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Changemakers - Jo Cavanagh

2 November 2011 at 11:50 am
Staff Reporter
Changemakers | Jo Cavanagh, Chief Executive of Family Life, is profiled in Changemakers – a new column that examines inspiring people and their careers in the Not for Profit sector.

Staff Reporter | 2 November 2011 at 11:50 am


Changemakers - Jo Cavanagh
2 November 2011 at 11:50 am


I am the Chief Executive Officer of Family Life, a community based agency serving families, children and young people in the southern region of Melbourne Victoria. Building on the community and volunteer foundations of the agency, we have grown our innovations and impact for preventing child abuse and family violence, assisting vulnerable young people and strengthening families and communities. Family Life is supported by state and federal government, businesses and foundations, individual donors and our own income earning community enterprises.


What drew you to the Not for Profit sector?

Throughout my childhood and adolescence I was blessed to have people outside my family (particular women teachers) who supported, encouraged and helped me. During my University days I became more aware of wider social issues and the need for people to work together for social justice. I studied social work and set off on my mission for every child to thrive.

How long have you been working in the Not for Profit sector?

For over 35 years commencing as a social worker to management roles, then a consultant for 5 years before my current role as CEO at Family Life since 1996.

What was your first job in the Not for Profit sector?

My first job was as a Community Services Victoria (CSV) social worker in Frankston responsible for children in care, and supervising youth on probation and adults on parole. I was thrown in the deep end! It made no sense to me to be checking up on kids in trouble one at a time so I soon organized a group program with the help of volunteers and we planned regular weekly activities where we could build relationships and encourage parents to get involved. I fairly quickly got a reputation for challenging “the way things were done” and enjoyed support from key people to effect change.

What is the best thing about working in the Not for Profit sector?

It is such a reward when you witness life pathways change, especially for children who are living in disadvantaged and vulnerable families. And it is people who make this happen at the individual, local community, national and international levels. The possibilities of what we can achieve together are inspiring even though on a daily basis we can feel like progress is slow. By being in the Not for Profit sector you are always around hopeful committed people who keep trying.

I consider my greatest achievement to be……

Undoubtedly my own family. We are coming up to our 40th wedding anniversary, have four fabulous and interesting children, with the excitement of a first grandchild on the way. We are so lucky.

I’m always being asked …

How do you know you make a difference? Apart from what we can see and hear, when we have funds for research and evaluation we can measure and report.

What are you reading/watching/listening to at the moment?

Reading and editing our “What About Children’s mental health?” Family Life SHINE research report.

Listening to George Harrison “All things must past” after seeing the Martin Scorcese documentary “George Harrison, Living in a material World”. Great trip down memory lane and made a surprising contribution to my own exploration of different religions and spirituality.

If you could be or do anything else, what would it be?

A singer – like KD Lang. What a voice!

If you could have dinner with 2 people from history, who would they be?

Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi would have been extraordinary peaceful activists to experience in conversation. I can’t imagine what the menu would be though.

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