Rewriting Social Care Rules in the NDIS Age
23 July 2018 at 8:00 am
Danielle Ballantine is the CEO of Your Side, a not-for-profit disability and aged care provider based in Sydney. She is this week’s Changemaker.
Ballantine has held a variety of senior positions in human/health services across both the NFP and corporate sectors.
She joined Your Side as CEO in 2015, looking to rewrite the rules of social care in the age of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
The organisation acts as a social care hub for NDIS recipients and is in the midst of a growth strategy, despite significant sector pressure forcing many other providers to merge or exit the market.
Ballantine – who has vision-impairment and identifies as a person with disability – has published various discussion papers on employment, disability and mental health, and has twice been nominated for the Telstra Business Woman of the Year Award.
In this week’s Changemaker, Ballantine reflects on the paradigm shift affecting the disability sector, her plans to expand Your Side, and the unpredictability of her role as CEO.
What is your career background before joining Your Side?
I started my career working in home and family care in a private organisation before moving into private rehab, working with people who acquired a disability in the workplace, supporting them to return to work. I was able to see the impact of disability and acquiring a disability on a person’s sense of self, their family and their life goals.
I ventured further into disability employment, working with people born with disability, and was able to experience the advantages and benefits to the community when people with disabilities are included. I always had a very strong sense of social justice, and seeing the level of exclusion of people with disability in the community very much spoke to my social justice values, and I took it from there. I spent 10 years working with people living with mental illness, also in workforce development and training, and community access programs as well, before I came to Your Side.
You have experience across both corporate and not-for-profit roles. Is there much difference between how for-profits and non-profits operate?
There’s really no difference except for language. I was fortunate to work in corporate environments with strong values that obviously applied commercial elements to operating the business.
And I’ve been able to come into a not for profit which also has a very strong sense of purpose and very strong values to deliver and make an impact. But rather than talking about profit you talk about surplus, and in order to be sustainable and make an impact and achieve your purpose, you need to ensure that you have a viable and robust business.
How do you think the NDIS has impacted the disability sector and how has Your Side managed to grow at a time when many other service providers are struggling?
Well the impact of the NDIS is that the customer is at the centre of delivery, whereas before the consumer was the recipient of service. So that’s a huge paradigm shift to the sector. We were given money by the government to then deliver services, but now it’s incumbent upon us to really listen and understand and gather feedback from our customers and then build a business that meets their needs.
That’s a paradigm shift in how you operate both at a commercial level, at a cultural level and also from a customer level as well. So with Your Side we really spent a lot of time talking with clients, talking to people with disabilities and their families and talking with the community. We looked at what was going on in the sector with other service providers and learnt from what other people had or were unable to do. We then brought that intelligence together to build something that meets the need.
I think the other thing is that we did it without fear. We did it with confidence and we were confident that if it wasn’t going to work we would still recover very quickly.
What are some of the future goals for the organisation as the roll out of the NDIS continues?
One of several goals is we want to be able to continue to grow. Our business model is predicated on being able to have economies of scale and have that growth. We will be looking at moving into new customer segments, so we can’t just be reliant on NDIS funding. We need to have multiple revenue streams in order to manage the risk and that will mean we move into different marketplaces as our services expand.
We will continue to geographically expand, so taking us from north of Sydney to across Sydney and then more broadly across New South Wales. So those are our commercial goals. Obviously we want our customer experience to be a seamless care continuum so that our clients at every touch point have a positive experience with us.
And we want to be a recognised, visible, well-known brand that not only measures the social impact that we have with our clients but also communicates that effectively and continuously strives to meet our purpose and our vision, which is that “every life can be a good one”.
You have a lived experience of disability and about 15 to 20 per cent of your workforce also identifies as having a disability. What are the benefits of this working in the disability space?
Definitely empathy. There is an understanding and the capability to be able to relate. Also it makes you incredibly resourceful and incredibly imaginative in being able to come up with solutions and workarounds, and that can be incredibly empowering. So our team knows they can relate with clients and that helps build that relationship. It also means that we’re educated and we can talk from experience as well when we’re working with the community.
What does a typical day for you look like as CEO?
Every day is juggling many different competing demands and priorities. I quite love the unpredictability of this role. What I’m doing today will be really different to what I’m doing tomorrow. Some days, particularly with the NDIS, it’s about looking over budgets, looking over business models, looking over forecasts. And other days you’re out with families, you’re with clients, or you’re talking with government bureaucrats or ministers about what’s going on across the sector or what’s going on in the NGO space at the moment.
With families and clients, you’re out there gathering feedback, trying to understand their experience and trying to understand how their direct experience and our service interrelates with one another and how we can continuously improve on that. Right now as well, we’re ramping up our services in response to the NDIS and other opportunities that we have on the horizon and that also takes an enormous amount of time with the team. We need to be able to assure them and inspire actions attached to our vision and our purpose, so that they can come in every day and make the transition from the old block-funded world into the new and exciting NDIS world.
And Your Side also has a very strong and involved board, so there’s also quite a bit of time where I’m working and meeting with directors ensuring that our purpose and our direction are well aligned and that the board are across that.
What do you like to do in your spare time away from work?
Well work is never far from my mind. A CEO role is not a clock-on, clock-off role. So you don’t come in at 8:30 and finish at 5:00 and turn off. So it’s always in the back of my mind, but I’m a pretty standard person so I like time with friends and family, and travelling when I get the chance. I’m also always hungry for information, so I am continuously reading and learning.