Vision for Improving Lives
17 April 2014 at 5:35 pm
A passion for social justice and human rights has shaped the life and the work of Vision 2020 Australia CEO Jennifer Gersbeck. Gersbeck is this week’s Changemaker.
Gersbeck, who studied political science and marketing at Monash University, worked in government communications before moving into the Not for Profit sector to take on marketing roles with World Vision Australia, where she stayed for four years.
It’s been almost 10 years since Gersbeck became Chief Executive Officer of Vision 2020 Australia – a peak body dedicated to eliminating the causes and removing the barriers of blindness and vision loss in Australia and our region.
Under Gersbeck's leadership, Vision 2020 Australia has helped shape the policy framework for eye health and vision care in Australia by leveraging the World Health Assembly resolutions and uniting the sector to advocate for change.
Gersbeck says she is passionate about bringing the eye health and vision care sector together and advocating to improve the lives for people in Australia and the region.
That dedication was recognised in 2008 when she was presented with an international achievement award at the General Assembly of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness for her valuable contribution to the elimination of avoidable blindness.
She was also instrumental in establishing a Global Consortium securing substantial funding from the Federal Government to implement effective eye health programs across Asia and the Pacific region.
Where do you feel your passion for good came from?
From a very early age I remember feeling strongly about injustice—initially in my own small world, but as I grew older I felt a strong obligation to act globally.
Perhaps at first I was just rebelling to the world around me, but my passion for social justice and human rights has shaped my life and my work choices. I cannot imagine ever losing my passion for good even if I can’t pinpoint exactly where it came from.
What are you currently working on in your organisation?
Vision 2020 Australia is working to eliminate avoidable blindness and vision loss and achieve greater participation of people with blindness and vision impairment in the community.
I am currently working with the Board and our members to set the direction for the organisation over the next three years by focussing on building the evidence base; closing the gap for vision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; improving the ability of Australians who are blind or have a vision impairment to participate in the community; and reducing avoidable vision impairment as a global public health problem.
How long have you been working in the Not for Profit sector?
14 years—almost 10 years in my current role!
What was your first job in the Not for Profit sector?
Marketing Services Manager for World Vision Australia. During my time at World Vision I implemented change management strategies to ensure World Vision staff were highly motivated and committed to the cause of solving world poverty; re-negotiated supplier agreements saving World Vision in excess of $1 million per annum in above and below the line marketing costs; developed a Direct Marketing Course for staff, which was adopted by the international partnership of World Vision as a major training and development tool for new and emerging offices around the world; and increased income generation by 30 per cent in child sponsorship acquisition and new cash income from major donors and corporates.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Witnessing the impact the eye health and vision care sector is having on people’s lives in Australia and Asia and the Pacific.
A few years ago the Vision 2020 Australia Global Consortium was formed. It is a partnership of six organisations from the sector implementing programs in our region that are reducing levels of blindness and enhancing local capacity to ensure sustainability of efforts to eliminate avoidable blindness in years to come.
Programs are also providing a demonstration of tangible, cost effective development assistance and generating goodwill among both the governments and people who benefit from Australia’s aid program.
Closer to home, the sector is working to close the gap for vision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Vision loss causes 11 per cent of the health gap and most vision loss can be corrected overnight. Progress is being made and evidence suggests that Trachoma will be eliminated by 2020.
Advocating for change or action in Canberra on behalf of the sector can often feel very removed from what we are trying to achieve for people in need—it’s important to remember what drives the passion for change or action.
What has been the most challenging part of your work?
Bringing disparate groups of people together—often each with their own agendas—and getting them to work collaboratively and reach consensus.
I’ve found that encouraging transparency and building trust helps to overcome this ongoing challenge. Sector collaboration has never been so critical as we work to keep eye health and vision loss issues high on the government’s agenda.
There is a need for governments across Australia to agree on an action plan to tackle avoidable blindness—particularly as 75 per cent of blindness and vision loss is preventable or treatable. We must also ensure pathways into the National Disability Insurance Scheme are inclusive of the needs of people who are blind or have a vision impairment.
We face a similar challenge in the aged care sector where people who are blind or have a vision impairment need to navigate and be accepted into the system as a first step to accessing services and supports to assist in daily living with vision loss.
Favourite saying …
If you travel alone you will go faster; if you travel together you will go farther!
Through your work, what is your ultimate dream?
To transform people’s lives.