
I love to travel to places where animals outnumber humans by a large margin, to get some insight into how the world operated before we became the dominant species, and think about how we might build a happier co-existence. For example I’ve just spent a few weeks in the back blocks on Kenya, watching lions and leopards go about their daily lives, while the local people manage their livelihoods around them. An example to us all.
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