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Crunching the Numbers

1 December 2014 at 9:49 am
Xavier Smerdon
As the new Head of SVA Consulting, Olivia Hilton says she wants to see all Not for Profit organisations measuring impact and using that data to improve. Hilton is this week’s Changemaker.

Xavier Smerdon | 1 December 2014 at 9:49 am


Crunching the Numbers
1 December 2014 at 9:49 am

As the new Head of SVA Consulting, Olivia Hilton says she wants to see all Not for Profit organisations measuring impact and using that data to improve. Hilton is this week’s Changemaker.

Prior to joining SVA Consulting Hilton was the CEO of a publicly listed company where she was responsible for all aspects of the business, including strategy development, financial management, and corporate governance.

She was also a consultant for Technoserve in Africa, an American NGO focused on assisting men and women in poor rural areas of the developing world.

What are you currently working on in your organisation?

I’m just about to transition to a new role as the Head of SVA Consulting (where I’ve been partner for 5 years now) and as part of that I am thinking about how we can work with more organisations to improve the impact they are having on the ground and then how we share that more broadly to affect change.

Part of this is thinking hard about how we partner with organisations, funders and government who are also focused on the same issue to strengthen their ability to collectively address social issues and achieve results. I am also thinking about how we can continue to attract more talented people to join our team, so that we can reach more organisations through our work.

What drew you to the Not for Profit sector?

Quite simply it was the realisation that the work I was doing in the corporate world, while interesting, didn’t appeal to my personal values, and that I could use my skills, it’s a cliché but it’s true, for greater purpose. I wanted to contribute towards lifting people and communities out of disadvantage, rather than spending my time helping make money for people who already had plenty.

What is the most rewarding part of your work?

The most rewarding part of my work is seeing clients, as they go through the course of a project, come to understand how they can increase their positive impact in the community and knowing through their feedback that we’ve played a part in that.

What has been the most challenging part of your work? And how do you overcome that?

Remaining patient has been a challenge. When we are working with such entrenched social challenges and have such lofty goals in sight, sometimes the often slow pace of change can be frustrating. I’ve come to understand that the small steps are important though, and that as long as we are making some progress it’s worth it. As a friend and colleague says a lot, I am an impatient optimist!

In terms of your work sitting on a Not for Profit board, what would you say is the key to an effective NFP board?

I sit on two fantastic NFP boards myself, and have also worked alongside many boards through my work at SVA. I think the key element of an effective board is trust and honesty amongst Directors, clarity of the organisational vision and the board’s role in supporting it, an understanding that supporting the executive is the priority, not controlling them, as well as ensuring a focus and accountability on impact, rather than just compliance.

What do you like best about working in your current organisation?

The people. Working alongside a group of people who are committed to a vision bigger than themselves, and who are open to learning and open to being challenged is a real privilege. Our team at SVA are thirsty for knowledge which leads to culture that’s collaborative rather than competitive, which is great to be a part of.

Through your work, what is your ultimate dream?

I would like to see great social purpose organisations come together with funders and government more, to have a bigger say at the systemic level, particularly those that can demonstrate real change. I’d like to see all Not for Profit organisations measuring impact and using that data to improve. And I’d like to see funders funding outcomes not just activities OR the next new shiny thing. This is important if we are to see effective solutions to the big social challenges facing this country, be rolled out at the scale they need to be to affect society-wide change. I think SVA has a lot to offer in bringing these parties together, which is really motivating.

What does a typical day for you involve?

An early start usually. To clear the cobwebs I swim, walk or do pilates. I find I think clearer in the mornings so I take some thinking time before heading into a day of back to back meetings with clients and staff – either discussing the details of specific projects, working with staff on their own professional development needs or with wider SVA team on organisation strategy. The evenings are often filled with an event of some kind, sometimes a lecture, other times events for clients we’re working with or have worked with in the past.

It’s a busy job, but I love it!


Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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