Youngcare Built on an Iconic Story of Mateship
31 July 2017 at 8:10 am
Youngcare is a Queensland-based organisation that is on a mission to end the residential crisis for young people with high care needs across Australia. Recently Youngcare won the state’s Telstra Business Award in the charity category and its CEO Anthony Ryan is this week’s Changemaker.
Youngcare has been recognised for it’s significant community contribution in the 2017 Telstra Business Awards. For more than 12 years, Youngcare has been fighting to make a difference to the lives of young Australians with high care needs — many who are still living unacceptable and inappropriate housing, such as aged care facilities.
The not-for-profit has raised $13 million in funds to build appropriate accommodation, distributed $4.2 million in grants for young people to remain at home and received more than 10,500 calls to their national hotline since 2002.
Youngcare CEO Anthony Ryan talks about how moving into the top job is the result of an “iconic story of mateship” and how working in the not-for-profit sector has made him a better person.
What does Youngcare do?
Youngcare is an organisation that has its mission to end the residential crisis for young people with high care needs across Australia. Where we are presently sitting is that there are about 6000 young people living in aged care homes being looked after in inappropriate housing and we are looking to solve that issue as soon as possible.
What attracted you to the role and how long have you been there?
I am seven months into the role as CEO and prior to that I was the CEO of the Edmund Rice Foundation.
Youngcare has always been close to my heart it was founded by four mates of mine – Dave Conry, Simon Lockyer, Matt Lawson and Nick Bonifant – Dave Conry was the primary founder and his wife got early onset of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) after they got married. When he realised that he was going to have to put her in an aged care facility he left his job and three of his mates joined in and he began Youngcare to start highlighting and advocating for young people right across Australia who are in similar situations.
That’s what motivated me to come back to it really. It is something that is an iconic story of mateship and also of just responding to addressing a need within the community that is hidden and those guys absolutely brought it to a head with a very compelling story that was smart about getting individuals to get behind it.
What does a typical day look like for you as the CEO?
I usually start my meetings at about 7.30am. I have found that particularly in Youngcare we are wanting to be the conduit between developers, investors and care providers and so often our meetings need to take place outside of normal work hours to at least start the conversation. So I would start about 7.30… have my coffees then… and sometimes I start a little earlier because often we have a number of adventure fundraising events so at the moment most days of the week I am training fairly early and so start around 5 o’clock … normally I then come back into the office and answer my first round of emails that have arrived overnight and then go out doing a lot of meetings in the city.
At the moment the majority of meetings are really involved with how we respond to the NDIS and how we actually can really utilise the opportunities that exist within the NDIS to scale up our work and to really create as many residential options as possible throughout Australia.
I guess I finish around about 6.30. I am lucky enough to have the Youngcare office just 100 metres up the road from my son’s school so they usually finish their sport and coaching and tutoring by six and he walks up and we go home together in the car. It’s probably one of my favourite times of the day spending that hour with my son.
With no recurrent funding from governments how do you raise your funds?
We have always been quite innovative in the way we raised our funds. We have a number of unique events that exist right across the board and we have a lot of corporations that work and run beneficiary events for us. Particularly we have a lot of donations and major donors that support us and repeat donors and we also have a lot of trusts and foundations that also support our work.
It is probably not honest to say that we never receive funding from government. What we do is we receive blocks of land, often from government, and they say “if you can build on this we are happy to give you the land for free under a lease agreement”.
Funding is not one of our biggest challenges. We found that if you articulate your story well and are able to explain the need and to build relationships right from the outset that aren’t about money but are about getting people to understand and feel outraged by what is actually taking place in Australia… we actually don’t find that that harms us raising the funds. We have a lot of people willing to support us and a lot of people are willing to do that financially or through pro bono support or volunteering by offering their skills. There are so many different ways to give we think we can attract all different kinds of giving.
What are the biggest challenges you are currently facing?
The biggest challenge we are currently facing is truly understanding what that need is within Australia for young people with high care needs.
It really hasn’t been documented well and ourselves along with the Summer Foundation down in Victoria are doing a lot of work with government and care agencies and regional councils to understand what the actual need is in the community. That’s our biggest challenge. Once we understand exactly what we are dealing with then we can go out with greater confidence to developers and investors and say “build here, we will be able to fill your rooms, we will be able to actually provide an opportunity to solve this issue within this region”. Once we get that information and understand exactly the whole gamut of requirements in each region then we can be very confident to go forward.
What does it mean to have won the Queensland charity category in this year’s Telstra Business Award?
We were really genuinely surprised to win it and I know that sounds like an Oscar nomination speech. What it actually means for us it is an independent body that scrutinises your work and obviously gives that tick of approval which then gives confidence to our supporters. When the Australian public sees that you have won that award they understand that there’s been an independent due diligence on you that looks at the way you operate, looks at the way you disseminate your funds and how you go about your mission and that you are effective in what you are doing.
We found that within the first fortnight of even announcing that we were the state finalists the volume of traffic from corporates and individuals that has come our way has been outstanding and surprising.
To be highlighted as a winner is kind of surprising because you sort of don’t really lift your head up too much from your own role to actually see what else is going on and when others recognise that in you it’s a wonderful recognition of the team and the years of work that has been done to get us to that stage.
What inspires you?
The stories of individuals that have been lost within the disability sector inspire me. The story that remains with me is of one of our residents at Wooloowin. Brian was an Australian soldier who went to Iraq. Did his service for his country. On his way back in Goa in India, on his leave, his drink was spiked and he immediately had a stroke. From that point onwards that stroke created an acquired brain injury. When he came back to Australia you would think that he would have been looked after but his family had no option but to put him in a nursing home where he was surrounded by people who just weren’t his age. There was nothing wrong with nursing homes it was just that it wasn’t set-up to cater for him. And he got lost in the system and he was there for 10 years and finally when he came to Youngcare he started being able to communicate via his laptop and through his family and he basically said that for that ten years he had been living a nightmare and that he finally found that he’d come home.
When he said that, I get teary every time I say that, when he was able to articulate that he had come home, that said to me that every day our whole team was driven by those types of stories where it’s an insidious part of our community. In our suburbs there are individuals like Brian in every suburb that are just lost and living a nightmare and in many cases aren’t able to communicate that nightmare. Youngcare is driven on a daily basis to give those people a voice.
How do you find time for yourself?
I think when you are busy you also understand that when you do have your moments with your family and loved ones that it is always quality and you don’t waste those times. I have been like that all my life. So when I was a lot younger I was in a relay team for Australia, a four by four team, and fitting that in with university and then just trying to find time around your training and study and working… you always had to allocate quality. So I found the busier I have actually become means that I have become a better dad and husband because those moments when I am switched off from work I know I am very present for those other moments.
Working in the not-for-profit sector, I have found, means you can’t be a phony. If you are living every day and trying to build a mission centred, community-orientated, powerful and successful organisation you can’t actually go back home and be absolutely hopeless in your own space.
What I have found is the work actually teaches me how to be better in my own private life.