Supporting Homeless Women Across Queensland
23 April 2018 at 8:35 am
Karen Lyon Reid is CEO of The Lady Musgrave Trust, Queensland’s oldest charity which provides support for homeless women. She is this week’s Changemaker.
Lyon Reid has worked for 30 years across the commercial, public and not-for-profit sectors.
After holding senior executive positions in the Queensland government for more than a decade, she assumed the role of CEO of The Lady Musgrave Trust in 2015.
Established in 1885, the charity provides accommodation and support for homeless women across Queensland.
In this week’s Changemaker, Lyon Reid explains how the charity has evolved under her leadership, goes through a typical day in the life of a CEO and talks about the unique challenges facing the not-for-profit sector.
How did you become involved in the NFP sector and what drew you to it?
Prior to working with The Lady Musgrave Trust, I had a 30 year journey of learning. I started my journey at the Faculty of Architecture in Manitoba, Canada, and ran my own interior architecture business before moving to Australia. Working as a designer, project and asset manager in the industry, while also working as an educator at the [faculty of] built environment at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), gave me the opportunity to build a unique mix of skills.
After a number of years, I moved into strategic asset management where I became a business executive managing a multi-billion dollar property portfolio and over 400 staff members, becoming a member of various boards and national committees. The collection of skills and my love for growth and challenge led me to the role I now have.
It was my desire to make a difference that drove my transition into the charity sector. With all this experience, I realised that I had the opportunity to apply my skills to help others and to truly change the life of someone who is struggling.
For me, The Lady Musgrave Trust was a natural step in my journey to combining what I had learnt in my industry, with my desire to effect real change in my local community.
To see the transformation of a woman’s path so she – and her children in some cases – can be healthy and happy is truly a gift. Working with Queensland’s oldest charity… is certainly a proven and worthwhile cause in our community.
What are the skills you think you bring to the NFP sector?
Creating a vision for a business, strategic and business planning, collaborative projects, asset planning and bringing people together to achieve an outcome. I wanted to bring all of that together to help improve the homelessness situation.
How does Lady Musgrave Trust provide support for homeless women?
We have three components to our service. One of them is that we provide accommodation in units with support services for young homeless women – and their children – up to the age of 30. These young women find themselves in difficult circumstances due to domestic and family violence, poverty, health and mental health issues and much more.
Secondly, we distribute about 20,000 booklets of the Handy Guide for Homeless Women across Queensland and also have a mobile web app. What this booklet does is it provides vital information for someone finding themselves near homelessness or who are already homeless, about where to get shelter accommodation, legal advice, food and welfare, and medical advice in their own local area. This information helps women to customise a solution for their own needs.
The third component of our work is that we run an annual forum on women and homelessness every year which brings together representatives from the community sector, NFPs, universities and government to share ideas about what the challenges are in the homelessness area and what can we do to address those issues. We discuss innovative solutions to tackle this and opportunities for collaboration.
This year the forum is focusing on Changing the Future for Young Women and is being held on 29 August.
How has Lady Musgrave Trust evolved since you started as CEO in 2015?
Certainly we have expanded and upgraded our property portfolio. We’ve sold properties that are no longer suitable for our service and we’ve acquired several new properties. So we’ve upgraded our property portfolio and put into place new partnerships with the likes of Micah Project, National Affordable Housing Consortium and Churches of Christ, who we work with to assist young women.
Also, we originally had only the Brisbane Handy Guide product. And last year we expanded the product to cover Queensland – we now have the Regional Handy Guide and also the mobile app. So users can get onto the mobile app with [their] mobile phone or by going into a public library – it’s a map-based tool that you just put in your information about where you are and what you need. A map will pop up which shows you where you can go in any area for a particular service, like a local hospital or local accommodation provision.
So those are the things that we’ve been expanding over the last few years since I became CEO.
Can you take me through a typical day for you as CEO?
My day is typically about touching base with all of the people that are involved with the trust. It involves managing the office, talking to our marketing people and implementing strategic activities from the strategic plan.
Really it’s about maintaining momentum on a daily basis for the various activities that need to be done, making sure that deadlines are met and ensuring relationships with our network are built and maintained.
You have had leadership roles across a number of different sectors. What are the unique challenges involved with running a NFP?
In a not for profit, the challenge is always around funding and continually trying to work to get more funding so we can deliver more services to the community and to women. So that’s about writing grants, networking so that we can connect with philanthropists, running events that actually gain more awareness for the homelessness situation but that also help us with fundraising.
That’s probably the biggest challenge I’ve experienced since becoming involved in the not-for-profit sector.
I find though that in the not-for-profit sector, the thing that makes it wonderful and anything achievable is the amazing people that work in the sector. With the people on the ground that are helping to resolve the homelessness situation, I have been astounded by the level of their professionalism and their honest endeavours to collaborate with each other to resolve homelessness. I think it’s a profound thing in the not-for-profit sector and certainly in the homelessness area – how everybody works together collaboratively. I am proud to work beside them all.
And what do you like to do in your spare time when you have time away from work?
Well I have a husband, named Michael, and I like to spend time with him. But I also like to paint, get some exercise and spend time with my family and friends.
What have you been reading, watching or listening to recently that has captured your attention?
Well there’s so much going on at the moment in the news. I always like to stay abreast of issues here in Australia and globally. I’m always interested in watching the political situation across Australia and certainly the result of these bank inquiries are very interesting and telling for all of us in the community. But I’m interested in information and change at all levels, from environmental news, to politics, to what’s going on in our sector. It’s important to stay informed.