Business Woman of the Year Encourages Corporate-NFP Partnerships
22 November 2017 at 5:12 pm
Prominent not-for-profit CEO Violet Roumeliotis has been named 2017 Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year, and has encouraged other NFPs to work with corporate Australia to achieve social and economic benefits.
Roumeliotis is the CEO of Settlement Services International (SSI), which provides a range of services in areas such as refugee settlement, housing, disability support, employment services and youth support.
On Tuesday night she was named the Australian Business Woman of the Year, after overseeing innovative diversification from SSI, which led to more than 1,100 per cent revenue growth to $113 million over five years.
She was chosen ahead of 45 finalists – selected out of 4,000 entrants – and is the second NFP leader in the last five years to win the award after UnitingCare Queensland CEO Anne Cross was named winner in 2014.
“She has demonstrated resilience and ingenuity in finding new revenue streams to keep the mission alive and make an impact, and has pioneered new initiatives including the Ignite Small Business Start-ups initiative which facilitates entrepreneurship among refugees and asylum seekers,” Joe Pollard, Telstra Business Women’s Awards ambassador said.
Roumeliotis told Pro Bono News that corporate Australia should partner with entrepreneurial peers in the NFP sector to address commercial and social challenges.
“There are workforce gaps where employers can’t get staff, and we have so many people in the NFP sector who can’t get work,” Roumeliotis said.
“We can engage and get people job ready… it’s about negotiating and looking at self-interests of corporations or small businesses and also the needs of the community, to see how you can meet those needs and have a win-win situation.”
She said her latest accolade offered a “wonderful opportunity” for NFPs to see past outdated stereotypes and develop a new perspective on other sectors.
“When I was a younger community worker, it was punishable by death if you ever said anything nice about someone who worked in a public service or you even thought about wanting to work with a big corporation,” she said.
“Times have changed. And what we see now is an opportunity for innovation and relationships that can create solutions and bring resources that we couldn’t get anywhere else.
“We’ve moving towards a mutual respect and understanding that while we operate differently, we have a lot in common, and [working together] can create a lot of social and economic benefits for Australia.”
She also echoed her earlier advice that NFPs should operate more like a social business, which she believed was one of the key drivers of SSI’s success.
“This sort of thing has been happening for a while, but more and more we’ve refined it as a sector, in response to funding arrangements and policy shifts. We’ve realised that we do need to be competitive and efficient,” she said.
“But we’ve seen this great benefit to come from that, where you have been able to have revenue and surpluses that you can put into areas that the government cannot fund and which the market cannot fill.
“It allows you great opportunities and power to make some decisions benefitting the community.”
Roumeliotis said SSI aimed to make the most of the publicity afforded by the win, and would look to amplify the voices of the marginalised communities they work with.
“It’s going to be a great opportunity to be strategic and amplify the voices of organisations like SSI that operate like a social business, and also the voices of vulnerable Australians,” she said.
“It gives them the opportunity to be seen very differently to some of the negative narratives that are often associated with refugees, children in foster care, and those who are unemployed.”