Providing Cancer Support With a Smile
3 September 2018 at 8:58 am
Kylea Tink is CEO of Camp Quality, a charity providing support and laughter for kids battling cancer and their families. She is this week’s Changemaker.
Tink knows she can’t cure cancer – she isn’t a scientist.
What she has done though, is worked across the board in strategic planning, brand building, and re-building organisations such as the McGrath Foundation, to spread the word and provide support for those affected by cancer.
Tink stepped up to the role of Camp Quality CEO at the start of 2017, and says while she respects the hard work done before her, she is now looking to what the future of the organisation holds.
In this week’s Changemaker, Tink discusses the importance of strategy and humility in the not-for-profit sector, taking risks, and keeping positive.
How did your background lead you to where you are today?
I think I’ve always been a bit of an advocate for change. I’m the eldest of four children, and had two very young parents. There were always a lot of things that came into my sphere of influence, that I looked at and thought ‘this just doesn’t seem right’, and so I would want to do something about it.
When I went to university, I became involved with KidsSafe and the Brain Injury Association of Australia. My work with these places made me see that working within an ecosystem could bring about some sort of change which would have a tangible impact in the community. I went into health promotion and worked a lot with the growing HIV community in Sydney. I was then picked up by a PR consulting company, because they were working with pharmaceutical companies.
In my last couple of years there, I rolled out an initiative that saw our offices take on dedicated corporate social responsibility clients. I did this because when working with not for profits, I was often frustrated because their ability to respond quickly to changing markets was not great. In some instances they had been in the market for so long that they’d actually lost their connection to purpose.
You were CEO of the McGrath Foundation for quite a few years. Did you ever think you would end up in such a position?
When Jane McGrath passed away in 2008, I really wanted to find a way to continue on her legacy, but I honestly never thought I’d enter the NFP sphere because of my experience in consultancy. It was the perfect situation, in that the organisation was so small so there was this incredible capacity to be able to create and build something from next to nothing. In six years, we went from having six McGrath breast cancer nurses to 100, and our income levels skyrocketed and brought much needed services to regional areas. Every day in that organisation, it reiterated to me, that people coming together with a common cause could really bring about substantial change.
Building from the ground up must have thrown some serious challenges at you.
I cannot tell you the number of times when I was working that people would tell me that you can’t do it that way, or that it wasn’t going to work. The Pink Test was something that was seriously doubted. We actually took that from a tin rattling opportunity and turned it into what is probably now one of the most iconic cricket matches on the face of the earth, let alone here in Australia.
In my experience you have to understand what the perceived barriers are, and why people think your idea is going to fail. You’ve really got to be prepared to say this is the idea we’ve had and we believed it will work for these reasons.
I also think a lot of people rely on data too much. Not that it isn’t useful, but I think some of the best ideas wouldn’t have happened if you’d relied on data because innovation and ideation by its very nature are against accepted norms.
I also think organisations tend to sit back and wait for people to come to them, which in my experience is a recipe for disaster. That’s an arrogance that denies an organisation the opportunity to grow and engage in.
You’ve held a lot of different roles to do with cancer. How do you remain positive with such an emotionally taxing issue?
I guess I always have had roles to do with cancer, although it’s not deliberate. I feel like the key insight has been there are lots of people working on the future framework. Personally, I can’t really do anything about finding a cure for cancer, I’m not going to be the person that identifies the gene that’s going to stop at all. With my work at Camp Quality, I can be the person who can change the experience that somebody is having today and making sure that a child who is sitting in a hospital ward today has a very real reason to laugh out loud.
I think the way that I’ve always operated is by focusing on what I can do and not focusing on what I can’t do. Cancer is a big word for so many different diseases and it is a blight of our community. You know there’s not a single person who will not be touched by cancer at some point in their lives, and a lot of us are going to have direct contact with cancer.
Do you ever get overwhelmed by the enormity of it?
Chances are hundreds of thousands of children are going to be told that somebody that they love or know has cancer. And from my perspective, I look at that rather than be overwhelmed by it. It’s really a privilege to work with an organisation that is focused on making the experience of that realisation for them easier to either understand or actually embrace in such a way that it makes them stronger people in the end.
I do have a very fundamental belief that none of us know how long we’re going to be here for, and every one of us can make a decision about which way we want to behave or what outcome we want from every moment. And I think if we all live really mindfully and purposefully in every instance, we can move mountains.
Coming from a PR perspective too, how important is it to effectively communicate ideas so people are engaged?
I think I think effective communication is essential and I think often what we’ve gotten wrong in the NFP sector is that we talked at people without talking to them. Whenever we enter into any sort of campaigning space, and want to engage in a two way conversation, it’s about organisations going to the community and actually engaging with them rather than standing back and only doing things on their terms. Simplifying your message is really important, and I’ll admit it’s not easy because it’s all too easy to get bound up in a million messages a day. But you need to step back and decide what you want people to know about you and how you want to help people.
What sort of things have you got coming up at Camp Quality?
We are looking at ways to offer support that isn’t already there. There’s a lot of support offered to kids when they’re in hospital and when they’re diagnosed with cancer, but not a whole lot for kids who have a parent diagnosed, and even less for when you leave the hospital.
We are really looking into how we can utilise technology with that. We were one of the first organisations in the world to create a Kids Guide to Cancer app, and I’m really excited we’re going to be doing work with a new app for families that they’ll be able to access just as they’re leaving hospital, to help them navigate the return to home.
Would you say there’s been a highlight in your life you can pinpoint?
I’ve done some amazing things in my life. I’ve done everything from meeting Donald Trump and Donald Rumsfeld, through to the Sydney Olympics and seeing the Pink Test come to life. By far the most incredible thing I’ve done is have my three kids. Every day I look at them, and think, “wow you’re very special to be here” and I guess the more time I can have with them the happier I am. I think they’re pretty cool.