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The Importance of Innovation

21 December 2015 at 10:43 am
Xavier Smerdon
Kerry Stubbs’s work in the disability field has seen her receive accolades from both the social sector and the corporate sector. Stubbs is this week’s Changemaker. She spoke to Xavier Smerdon.

Xavier Smerdon | 21 December 2015 at 10:43 am


The Importance of Innovation
21 December 2015 at 10:43 am

Kerry Stubbs’s work in the disability field has seen her receive accolades from both the social sector and the corporate sector. Stubbs is this week’s Changemaker. She spoke to Xavier Smerdon.

Earlier this month Stubbs was named in Pro Bono Australia’s Impact 25, making her one of the most influential people in the social sector for 2015.

Before that her organisation, Northcott, one of the largest providers of support and services for people with disabilities and their families living in NSW and the ACT, was also listed by BRW as one of the most innovative companies in Australia. Northcott was the only Not for Profit organisation to make the list.

For Stubbs, the awards are validation that pushing the envelope works. She considers innovation to be one of the most important business tools, particularly when working in the disability sector.

In this week’s Changemaker column Stubbs talks about the importance of treating people with disability with dignity, what it feels like to be considered an inspiration to others, and where she gets her own inspiration from.

Tell me a bit about what Northcott does.

Northcott is a disability service provider that’s been operating for well over 85 years. It provides services across NSW and the ACT to people with a disability, primarily children. Around 80 per cent of our clients are under 25, or people with very high support needs. We’ve always had a long history of providing services to people with high disability support needs.

What are you working on at the moment?

We’re working on transitioning to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), which rolls out across the country, with NSW being the first place that it's going to be fully implemented. From 1 July next year 50 per cent of our current clients will transition across to the NDIS and in the year after that the other 40 per cent or so will transition across. That’s a fairly major undertaking because it’s changing the whole way that disability service providers do their business.

How are you coping with the transition to that new model?

We have been preparing for it now for about six years. We’re very enthusiastic supporters of the NDIS because we believe it’s a much better outcome for people with disability in that it gives them the opportunity to make their own choices about what they need in their lives. The other thing we like about it is that it’s an investment model. It’s an investment in the future and the whole set of principles behind the NDIS are that if you invest in people with disability at the right time and as early as possible you can give them much greater opportunities to take their part in the community as citizens, employees, scholars etc in the future. So we’re definitely in favour.

In terms of what we’ve done, we’ve been doing a lot of work on improving our systems and our processes to make sure that we’re as efficient and as effective as possible. We’ve been talking to our current customers about what we think the future will look like and what sort of products and services we hope to offer and we’ve brought in a lot of extra skills to help us improve the way we operate in this new business environment. We’ve brought in a number of skills from the corporate environment to assist us in improving the way we do things in a consumer centred environment.

You were recently named in Pro Bono Australia’s Impact 25. How did that feel?

It was a bit surprising, particularly seeing the list of people that I was named with. I was really pleased. It was very flattering of course, but it’s more about the work that Northcott has been doing. We’ve been really concentrating, not only on being excellent at the services we provide, but also on being innovative. I think innovation is the most important thing for the future. If you’re not thinking about how you might do things differently, then your not going to be able to keep up with the changes in the world.

The Impact 25 award comes on top of being named in BRW’s most innovative companies in Australia in 2015. We were the only Not for Profit on that list, so we were very pleased about that and I think that’s a testament to everyone in the organisation and the hard work they do in terms of trying to do things differently and better.

Obviously innovation is very important to your organisation and to you personally. With the NDIS coming in, how important is innovation?

It’s very important, not just for the sake of the organisation, but if you think about people with disability, a lot of the changes that have improved their lives have been because of innovation. If you look at the history of people with disability, one of the great innovations was the invention of the wheelchair. Even in my experience in the disability sector, I’ve seen a great improvement when iPads were introduced. Before that people who had communication issues had to pay for very expensive software and technology to enable them to communicate and the iPad just made it so much easier and so much cheaper. That wasn’t something that was done specifically for people with disability but the side effects for many of them have been fantastic. Similarly, technology in homes now that enables people to open doors, close windows, turn on fridges, they make an enormous difference to people with mobility issues. If we just look around us we can see how innovation, technological change and different ways of thinking can improve the lives of people with disability immensely. For us that’s extremely important and we’ve very keen to push the envelope so that we do things much better and differently to the way we do it now.

What do you enjoy about working in the disability sector?

People who come from outside of the disability sector, and I’ve only been in the sector for eight years, they say ‘it must be depressing’. In fact it’s one of the most joyful jobs I’ve ever been in because you can see the enormous difference that you can make to the lives of people if you do things well. I think people with disability are a group that have not been well served by our community generally and if you do things well and you provide the right kinds of services, people’s lives can be improved quite immensely. To me that’s what I like about it, I like to see the impact on people’s lives.

How well do you think the community is serving people with disability in Australia at the moment?

Very well. I think if the NDIS goes through we’ve made the greatest strives towards equal rights for people with disability in 100 years. It’s recognising that investing in people with disability is an important investment and it’s also recognising that people with disability deserve the right to be treated with dignity and respect as full members of our community. I think it's a great achievement that Australia has got to this stage and almost overwhelmingly people support it and the fact that there was great support for an increase to the Medicare levy to partially fund it is a wonderful tribute to the people of Australia and the way they think about the rights of people with disability.  

You were named in Impact 25, as we mentioned, which means a lot of other people think you’re inspiring. What inspires you?

I get inspired by lots of people. I’m inspired at the moment by the world coming together and making a commitment to sign a document in Paris to deal with climate change. I’m in awe of people who spend their life sacrificing themselves to make real change. I don’t think I have the ability to make the sacrifices that so many of my heros have made. I think of people like Nelson Mandela, people who’ve really put themselves on the spot to make changes for the good of the world. I’m also really inspired by people who continue to work tirelessly for the things they believe in even when they get no rewards. I meet a lot of people in my day to day life who work with people with disability, who volunteer for causes they believe in, and they’re not looking for personal recognition, they’re just looking to make a difference and I’m inspired by them everyday.

I’m also inspired by the clients we serve who just get on with their lives. They’re not looking for special treatment or recognition, they’re just looking to be accepted as full members of society. I find that very inspiring.        

If you know someone that should be featured as a Changemaker, please email

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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