Former Business Leader Applies Smarts to Help Children Get Ahead
30 September 2013 at 11:08 am
Committed to educational change, Liz Chapman was the architect behind the Tomorrow:Today Foundation’s Education Benalla Program – a program that has made big headway in improving the educational outcomes for Benalla students – and is this week’s Changemaker.
Chapman, who started work as a volunteer in the Not for Profit sector in 1999, comes from a consultancy background and worked as a director of a consultancy firm for 25 years.
She started work on the Education Benalla Program in 2007, after the Tomorrow:Today Foundation was prompted to take action after the Dropping of the Edge: the distribution of disadvantage in Australia report ranked Benalla poorly in the list of the localities that experience intergenerational poverty, including: low income, limited computer and internet access, early school leaving, physical and mental disabilities, long-term unemployment, prison admissions and confirmed child maltreatment.
So far the program, a whole-of-community, 10-year intervention to improve children’s educational outcomes in the disadvantaged community, has not only given the Foundation a gauge to measure outcomes it’s also on track to achieve its education outcomes: Benalla and District children to start school ready to learn; literacy and numeracy levels measurably improved; student-assessed levels of wellbeing improved to moderate or high; and, family and community to raise expectations of students to go on to tertiary education and training.
These days, Chapman chairs the Education Benalla Program Management Committee and is a Board Director of Tomorrow:Today Foundation.
Chapman is also currently Acting CEO of UnitingCare in north east Victoria and the border area of NSW, where she is investigating and developing new models of community service.
She is also a carer to her two daughters with disabilities.
What drew you to the Not for Profit sector?
I love business – the thrill of the chase; the need for excellence across planning and implementation and financial management and review and innovation.
It’s just that I see inequality and social injustice entrenched in the day to day; so that’s where I focus my attention.
What has been the most challenging part of your work? And how do you overcome that?
The most challenging part is finding ways to communicate for change – meaning expressing and listening.
Sometimes it seems that people are built for repetition and comfort, and change isn’t really very comfortable at all.
Everyone and every organisation has their own experiences and insights which need to be part of the solution.
There’s the balancing act of communicating a common desired outcome whilst staying open to hearing different strengths and abilities and approaches.
Sometimes, some approaches are just plain bad; but more often than not it’s a matter of adjusting to find the collective energy to work with myriad opportunities and perspectives.
I overcome the sense that no-one’s listening by laughing at myself (why should they?), weeding the garden, listening harder, then persisting with patience!
What do you like best about working in your current organisation?
I work in two organisations – as a volunteer with Tomorrow:Today Foundation in Benalla; and as Acting CEO with UnitingCareGNE (across the Goulburn and north east of Victoria and the border area of NSW).
Tomorrow:Today Foundation is Benalla’s community foundation, and I was its inaugural chair.
Now, I serve as a member of the Board of Directors; and as Convenor of the Education Benalla Program – a 10-year, whole-of-community approach to improving Benalla student outcomes.
As an independent organisation in Benalla, Tomorrow:Today has been able to design and implement this program that works with all schools and governments agencies as well as business and community groups to address the impact of Benalla’s high level of socio-economic disadvantage on our children’s educational attainment levels.
An active partnership with Benalla Rural City and schools has meant that there has been a supportive approach to improving measures such as Year 12 completion rates, student wellbeing, and literacy and numeracy levels.
The program takes the view that school is just one part of a child’s educational environment – we recognise that parents are a child’s first and most important educator and we are very active in ensuring that all of Benalla’s children start school ready to learn. It’s a great story.
My work with Uniting Care is also energising – apart from leading great teams of caring professionals, I’m looking at what the role is for community service organisations into the future.
We provide aged care services and a range of programs for people with disabilities.
We also provide affordable housing, services to support carers, and counselling services such as problem gambling, financial counselling and Grief and Loss Counselling.
We have been doing some great action research work around blending counselling across the offline and online worlds to better meet the needs of teenagers and young adults.
Favourite saying …
Change cannot be administered – it must be organised
What does a typical day for you involve?
Monday-Thursday: 4.30 – 6.00am reading/reflecting time; 6am up and out for 30 mins exercise; 7.45 depart for work; usually in Wangaratta or Albury; 6.00pm return home for cooking and conversation; 7pm catch up on Tomorrow:Today Foundation emails; 8pm family and caring roles; 9.00 – 9.30pm bed.
Fridays: start slow with cup of tea in bed. Fiddle around in the garden and provide support for doctors appointments or other caring tasks. Usually there’s a meeting with Tomorrow:Today Foundation’s Chair and Executive Officer to discuss the Education Benalla Program.
Saturday: morning – take Mum out for coffee and shopping; Afternoon – usually gardening
Sunday: family-prepared meals using home grown produce (beef and horti). Background reading for Tomorrow;Today Foundation. Planning work, funding applications, etc.
What (or who) inspires you?
One adult daughter making a life despite dependency due to physical disability; one adult daughter looking forward despite severe mental illness; and one adult daughter making her way.