Rebecca Sng: Work experience for social impact

Photo of a woman with a book, smiling at a baby.

Rebecca Sng wasn’t expecting to be where she is today when she embarked on her MBAx (Social Impact) at the Centre for Social Impact UNSW.

Now, as Director of The Peregrine Centre in Wollongong NSW, she’s had a recent boost with a $5 million Rural Mental Health Partnerships Grant from the NSW Ministry of Health.

Affecting change from the top-down

Rebecca’s background in family therapy - specialising in parenting and family violence - has seen her work in clinical settings as well as academia in metro, regional and rural communities.

Throughout her 20-year career, she has observed first-hand the same patterns emerge for different clients time and time again, which, for Rebecca, reveal the cracks in Australia’s social services.

“Family therapists, I think, are all a bit obsessed with systems,” says Rebecca.

“For example, when I first started my career, I worked in out-of-home care. We often removed children because their parents were unreliable, or they didn’t know their children well enough to make good decisions. But we picked them up in this parental system that then repeats that pattern.

"We say, ‘I'm here for you. You can trust me.’ And then of course staff leave because that's understandable. And then children can still be left with an unreliable parental system.”

Both frustrated and fascinated by the way social systems can mimic some of the behaviours that place individuals in the care of social systems to begin with, Rebecca had always wondered how she could affect change from the top-down, exploring different avenues through her work in consultancy and academia.

Honing her skills in social impact

Rewind to the start of 2021 when Rebecca was awarded a scholarship to study her MBAx (Social Impact) .

An “ideas person” by nature, she was eager to develop business strategies through which she could apply the learnings from her psychology career.

It was in her capstone subject - which focused on Umbo , a start-up social enterprise - that she really grasped the value of developing a deep understanding of a social issue area combined with a rigorous business strategy.

“During that time, I decided I really wanted to start my own social impact studio and to combine my content knowledge with some process expertise.”

Work experience and problem solving for social impact

Collaborating in groups of four, Rebecca and her classmates were tasked with developing a strategy to strengthen the financial sustainability of Umbo - a social business which tackles unequal access to specialised healthcare by delivering online speech and occupational therapy to clients in regional and rural communities.

“Speech therapy has this constant tension of supply and demand. Our clients increase but we don't have enough therapists and then we get more therapists, we then don't have enough clients. The group helped us do some modelling around that,” explains Francesca Pinzone, Co-Founder of Umbo.

Combining their areas of expertise in psychology, law, nursing and data analytics, Rebecca’s group proposed a marketing strategy that would target speech therapists returning from maternity leave to employ on a flexible basis.

Rebecca and another group member had experience in children’s services, which also helped to reveal an untapped area of need: children in out-of-home care who could feasibly benefit from Umbo’s services.

“One of the markets they hadn’t fully looked at yet was kids in out-of-home care. They have a lot of needs, but they also have funding available to them. And that crossover is important because for Umbo, there are lots and lots of kids with need, but lots of them can't pay for it.”

“Personally, I was surprised by how well a marketing lens (which I thought was only for corporates) was a fit for this project. From my experience in running rural mental health services, where staff recruitment is always a challenge, it opened my eyes to how this kind of lens could be useful when thinking about ‘selling yourself’ to potential employees,” Rebecca reflects.

Applying insights to a social impact venture

Fast forward to today, and Rebecca has implemented this same social mapping process around supply and demand in her own social impact venture.

“It helped me to understand concepts like creating value for the funder and communicating clearly who the end user was likely to be, and how they would be impacted.”

Delivering a combination of supervision, teaching, and strategic consultancy to all sorts of social impact organisations, Rebecca’s business has progressed beyond her expectations, having just been awarded the $5 million grant which will go towards supporting mental health providers, who, just like Umbo, seek to provide better services for those who live in our rural and regional communities.

"I can’t quite believe this is where I am in 2022. I really feel this is the kind of work I was meant to do, and this incredible grant will bring enormous opportunities to make a real difference for real people. I’m very excited.”
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