Social Change Veteran Heads up Foundation
16 December 2013 at 9:54 am
Disability support service head Daniel Leighton is now leading the board of one of Australia’s largest independent Community Foundations. Leighton is this week’s Changemaker.
With a career in the Not for Profit sector hailing back to 1993, Leighton has had a long career in a range of operational, policy and research roles in both government and Not for Profit sectors.
As Chief Executive Officer of Inclusion Melbourne, a progressive disability support organisation, Leighton has been instrumental in the development of the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013 and currently serves on the Victorian Committee of National Disability Services.
This year Leighton was appointed Chair of the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, after joining the Board in 2008 and serving as Deputy Chair for the past three years.
As part of his work with the Foundation, he has served on the Board’s Executive Committee, Governance, Social Needs and Audit and Risks sub-committees. Leighton also has been involved in the Foundation’s Youth in Philanthropy program.
”It is a great honour to be the Chair of the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation,” he said.
“It’s an organisation that is built on and inspired by the dreams and aspirations of thousands of Melburnians that know that we can make this city an even better place to live and work for every one of our citizens.”
How long have you been working in the Not for Profit sector?
I began working in the sector in 1993 with a five-year stint in the public sector from 2000-2004.
Over the past 20 years I’ve seen many good (and bad) ideas come and go. I think we need to address short term elections and associated funding cycles.
Even more importantly, we need to work with Parliamentarians from all sides to inform them of the benefits of evidence based policy making.
Too often good projects have been discarded for reasons of ideology when governments change.
What was your first job in the Not for Profit sector?
My first job was as an instructor in an Adult Training and Support Service on the northern outskirts of Melbourne working with people with a disability.
I am deeply saddened that it is still possible to find organisations that haven’t learnt any lessons over the past 20 years and haven’t adapted or modified their operating model in any way.
I’m a big believer in evidence based practices and the transfer of practice to knowledge.
I shudder to think at the lost opportunities that are experienced by people supported by organisations that aren’t engaging with new methodologies and technologies that can drastically improve the support services provided by the community sector.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Seeing people and families connecting or reconnecting with their community. It’s a sign of a job well done and people’s lives beginning to have some normality to them.
What has been the most challenging part of your work? And how do you overcome that?
Change is hard for most people and one of the challenges of leading an organisation is to challenge your own assumptions and that of the board, funders, staff and people you serve.
Backing yourself, your decisions and selling the vision are all essential if you are to create change as it can be a lonely time leading the charge.
I find that having a wide circle of trusted colleagues outside the workplace that can act as mentors and advisors greatly assists with road-testing concepts and helping to decide which ideas and strategies are refined or abandoned.
Favourite saying …
“A good community organisation has only two answers to any request made of it…. ‘Yes’ or ‘Let me think about it’”.
I have to thank one of my trusted advisors, Dr Ralph Hampson for this advice.
It’s a great way to drive improvement in an organisation and on the occasions when we have said no, my team and I think long and hard, and always provide a considered response as to why we couldn’t fulfil the request.
What are you reading/watching/listening to at the moment?
I read far and wide – never presume that your sector holds all of the answers to solve the problems you face.
My reading list starts with the regulars: The Economist, Harvard Business Review, and a smattering of research journals in the disability sector.
Moving online I enjoy the posts and approach from the UnSectored community in the US and I read a range of progressive political, philanthropy and third sector blogs out of the US.
Amongst this is a pile of books (yes, actual books!) that seems to keep growing as I’m too busy reading what’s online.
By the bed at the moment is: Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking and Negotiate to Win.
This book was recommended to me by a philanthropist out of the US who told me the story about the author (Jim Thomas) who was previously a US nuclear arms negotiator and of recent times has been working with environmental groups in the US to support their bids to secure more natural habitat areas (with great success).
I read and search for lessons from people and companies who have been responsible for the creation of disruptive technologies and enjoy thinking about how these can be applied to my work, as well as the lessons to be drawn from admitting failure – something in Australia we often don’t talk about.
On this, another blog that I dip in and out of is Fail Forward.
My greatest challenge is …
Doing better than the year before. That’s much harder to do than doing better than someone else.
Beyond that, there are the challenges we all face and they are meeting the oncoming demographic and fiscal changes that will occur in Australia over the next two decades.
The intergenerational reports make for sobering reading. With a rapidly ageing population we face huge shifts in the workforce, increasing demand for community sector employees at a time when we will have fewer taxpayers and increased public spending on aged care, health and disability support, potentially leaving less funding for other social services. The community sector will need to adapt.
I wonder what programs that are currently funded by government won’t be in 10 years?
What will replace the model of proof of concept followed by government funding? How will philanthropy respond and will it get to scale in time to replace current government funding?