By joining the Women’s Legal Centre in ACT as Principal Solicitor after working over a decade in private practice, Claudia Maclean knew she would be using her legal skills in a different way. Her new role presented a new set of organisational and management responsibilities and the opportunity to make a real impact in the lives of many underrepresented women in the community.
To bolster her leadership skills and to confidently drive change within her organisation, Claudia decided to complete an MBAX (Social Impact) in 2019 at AGSM @UNSW Business School.
“Looking at other MBA programs, they didn’t seem to fit the not-for-profit context – but AGSM’s MBAX in Social Impact ticked all the boxes. I felt like it was designed for someone of my position,” Maclean said.
“With my experience in family law I’ve realised that’s a specialist skill I’ve been able to use in a different way in the community legal sector. But this was a new discipline for me. My responsibilities lean toward more management than case work now. This includes driving law reform projects and program work.”
As recognition for the work Claudia is doing in the not-for-profit sector and her strong connection within the Canberra community, she was awarded the AGSM Alumni Community Leader Scholarship to help further her AGSM MBA with the UNSW Centre for Social Impact (CSI).
The opportunity to make a change
Based in Canberra with her young family, Maclean needed a program that would fit around her personal and professional commitments. Receiving the scholarship and being able to study locally means she can complete the course now and in her home state, presenting greater opportunity to make an impact throughout her career.
“I work in the public sector, I have two young children – I needed a course that fits around my life, but financially it wouldn’t have been possible without the scholarship. It’s definitely changed the trajectory of my career,” Maclean said.
With AGSM offering classes in Canberra, Sydney weekend intensives and online modules, Maclean has been able to study from home and is already applying MBA concepts to her work at the Women’s Legal Centre.
“My MBA is giving me the framework to think about things in a bigger context and to spend time trying to understand what the barriers and issues are before jumping straight to solutions,” she said.
“I am trained as a lawyer, so I have been trained to think in a risk averse which isn’t always conducive to leadership and change. The MBA has made me slow down and approach things in a more thoughtful way. It’s a new discipline, a new way of thinking and a new set of values.”
Building on a solid framework
Combined with the boost of increased Commonwealth funding, the concepts introduced in the MBA have given Maclean the confidence to push for changes that will make the most impact for the community.
“Because I'm in a position where I can commit at an organisational level, I've got the support and buy in to make decisions and start the work. You don’t always get it right, but I can actually see the affects of the work that we're implementing very quickly,” she said.
Working closely with the legal centre’s director, Maclean has been able to implement processes that make the service more accessible and streamlined. This includes working with social services to deliver a ‘wraparound’ approach, where services are available to the client and their family in their natural environments as a way to improve client outcomes.
Internal policy is also a key area for Maclean, to ensure staff are well supported to handle the psychologically demanding work they’re doing day-to-day. She is currently working on a more advanced wellbeing and resilience framework for staff, as they navigate increased workloads and exposure to more tough cases due to COVID-19.
“Our staff are the most valuable part of our organisation. How do you manage extra trauma and feelings of burnout? It’s something we’ve decided we need to expand on and make as robust as possible to support our people and the work they do,” she said.
Network of peers
Another valuable aspect of the course is the ability to connect with other local professionals in Canberra, which has brought greater depth to Maclean’s learning.
“It really feels like you’re a part of a cohort. The networking opportunity is one of the biggest unexpected bonuses to starting the MBA. I’ve met other AGSM alumni and industry partners who I’m still in contact with now,” Maclean said.
“Postgraduate study is very different to undergraduate study because you’re bringing much more robust experience to the table. There’s a lot of things we can learn from each other in different sectors, both private and not-for-profit.”
Maclean still has a few years remaining of her four-year part-time course, but the content has given her a new perspective on what’s possible and the impact she can have.
“I’ve really enjoyed the idea of stepping back from the ‘day-to-day’ and having the ability to analyse from a higher level. It makes me appreciate the job I’ve got a lot more,” she said.
“It reinvigorates you and makes you see the potential for the future. Sitting in a room of accomplished professionals that I can gain knowledge from, but also want to learn from me, it’s validating your purpose in a lot of ways.”
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