Committed to Victoria’s Disadvantaged
28 July 2014 at 11:26 am
Emma King, Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS), considers her role leading Victoria’s peak body for the community sector as more than just a job. King is this week’s Changemaker.
King came into the top job at VCOSS, from Early Learning Association Australia where she was Chief Executive Officer.
She began her career as a teacher, however soon moved into government as an education adviser and then into industrial and training roles.
Her qualifications include a Masters in Industrial and Employee Relations, a Graduate Diploma of Education, and a Bachelor of Arts. She is also an accredited mediator and a member of the Institute of Arbitrators and Mediators.
What do you like best about working in your current organisation?
I know I’m incredibly fortunate to get up every day to do a job that I love. I have a strong personal commitment to the values, mission and vision of VCOSS.
VCOSS is a strong advocate for those who are vulnerable, disadvantaged and living in poverty. Accordingly, we have an extraordinary remit within the work that we undertake.
We are committed to our advocacy work and to building awareness about the many and varied issues that impact on those who are disadvantaged in our community. We seek to illustrate the problems faced by Victorians and present solutions to make Victoria a fair and just community that offers all a genuine chance to achieve their potential.
I love working with such a committed group of member organisations who are focussed on achieving positive and sustainable outcomes for those who are disadvantaged.
VCOSS members are an incredibly diverse group of individuals and community sector organisations who build connections and make a real difference in our community.
I also have the privilege of working with the broad range of people that VCOSS engages in within our work. This extends to many leaders in our community, including Members of Parliament, government and community leaders, other COSS Directors, as well as those with lived experience of incredibly challenging issues.
I would be absolutely remiss if I didn’t mention the VCOSS staff and Board – an extraordinarily committed and smart group of people who make work a joy.
In essence, this is much more to me than just a job.
What are you currently working on in your organisation?
The work of VCOSS is always incredibly varied. We’ve recently finalised our State Election Platform and are now working to bring our election priorities to the attention of all political parties and the community in the lead up to the November state election.
Another key focus is working alongside ACOSS and the other state COSSes to highlight the injustice of the proposed Federal Budget changes and the McClure Review that will have a great impact on many vulnerable members of our community, particularly those who receive disability and Newstart payments.
To ensure our members have the opportunity to participate and have the voice of their communities represented and heard, VCOSS is hosting a forum on the McClure Review in late July. At this point in time, it is critical that the work of the community sector is acknowledged and valued.
Currently, VCOSS is working closely with our member organisations to produce a paper on the value of the community sector to highlight not only the economic contribution of the sector but the social contribution and our role in building civil engagement, human and social capital and connection.
What (or who) inspires you?
Whenever I visit VCOSS member organisations I feel truly inspired. I feel privileged to be able to meet and work with those who demonstrate leadership at the grass roots in their communities. I feel inspired by those who have oversight of running what are often small and complex organisations assisting people with multiple needs.
I also feel inspired by leaders in our community who work tirelessly to build better responses for members of our community and who aren’t afraid to challenge traditional structures in order to improve processes that will make positive changes for people struggling in our community.
My greatest challenge is …
On a personal level, it’s balancing being the CEO of VCOSS alongside being a Mum. I have two young children who mean the absolute world to me. I want to be a good role model and make the most of the enjoyment of being a mum and being there for them.
At VCOSS, it’s trying to balance the many and varied components of the role of CEO.
This is something that drew me to the role and I wouldn’t want to change – but balancing new and immediate issues alongside longer term priorities is a constant juggle. The human services sector is often crisis driven and it is important to support VCOSS members in responding to the immediate needs of their clients but also remaining focused on the long-term issues.
From a longer term perspective, there is an absolute challenge in determining how we work towards addressing the most “wicked” problems in our society. Those that need a long term vision – one that extends well beyond a single electoral cycle and requires genuine political, community and business commitment.
For example, when we consider the current challenges facing the workforce in Victoria we absolutely need a workforce plan that engages all of these groups and contemplates the future architecture of our workforce, how we enable workers of the future to be nimble and genuinely employed, whilst genuinely providing for those who are unable to work or work in a more limited capacity.
What are you reading/watching/listening to at the moment?
I tend to have a fiction and a non-fiction book on the go at the same time. I’ve just started reading Eyrie by Tim Winton. I really enjoy his writing and whilst it can often be a bit dark, I think he writes beautifully and offers incredible insights in his central characters and their families and culture.
I’m also reading The Blunders of our Governments by Anthony King and Ivor Crewe. The “blunders” described in this book would almost be funny if they weren’t true. It focusses on the blunders made by British Governments over the last three centuries and I absolutely recommend it. Not only is it a great read, but we can only hope that we avoid making the same mistakes.
I also like to escape by watching the brilliant ABC series Time of Our Lives. It has everything from a brilliant Australian cast to a clever and engaging script and all shot in Melbourne.
What does a typical day for you involve?
6.00am – up for early media calls 6.30am – breakfast with the family and the typical morning rush to get everyone dressed and out the door by 7.30 am.
8.00am – At the office aiming to get through morning emails , urgent calls and write the to do list (which can often by derailed by 9.00am).
9.00-5.30pm – No day is ever the same, but constant themes are meetings and briefings with staff, members, key stakeholders, preparation for speaking engagements and meetings with Ministers and Shadow Ministers, whilst dealing with the varied issues that seem to come from left field.
I have work evening commitments a couple of times a week, but otherwise try to head home so that I can have dinner with the kids, help with homework and aim to get to the gym.
Where do you feel your passion for good came from?
Growing up, my parents and grandmother instilled in me that everyone did not get equal opportunities.
My Mum migrated to Australia when she was three and her family arrived with almost nothing – but what my Grandmother did have was a strong educational background and the ability to speak seven languages. She taught me that the gift of education was a great enabler. This was always reinforced by my parents, both of whom were teachers.
They also encouraged me ask effective questions, rather than just accept that a situation or someone else was right.
I’m always being asked …
At work: “How do you improve the lives of the most disadvantaged Victorians?” and
“How do you expect us to pay for that?!”.
At home: “Can I have a lunch order?”.