DR TESSA BOYD CAINE
Deputy CEO at the Australian Council Social Service
Recipient of the 2013 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?
The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) is the peak body for community services and a voice for people experiencing poverty and inequality in Australia.
Describe a typical day's work.
A typical day involves speaking with members about current developments in the sector, to help them understand the implications for their organisation or to inform our advocacy on an issue. Although we don’t provide direct services we often get contacted by people needing information about welfare payments or a social service, which we take time to understand in terms of their particular needs to refer appropriately. Most days involve some contact with the media, either because we’ve released a new report or in response to a social policy announcement. We have a great team in the office and meet regularly to plan our next event or publication, to de-brief on policy issues or to strategise our approach to an emerging priority. And because we have a small team, there’s lots of the regular work of running a community organisation, across personnel, finance and reporting to funding bodies.
How did you come to be working in the not-for-profit sector?
It wasn’t a clear path at the outset but in hindsight, my work has always revolved around public education and social justice. I started working in a public education institute at a university and became really interested in criminal justice, particularly how women, Aboriginal people and young people were so over-represented in the prison system. I went on to work in mental health in the criminal justice system and saw how the lack of adequate services in the community contributed to much harsher than necessary treatment of people in prisons and secure hospitals. It was while I was overseas doing my PhD on mentally disordered offenders that I began working for international human rights organisations (NFPs).
I get incredible job satisfaction working towards outcomes I think are socially important and those values are shared by lots of people working in the NFP sector. The people in this sector are smart, driven and committed. I also like the intellectual freedom, creativity and independence of working in this sector.
What do you feel is most needed to sustain and build the impact of the not-for-profit sector?
The community sector excels at identifying need, either in individuals or communities, and coming up with innovative ways to meet those needs. But for various reasons, we don’t invest in ways to improve our effectiveness, our innovation, or our people. That might be because need is often great and resources small, but at a certain point that becomes a false economy. The NFP sector in Australia now comprises 5% of GDP and growing. It contributes 8% of employment nationally and social and human services are one of the key growth industries. We need to invest in our people, our systems and our approaches to ensure all of that work is as effective as it needs to be, for people and their communities.
What is something interesting / unique / unusual about you?
I’m an ultimate frisbee-playing criminologist.
Click here to read about other ASF scholars.
Click here to read more about the Fulbright Professional Scholarship in Non Profit Leadership.