Taking a United Approach to Social Justice
3 March 2014 at 10:07 am
Lin Hatfield Dodds is the National Director of UnitingCare Australia, and is one of Australia’s leading social justice advocates. Her first "proper" job in the Not for Profit sector (not counting cleaning NFP offices while a student) was running Youthline in the ACT. Hatfield Dodds is this week’s Changemaker.
A recognised expert on community services and social policy, Lin Hatfield Dodds has served on a wide range of boards and government advisory bodies.
UnitingCare is the community services network of the Uniting Church. It is Australia’s largest non-government provider of social services, with 1,300 community service delivery sites located across every State and Territory, providing services to one in eight Australians each year.
UnitingCare employs 35,000 staff, supported by 24,000 volunteers, providing services to children, young people and families, people with disabilities, and older Australians, in urban, rural and remote communities.
Hatfield Dodds chairs the boards of UnitingCare Kippax and The Australia Institute and is on the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture board. She is past President of the Australian Council of Social Service, past Chair of the Australian Social Inclusion Board, and chaired the ACT Community Inclusion Board for four years.
Her background includes working as a counselling psychologist and policy advisor. She has worked in government and community settings, including in drug rehabilitation and with young people at risk, with a particular interest in trauma and abuse. She has worked as a public policy advisor on health, health ethics, and community services within federal and state governments.
Her contributions to the community have been recognised by being named ACT Australian of the Year (2008), a Churchill Fellowship to study anti-poverty strategies (2003), and an International Women’s Day Award (2002).
What was your first job in the Not for Profit sector?
My first proper job in the Not for Profit (NFP) sector (not counting cleaning NFP offices while a student) was running Youthline in the ACT. Youthline was a part of Lifeline Canberra and was about young people listening to young people.
I trained, supported and worked with a group of amazing young people who turned up regularly to be there for other young people who had nowhere else to turn and no-one else to listen. I still see some of those volunteer telephone counsellors all these years later. Each one of them is still making a difference where they are now.
I learnt a lot about hope, and resilience, and flinging yourself joyously into life from those guys.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Without a doubt, the most rewarding part of the work I do is playing a part in driving the lifecycle of an idea that has impact. Whether it’s an idea from the practice coalface about improving aged care regulation, or an idea from the lived experience of our service users about what would make a difference for them, or an idea that springs out of the Uniting Church’s commitment to social justice, it’s incredibly rewarding to identify what outcome would give life to that idea in the real, practical world.
Then gathering the right people together to develop a strategy, producing the necessary evidence and materials to make the case, managing relationships and dialogue with decision makers, adjusting the idea or the way it might be operationalised to fit the world of the possible, and then shepherding it through the many hoops and hurdles that inevitably stand in its way.
Doing all of that and then seeing a legislative change, or a policy shift that changes things for people and communities is amazing. It happens less often than I’d like, but when you can pull it off, it’s amazing.
What has been the most challenging part of your work?
The most challenging part of my work has always been people behaving badly. Specifically, people in power who behave in venal (and usually banal and predictable) ways.
You know them. You’ve worked with them or seen them in action. Those who seek power for power’s sake alone; those who say one thing but do another – faux commitment to evidence based practice or collegiality leap to mind; those who treat people who are not immediately useful with no respect; those who engage in bullying behaviour.
But the worst of these are those who are in leadership roles and do not lead. Vacillation, a lack of insight or strategy, insufficient vision or lack of courage to act produce death by a thousand cuts to organisations.
I can’t overcome this as I can’t control the behaviour of others. But I try to manage my response, which usually includes consulting others about how we might be able to mitigate or shift the bad behaviour, working together.
It’s important to attend to who you are and how you behave in leadership roles. Once you are in a leadership role, you become a role model.
People will look at you as a pattern for leadership. It matters whether there’s a rhetoric gap. None of us have to be perfect, but all of us ought to be seriously committed to excellence, and be upfront about acknowledging when we stuff up. A bit more grace in all our working lives would be a good thing.
What do you like best about working in your current organisation?
I value the strong alignment between my personal values and those of UnitingCare.
I really like working with people I respect – UnitingCare leaders, staff and volunteers are very oriented to social transformation, building capability in people and communities and developing and delivering quality services and supports.
I have a fabulous chair, who sits outside the day to day action but is experienced and wise enough to be a fantastic sounding board and reality check. And while the relentless travel is something to manage, it’s a privilege to spend time in communities and agencies across Australia listening and learning.
I consider my greatest achievement to be …
Leading a process across the UnitingCare network that resulted in a shared understanding of a collective identity and a shared commitment to good relationship and collective action.
Favourite saying …
“The world is seen most clearly through tears.” Margaret Atwood
“If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution.” Emma Goldman
What are you reading/watching/listening to at the moment?
I’m re-reading Margaret Atwood as one of my nieces is discovering her. Dancing Girls and The Handmaid’s Tale are just as good 30 years on. I plan to start in again on my other favourite Margaret, Margaret Drabble, when I’m done.
I’m loving Padraig O’Tuama’s slim but punchy books of poetry – Readings from the Book of Exile and Sorry For Your Troubles. On my bedside table is Malcolm Gladwell’s latest, David and Goliath: Underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants. Also Canberra’s Best Bush, Park & City Walks and Cass R. Sunstein’s Simple(r): The future of government. I’m not so much reading these as dipping in and out.
I’m watching Grand Designs on iview and whatever cooking show is to hand on TV when I have a night at home.
I’m listening to what my family says is a weird combination of political/feminist women (Po’ Girl, k.d.lang, Kristina Olsen for example) jazz and gospel.
Why? I read to nourish my soul and feed my mind. I’m in the camp that thinks feminism isn’t done. While women are still not safe at home, and don’t earn as much on average as men in any trade or profession in this country, I read in part to explore what it is to be a woman in our culture.
I watch TV to zone out. I don’t listen to music all that often but when I do I want music that makes me feel good to be a woman and a human being – empowered, capable and hopeful.
Through your work, what is your ultimate dream?
That everyone belongs, can contribute and is valued. That every person’s inherent dignity is recognised. That diversity is celebrated for the gift it is. That hope replaces fear. That every child can grow up loved and reaching their potential; that every frail older person feels secure and valued and is supported to live well; that
The Australian community understands the complex interactions between structural barriers, a person’s familial context and history, the state of the labour market, and their capacity to find and keep a decent job.
That we value people instead of judging them. That we care for each other and the world we are a part of.