Finding the silver-lining through crisis
27 April 2020 at 8:21 am
Melbourne City Mission is 165 years old. But as its CEO, Vicki Sutton is coming up with new and innovative ways to tackle social issues and lead the organisation through tough times. She’s this week’s Changemaker.
When Sutton took on the job as head of Melbourne City Mission (MCM) four years ago after a long career in the corporate sector, she put her skills to good use.
It was a time when charities such as MCM were navigating a much more marketised landscape, with the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the rising popularity of social impact bonds, and a focus on outcomes reporting to secure funding.
By embracing these changes, Sutton has secured the longevity of the organisation for decades to come, even when faced with the current challenges of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Under her leadership, the organisation saw the redevelopment of Frontyard, a 24/7 youth crisis accommodation centre in the Melbourne CBD, and the widely successful annual event, Sleepover at the G.
In this week’s Changemaker, Sutton discusses how to stay cool, calm, and collected during a crisis, the silver-lining of a bad situation, and the importance of supporting one another.
You had a long career in the corporate sector, what made you jump ship into the NFP sector?
That’s right, I am trained in finance and I spent a long career in business and finance roles, particularly in the energy industry for many, many years. When I left that over a decade ago, I made a really deliberate decision to move into a job that I would be really passionate about while using my skills – connecting my head and my heart.
I do work really long hours, and I always have, but I’m working somewhere that matters. And I feel really lucky to have now found my way into Melbourne City Mission, which really is the holy trinity – using my skills, being really passionate and being in an organisation where what I can bring is valuable. It’s the highlight of my 30 year career.
What do you want to achieve at Melbourne City Mission?
I’ve been here almost four years, but the organisation has been around for over 165 years, and I recognise that I’ve got a particular role to play in its journey. And for me, that’s about helping our organisation navigate significant funding reforms. Things like the introduction of the NDIS and funding environments that are really different, as well as moves to outcome funding and social impact bonds. If I’m able to help the organisation do that, use my particular background and skill set that come from some of those marketised environments and introduce systems and processes and disciplines that can help our organisation make that significant shift, then that’s my role in this organisation at this point in its history, to set it up for the next couple of decades.
The whole charity sector is going through a bit of a tough time at the moment, how do you manage the organisation through times of crisis?
You manage in a really different way, much more on a day-to-day basis with the challenges you’ve got in front of you. That means setting aside strategic projects to focus on the now. There’s a lot more daily meetings and weekly board meetings and a huge amount of communication and problem-solving, both across the organisation and externally. While there are challenges, there are also highlights that I’m seeing through this time, and MCM has got a really strong culture of innovation and a very strong technology base, which I’m so grateful to have as we’ve come into this.
What I’ve seen emerge through the organisation is a huge desire to keep delivering services which are essential to Victorians who are facing challenges and barriers, and a real shift to adapting programs so that we somehow keep delivering them. We’ve seen things like parenting programs being delivered over Skype, cooking classes for people with a disability and their disability worker being done remotely via video conferencing. There are challenges, but it’s also a time when you really see the strengths of the organisation and the teamwork of the organisation.
What advice do you have for other social sector leaders during these tough times?
We’re all learning, and it’s not an easy time. I think the one thing I’m finding most valuable is to talk to other CEOs in my sector and in different areas and to share what’s working, what’s not working, what great ideas we’ve had. I’m happy to share my ideas and I’m happy to take others. And that helps us all adapt as quickly as possible. But also as a CEO, it can be a lonely job at times, having the opportunity to be very open with other CEOs around what our challenges are is helpful.
What do you do to de-stress in your downtime?
Look, I’m not a great poster boy for home-life balance. But if I’m relaxing I love to read novels, watch a lot of Netflix, and I’ve actually found myself cooking a lot of food with my kids. I’m not a great cook, but just the challenge of that on the weekend really does take my mind away from work.