Navigating the complexities of working in unpredictable environments is an essential skill for leaders in 2020. By challenging their own perspectives and drawing on new insights and experiences, they can bring benefits to their team, organisation – and in the case of the not-for-profit sector, the wider community.
Hepatitis New South Wales is a member-based, not-for-profit, health promotion charity working in partnership with the NSW government and other community, health and professional sector groups to
eliminate viral hepatitis in NSW by 2028. It’s an accelerated target that’s two years ahead of the World Health Organisation timeframe of 2030.
For Hepatitis NSW CEO, Steven Drew, eliminating the disease requires him to think differently about his role and how he can refocus his organisation for the future.
“We're working effectively towards the elimination of viral hepatitis, and also potentially the elimination of our own organisation, and that creates an incredibly dynamic environment,” he says.
Supporting leaders in the not-for-profit sector
In April 2020,
AGSM @ UNSW Business School introduced a suite of
Virtual Learning Short Courses to support leaders and organisations through the immediate and future impacts of COVID-19. The AGSM Rob McLean Awards in Executive Education was subsequently launched in July 2020, to specifically support leaders from the not-for-profit sector with scholarships to complete one of these courses.
As a scholarship recipient, Drew was attracted to AGSM’s Virtual Learning Short Course, ‘Leading an Organisation through Dynamic Environments’, because he is working toward a goal that is impacting his organisation. Drew was one of 15 other leaders who completed this two-week online program in August 2020.
“For many people on the course, the challenges of COVID-19 made it very timely. But for me it was also because of the other circumstances that we find ourselves in as an organisation,” Drew says.
“The elimination of viral hepatitis and the impact that makes to our organisation is a challenge but it's also an opportunity; the rewards are rich for our communities, particularly for people living with Hepatitis C. Being able to cure a disease within 40 years, and then get rid of it, means one less clinical health issue we need to fixate on. That's really rewarding.”
Hepatitis NSW provides information, support, resources, advocacy and representation for people who have lived experience of Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. The organisation also provides support and services to other people who may be affected by these diseases, including families, friends and supporters.
As this role becomes less critical, the organisation needs to be ready to adapt. For Drew, that means achieving its initial goals and then finding a way to shift focus onto related areas, such as other liver diseases, which haven't yet been a public health priority. He describes it as a dynamic process of learning from the past, focusing on the present and embracing the future.
The value of investing in leadership
Drew had been considering the idea of executive education for many years, but working in the not-for-profit sector, there were always higher priorities. But after hearing about the
AGSM Rob McLean Awards in Executive Education scholarship from a colleague, Drew was inspired to engage as he was certain this program would benefit his organisation. But one unexpected benefit was that it satiated a thirst for learning he’d forgotten he had.
"It really did reignite the flame of curiosity in my interests and the value of thinking. It gave me a fresh perspective, but also reminded me how enjoyable and valuable it is to do further study.”
Leading an Organisation through Dynamic Environments course helped Steven step away from the day-to-day running of the organisation and realise the value of professional development for leaders of not-for-profits and other community organisations like Hepatitis NSW.
He says that community-based and health-based not-for-profit organisations in particular are so committed to ‘the doing’, that they can forget about the bigger picture and how they’ll best achieve it.
“When you want to maximise your outcomes and really extract every bit of value out of your time, team and organisation, it's easy to forget about yourself. But we're not just investing in ourselves, we're investing in the organisation and the community,” he says.
“Undertaking professional development exposes you to contemporary thinking, new ideas and most importantly to a broader awareness of the skills that will shape your organisations future and within its industry sector as well.”
Flexibility around busy schedules
Drew was pleasantly surprised to discover how much higher education had changed since his undergraduate days, given his perception of a ‘narrower view’ offered by university courses in the past.
“When I first heard about the AGSM Rob McLean Awards in Executive Education and that it was for leaders in the not-for-profit sector, I expected it to be presented in a traditional delivery context,” he says.
After completing some research on other Short Courses on offer in the market, Drew decided AGSM @ UNSW Business School was the best choice in terms of flexibility and delivery format, as well as its reputation for programs that are rigorous and contemporary. The opportunity presented to him through this scholarship made these courses even more appealing.
“The fact that the Virtual Learning Short Course was delivered in an immersive and flexible format really appealed to me. You complete pre-readings before the live webinars, attend online presentations and then analyse, apply and discuss your learnings and the frameworks in online breakout groups.
Because so many people in the not-for-profit sector work inordinately long hours, time is valuable. “With the AGSM course, I could see a way of maximising my time and was able to fit this study around my professional and personal life,” says Drew.
He also found the knowledge and the skills the lecturers and conveners brought to the program extremely useful. “While working in an academic environment they are also embedding themselves within external organisations, so they have contemporary experiences and insights to share.”
Challenging leadership for better outcomes
While the AGSM Virtual Learning Short Course re-awakened Drew’s interest in learning, he also enjoyed the way the content challenged his concept of leadership. This has immediate and practical applications for his own organisation.
“We all want to be problem-solvers, we want to make life easier and help people achieve their outcomes faster and more effectively. So we tend to want to be the resolvers. But by doing that, it can limit the potential of the people we're trying to lead and support.”
“Taking this back to Hepatitis NSW, there are a number of challenging project and organisational situations where I would usually take a certain approach. Instead, I've stopped and considered what I can learn by watching, by looking, by asking questions, and by just being curious. I'm currently modelling this behaviour on the insights I gained from this course.”
Drew believes the Leading an Organisation through Dynamic Environments course is valuable for leaders who work in the not-for-profit sector, but would also suit those in the government departments they work with. Through the experience, they may be able to understand the challenges faced jointly – and uncover better ways of working together in the future.
To apply for the next AGSM Rob McLean Awards in Executive Education, please apply via this link. Applications close at 5 pm on Friday, 13 November 2020.
To learn more about AGSM’s Virtual Learning Courses,
To find out more about AGSM @ UNSW Business School’s globally-ranked Executive Education programs,