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Changemakers - Leeanne Marshall

18 March 2013 at 9:11 am
Staff Reporter
Leeanne Marshall is the General Manager of Architects without Frontiers Australia. This week we profile Leeanne in Changemakers – a weekly column which examines inspiring people and their careers in the Not for Profit sector.

Staff Reporter | 18 March 2013 at 9:11 am


Changemakers - Leeanne Marshall
18 March 2013 at 9:11 am

Leeanne Marshall is the General Manager of Architects without Frontiers Australia. This week we profile Leeanne in Changemakers – a weekly column which examines inspiring people and their careers in the Not for Profit sector.

Architects without Frontiers (AWF) is Australia’s first architectural Not for Profit organisation. Its mission is to improve the living conditions of vulnerable communities in the Asia Pacific region, with focus on sustainable design outcomes in the health and education sectors.

What are you currently working on in your organisation?

Although my role as General Manager requires me to work across a number of projects and programs within the oganisation, the main project I am managing is the Cakaudrove Women’s Resource Centre (CWRC) in Savusavu, Fiji. The CWRC is a collaborative project between the local women of the area, AWF and AusAID Australia and involves the design and construction of a number of key community buildings on the site. These buildings will not only provide space for the indigenous women of the region to sell and exhibit their craft, but will also provide training facilities and mentoring for young women along with safe accommodation for women travellers. The project aims to strengthen cultural traditions and improve the standard of living for the local women of Cakaudrove. We also hope it will provide a precedent in the region for sustainable building processes utilising local craftsmen and materials.

We are lucky to have had an incredible team of design volunteers from Australia who have developed designs with the women in an extensive period of community consultation and feedback over the last 5 years. Currently the local architects in Fiji are translating these ideas and designs into final documents and we hope to be starting construction in the coming months.

It’s important to me that we aren’t just leaving a set of buildings but that we’re also working with the women to capacity build so that they will be able to run the centre in a sustainable way when the construction process is complete. At the moment I’m having conversations with Austraining and Australian Business Volunteers to source volunteers who can mentor the women in business practices and processes. 

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

I’m a trained Architect and had worked in practice for many years, but in 2008 I started volunteering on a small preschool building project in India called the Anganwadi Project run at the time by AWF and Bholu. Living and working with our partner organisation in India, Manav Sadhna enabled me to learn very important skills that I wasn’t really taught about at university or on the job – particularly around community engagement, facilitation and community based design. Ultimately this volunteering work led to me gaining a paid position with AWF soon after and I have been with them ever since. I would find it difficult to return to regular practice after the experiences I have had within the not-for-profit sector. Being able to work closely with communities and help them find solutions to their own built environment challenges is much more than a job to me, it’s a continual learning experience, a chance to be creative/ innovative and at the end of the day it is also very rewarding.

Favourite saying…

Not really a saying, but I like this quote from Pema Chondon. It encapsulates my feelings about both being human and doing the kind of work that I do.

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
? Pema Chödrön

School taught me…

To be independent. I spent 5 years at boarding school and I think it gave me more of a sense of confidence in my ability to look after myself and also to connect with new people. Straight after school I went on a student exchange to Bolivia for a year, which just cemented that independence and also instilled my insatiable desire to travel, connect with other cultures and keep learning about the places and people of our world.

What does a typical day for you involve?

There is definitely no typical day for me in the work that I am doing. My week can be extremely varied with everything from skyping clients, approving drawings, managing the newsletter and website to developing our training courses and managing volunteers.

To add a bit more into the mix, apart from my role at AWF I also work part time at another not-for-profit social enterprise called CoDesign Studio. CoDesign Studio uses teams of professional volunteers to work very closely with communities to assist them in undertaking neighbourhood improvement projects that improve public space and community facilities. In my role there I am managing the delivery of 3 projects – a Youth Services Hub fitout in Frankston, a Youth Organisation fit out in Melbourne CBD and a Signage Redesign Project at North Richmond Housing Estate. I’m also responsible for the development and delivery of training courses and inductions for our professional volunteers.

So, I guess each new day can present a number of challenges and opportunities in many different forms. Ultimately I consider myself lucky to be doing something I’m passionate about and engaging with some very talented and visionary people – I just wish there were more days in the week sometimes. 

I’m always being asked…

How to get involved in the Not for Profit sector – especially by fellow architects and designers. I believe there is an enormous will within people to get involved and give back using their skills in some way, but there is not always an easily identified path for doing it. In both organisations where I work we are actively trying to provide avenues for people to engage in the sector. In 2012 AWF ran the first of our ‘Pathways to working in the Humanitarian Sector’ courses for built environment professionals. There was such great interest in the course that we are running another two courses this year. Additionally, through CoDesign we are also delivering training and information to assist young professionals to get involved with and work effectively on community projects. I’m really passionate about giving people a space to learn about and engage with the sector in these ways – so I’m always happy to answer this question. 

What (or who) inspires you? 

I think it’s easy to find inspiration from the people around us – I certainly do. I am surrounded by some incredible people both in the actual organisations I work for and on the projects we carry out. People who are motivated to improve the way things are, question current reality, be creative. All of the time, effort and enthusiasm that our volunteers and community teams put into their projects is astounding – even when projects take years longer than hoped. I really believe in the power of people to shape and improve their own communities and futures and I’m continually inspired by the people that I see actually making an effort to do this.

Is there someone in your organisation who would make a good Changemaker? Let us know at

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