February 9, 2017

CEO Update - February 2017

As I reflect on the start to the year as far as politics and policies go, I’m steadfast in my and CSI’s commitment to have a social impact. We've seen the stark realities of how much macro policies can affect people's lives. Consider, for example, the significant geopolitical shifts, changes and implications for people’s lives since the US elections and, more locally, how Centrelink's automated debt recovery system has had a profoundly adverse effect on large numbers of Australia’s vulnerable people. 

I was in Melbourne last week meeting with a range of people, including our great CSI Swinburne team and as I walked out of the Foundation for Young Australians offices, I walked past a man who was homeless and asking for change on Little Bourke Street. I got talking to him and as I sat down with him kerbside, we talked about his life and housing options. Like many people who end up homeless, Bill's life had turned upside down after an unexpected incident and then a series of cascading events. His parents had a very bad car crash, he took time off work to care for them, he then lost his job, his wife (and children) left him and he had nowhere to go for support. He'd been on the streets for 18 months and said he'd never imagined he’d end up homeless. Bill has struggled ever since to get housing and back to work. On that day in particular, he was trying to raise $37 for a night’s accommodation in a boarding house. 

What’s striking is this: One in 100,000 Australians are in Bill's situation on any given night; twice the number for young people. There's a need for major systemic changes to address homelessness and CSI is at the table as part of this push for change. I am a member of the NSW Premier's Council on Homelessness and at CSI we undertake numerous research projects to better understand and address homelessness and to measure the difference organisations, policies and programs make to improve housing outcomes. CSI will continue to work with others in an attempt to address this complex social problem. But, in the meantime, I gave Bill a band-aid solution; enough money for a week’s accommodation and a discussion about his choices and possible next steps.

There is so much longer-term work to be done at a systemic level to address homelessness, but my meeting with Bill also reinforced the importance of putting people at the centre – giving them a choice and a chance. As I work with our Board, my colleagues and our partners to develop CSI’s next strategic plan, I want to heed three lessons from this example and what’s been happening nationally and internationally:

  1. People matter: we must uphold human rights, listen to people’s voices and act to reinforce that we value people’s lives and their fundamental rights to access housing, education, work, health, community participation and a reasonable living standard. At CSI, we will continue to track Australia’s Social Pulse to understand how Australia is faring over time on key social issues and who is doing better and worse and better understand which models, interventions and supports are most accessible, appropriate and effective. We will work to understand our people – from our most vulnerable to most advantaged – living and working in our communities, organisations and across society.
  2. People live within systems: people living within households, families, communities, societies and institutional policies, practices, cultures and structures. At CSI we work and think systemically – What parts of the system do we change to create social impact? What roles do different individuals, organisations and sectors play, what approaches do they take and how do they intersect? What funding models are feasible? What are the levers in the system that will help enable effective outcomes and stronger, better societies? One of CSI’s key pieces of work will be to develop a map of the social purpose eco-system.
  3. There is strength in relationships: strong relationships are protective and enabling factors for our people, organisations, economy and society. They are important to in how we live and work collaboratively and independently and form the glue that binds us together. Understanding relationships and creating environments for strong relationships to grow and thrive is critical. 

CSI is in the process of developing its next strategic plan and so I’ll provide more on CSI’s why, how and when in the coming months. However, in looking forward, I’m really excited to be leading the Centre for Social Impact: a national organisation that brings together the strengths of UNSW Sydney, Swinburne University of Technology and The University of Western Australia. We will bring our academic rigour, our expertise and our different style of working to partner with new and existing people across governments, corporates, SMEs, not-for-profits and philanthropy to have a social impact and help tackle social inequality.

I’m incredibly proud to be leading this organisation into the next phase and I look forward to working with you, my colleagues, friends and stakeholders throughout 2017.


Professor Kristy Muir


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