A Question of Respect
1 December 2016 at 10:32 am
Christine Craik is the chair of Project Respect, an organisation that supports and works with women who are trafficked or who are working in the sex industry. She talks about building relationships and trying to get policy change in this month’s Evolving Chair.
Project Respect is a feminist, community-based, not-for-profit organisation that believes that every woman who is trafficked for sexual exploitation or is part of the sex industry has the right to feel safe and respected, regardless of her views or circumstances.
The organisation assists women one-on-one to create a safe community and advocate for women’s rights.
Craik, who has more than 25 years experience as a social worker in family support, housing, community health and hospitals, where she has focused on domestic violence, sexual abuse and refugees, took on the role of chair earlier this year.
In addition she is currently completing her PhD and exploring routine domestic violence screening for women in emergency departments of Australian public hospitals.
She is also a social work lecturer at RMIT and the national vice president of the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW).
In this month’s Evolving Chair, Craik talks about the current energy at Project Respect, the role students can play and why organisations cannot exist without collaboration.
What attracted you to Project Respect’s board?
Well, I suppose I had been involved with Project Respect for a long time. So, I think even back in 2007 or 2008, I’d presented at a conference on something I was doing and met the founding director then, Kathleen Maltzahn, and she told me a little bit about the organisation. So I sort of signed up as a friend of Project Respect and a member and supporter, so I was always a little bit in touch with what was going on. And then, there was a phone call from Kathleen asking if I would be interested in getting on their board a couple of years ago and I thought why not. I had quite a bit of board experience by then so I thought it would be a good thing to do. Then I took over as chair in March of this year.
You are also on the board of the Australian Association of Social Workers, how does your experience at Project Respect compare?
Well it is a much smaller organisation Project Respect, but I think my work with the AASW and the governance training I have done through them with the AICD has actually been very beneficial at Project Respect. Because although it is a very small organisation we have had to sort of redevelop the business plan and put a lot of work into the strategic direction to take us through to the next two to three years at Project Respect. So it has been, in one way a lot more work with Project Respect but on a smaller scale.
What are the key sector issues that are being discussed at board level at Project Respect?
Looking at a business plan that will take us into the future, that will be sustainable.
One of the main things we’re trying to achieve at the moment is good relationships with our supporters, both financial and non-financial, in order that we can build up, or rebuild, that sense of community. Because there has been a fair bit of change at Project Respect so I think we really do need to put the time in and build on those relationships. So that’s one thing.
The other thing is of course continue to ensure that the staff can work with the clients that they need to work with and reposition us in terms of funding arrangements, so trying to get some sustainable funding to see Project Respect through to the next five years.
And also another major goal would be participation, if you like, in some decent policy change in Victoria, and hopefully Australia, that would help us fulfil our goals in terms of less women being trafficked, less girls being abused sexually.
What is the biggest challenge the Project Respect board has had to overcome?
Just that lack of sustainable funding, I suppose, because we don’t get continuous funding from any government departments at the moment. So that would be the big challenge.
I suppose I could say staff morale, but I don’t think that’s the case, because everyone in there, I’m quite shocked all the time at the energy and the commitment of the staff. They just keep on going. They are so excited about their work so that’s been pretty good and the same with the amount of research and scholarly enterprise I suppose, we’ve just had so many social work students, both master’s and undergraduate placement doing various bits of research, various bits of policy work, so yeah, we found a way around having not too much staff by having amazing students. So I’m trying to scratch myself here for challenges because apart from the funding one, which looks better every month, the rest of it is sort of falling into line. There is a very good energy at Project Respect at the moment.
What has been the highlight of your work with this board?
I suppose the highlight is the amount of work that is being done at Project Respect. So, there has been quite a lot of research, quite a lot of policy formation, some re-energising in terms of policies and procedures for the actual agency itself, physically even with the agency, we have been successful in getting some funding for sprucing up the office, if you like, so paint jobs, redesigning of offices, things like that, which all makes a difference when people can go to work and it looks great and feels good, so all that’s been going on.
And of course, the reputation of Project Respect in the brothels has been amazing. I’m still blown away by the number of brothels that are happy for Project Respect workers to come in and talk to the women. And of course the mapping of the illegal brothels, that’s been one of the huge projects that students have been working on as well, with the workers there and they are mapping out in several local government areas the numbers of illegal brothels and how they’re existing and what their sort of mode of practice is and what is happening to the women in those brothels, in terms of no protection and things like that and so I guess the core work of Project Respect has been able to go ahead as well.
Does your board believe collaboration between organisations is important?
Absolutely. You can’t exist [without it], especially in an area like this. And it’s not just in like-minded organisations but organisations that have something to do with what you’re doing, so by that I mean the Australian Federal Police, the Red Cross, local city councils because they are pulling their hair out with the illegal brothels, wanting to know where they are as well, so there are quite a variety of organisations and agencies that we talk to and work with.
How important is a board’s relationship with the chief executive officer?
Absolutely vital. I think I have always known really that the chair and the CEO really have to have a very good working relationship with a lot of respect and we do. And that filters down then, I think, for the rest of the board as well. So it is extremely important.
What advice would you offer to someone chairing a not-for-profit board?
I would say make sure you get some training up, so that you know what you’re doing. If you are doing it for the first time, perhaps get yourself a mentor… so you can have confidence that you are fulfilling your due diligence and make sure you are bringing others along with you.