Reflecting on a Legacy of Social Impact Leadership: A Journey with Renu Burr at the Centre for Social Impact UWA

For over three decades, Renu Burr has been a steadfast presence at the University of Western Australia (UWA), leaving an indelible mark on generations of students and shaping the discourse on leadership for social impact.

Her career, which began in 1992 as a lecturer in Organisational Behaviour in the MBA Program, has been characterized by a commitment to excellence, innovation, and a deep-seated passion for effecting learning for positive change.

Transitioning through various roles within the UWA Business School, Renu Burr's dedication to academia and leadership development has been unwavering.

In 2010, as Director of Postgraduate programs, she set up the Graduate Certificate for Social Impact and has been the Unit Coordinator for Leadership for Social Impact since its inception. This program continues to be Western Australia’s only accredited social impact course that brings together the social-purpose, government and corporate sectors to address the important social challenges we face today.

Throughout her tenure, there is no doubt Renu Burr's impact has been far-reaching. She has touched the lives of hundreds of students. Beyond the confines of the classroom, she has worked on large ARC Grant projects with Sydney Water and the Meat and Livestock Corporation and advocated for the integration of ethics education within the MBA curriculum.

Renu has received several teaching awards and consistent exceptionally high ratings for her outstanding lecturing, as well as her commitment to providing extra mentoring and support for students and their own career development. As she prepares to end this phase of her working life, Renu Burr leaves behind a legacy that will continue to inspire and empower future generations of leaders.

Below she shares some reflections on her incredible career with the Centre for Social Impact at UWA.

What inspired you to focus your career on leadership for social impact?

Addressing inequity, understanding the power of education and enabling women to take their rightful place in society have been at the forefront of my career choices. This comes from having had a privileged upbringing in India and strong family values to contribute in whatever way possible to reduce suffering and ensure flourishing of those we can touch.

Over the years, how have you seen the landscape of leadership in social impact evolve, and what do you think are the key challenges and opportunities today?

We have moved beyond partnerships between sectors to address social challenges, which still holds elements of separation. I see greater opportunities, perhaps the pandemic helped, to take an ecosystem view to create social impact beyond silos, sectors and other limitations if leaders are able to truly collaborate.

Looking back on your journey, what accomplishments are you most proud of, and what do you hope your legacy will be in the field of leadership for social impact?

As a lecturer, there have been many moments where students have said in their leadership learning journals that they - through their learning and experiences in the class - have been able to access a more expansive version of themselves to heighten their impact as leaders in their families, workplaces and communities.

I'm proud that I have inspired lifelong learning and greater leadership possibilities for the people that I have touched personally and professionally.

What are the most common challenges you have seen leaders face when working to drive social change?

The biggest challenge in my eyes is the ability to truly collaborate. This asks us to come from a level of consciousness, where we can go beyond our ego and our own needs, to a place where it is about what we want to create in the service of the greater good.

What are three pieces of advice you’d give to current and future social impact leaders?

  1. The inner work of leadership is just as if not more important than the outer work to lead for social impact
  2. Be authentic and stay true to your purpose and values
  3. Social impact is one of the most complex spheres to lead in. Learn, listen deeply and lean into not knowing to create the conditions for the best outcomes to emerge. This calls for leadership imbued with an open mind, open heart and courage. And, you don’t have to do this by yourself.