The Benevolent Society has been empowering and supporting Australians to live their best lives since 1813.
As Australia’s oldest charity, the organisation has survived and thrived through two centuries’ worth of societal change.
For Lisa Chung, who has served on the board of The Benevolent Society since 2011, the role of Chair is “a great privilege.”
“I have inherited a legacy spanning 200 years over which time, we have supported, advocated for and assisted so many in need in our community in a number of ways,” Chung says.
“I take the responsibility very seriously and, with the current leadership of the board and senior management, strive to live up to this legacy in changing and challenging circumstances.”
G: How would you describe your own leadership style?
LC: My professional background is as a lawyer and, for over 20 years, I was a partner of law firms. Partnerships succeed when their leaders act in a collegiate and collaborative way to benefit the collective over the individual.
At a personal level, I am very relationship focused and so, I would describe my leadership style as collaborative and consensus driven, but decisive when required. It is very satisfying to be able to work with others collectively to achieve a joint positive outcome.
Why is diversity such a critical component of effective leadership?
Innovation is a much used word at present but it has featured consistently in the work of The Benevolent Society. Innovation involves applying different approaches and perspectives to difficult issues we are confronted with and diversity of gender, culture, age and so on enable us to apply a wider lens to find new solutions.
At The Benevolent Society, we deal with a wide range of human issues involving the full spectrum of the community and it is essential that our leadership team and people generally have an ability to see issues affecting our clients through their eyes.
What do you foresee as the biggest leadership challenges and opportunities facing the social sector in Australia?
This is a period of enormous change for the social sector. Changes to the way in which organisations in the sector will be funded in the future are significantly affecting them. There is significant cultural change required to alter an organisation’s orientation from one principally as a contractor to government to one focused on serving the needs of individual consumers.
These funding changes have also opened up opportunities for commercial organisations to deliver services in parts of the community previously the domain almost exclusively of not for profit organisations. To ensure that they remain financially sustainable, this places great pressure on not for profit organisations, that are generally much more constrained in terms of resources and capital to invest, to increase efficiency and ensure consistency in taking a professional approach.
At The Benevolent Society, we are taking these challenges head on, re-aligning our organisation and investing in ongoing training of our workforce and introducing and embedding technology based solutions to support and assist our people in their work.
Who are the leaders that influence you and why?
It’s not just “traditional” leaders who inspire me. Great leadership can be demonstrated in the most surprising ways and circumstances. I am most inspired by those who overcome great personal adversity and achieve great things while staying true to their own personal values. For me, humility, generosity and “soft” power or influencing skills are attractive traits in a leader. Those whom others choose to follow, rather than are made to follow, are the most compelling leaders. The best exemplification is Nelson Mandela.
Philanthropic funders are placing increasing emphasis on impact—how does The Benevolent Society measure its impact?
We are committed to ensuring that our services are being delivered in a way to have the greatest impact. We do this by taking an evidence based approach to our work, which involves review and evaluation of our own work and learning from the work of others. We also leverage our own expertise developed through the delivery of various services to undertake research, either independently or in partnership with others.
We measure impact through a focus on outcomes. We have developed an outcomes framework for all our programs with children and families so we can assess and improve the effectiveness of our work. We are now in the process of extending this to our work with older people and people with disability.
We are also interested in thinking about and influencing systems level impact through work including the Social Benefit Bond, our research on the adequacy of the aged pension and the wellbeing of older Australians.
We have a number of long standing relationships with significant philanthropic funders. It is over time that many of these funders are able to observe the work undertaken by The Benevolent Society to see first-hand the impact the work they have funded has had.
We are committed to and have invested in a number of ways to promote impact investing. We are financial supporters of Impact Investing Australia. Our social benefit bond in partnership with Westpac, CBA and the government of NSW is another example of impact investing and how to measure it.
Benevolent has been doing some great work to engage the next generation of givers – do you see pronounced differences between what these younger philanthropists expect of their relationship with the organisation?
Engaging and gaining the support of a new generation of philanthropists is something we are actively working on. Younger philanthropists often take a different approach to their parents’ generation and, for example, have different ways of communicating.
Ultimately though, what is a common feature is the relationship and trust between the organisation and its supporter base and whether our work and goals resonate with and are compelling to our supporters.