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Making room for change through challenges


26 October 2020 at 8:35 am
Maggie Coggan
When Amanda Mather took on the job of CEO of Sporting Wheelies and Disabled Association, she had no idea she was about to lead the organisation through a pandemic. But as she’s learnt, sometimes, it takes a burning platform to create great change. She’s this week’s Changemaker.


Maggie Coggan | 26 October 2020 at 8:35 am


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Making room for change through challenges
26 October 2020 at 8:35 am

When Amanda Mather took on the job of CEO of Sporting Wheelies and Disabled Association, she had no idea she was about to lead the organisation through a pandemic. But as she’s learnt, sometimes, it takes a burning platform to create great change. She’s this week’s Changemaker. 

Following a 25-year career in healthcare, Mather moved into the charities sector in the hope of moving closer to the coalface of change in health and disability.  

Since making the switch, she has served as a director at not for profit Hear and Say, and has been a driving force behind Bionics Queensland – bringing scientists, researchers, healthcare consumers, clinicians and investors together to take bionic innovations to the next level.

She is now using her broad experience across government, commercial, healthcare, and the NFP sectors to lead Sporting Wheelies and Disabled Association, which enhances the lives of people with disability through health and fitness, sport, and active recreation.

Despite the challenges of 2020, she oversaw the opening of a new health, sport and fitness centre in September, featuring modern equipment to aid rehabilitation, sports participation, health and fitness. 

In this week’s Changemaker, Mather discusses her journey to the social sector, keeping grounded as a leader, and why anyone can make a difference if they put their mind to it.

You worked in healthcare for 25 years, what made you want to come into the NFP space? 

What I learnt throughout my career was that as much as I loved running businesses, I actually wanted to see the difference that I was making every day.

In 2015 I made the leap into the disability sector, and that’s where I worked alongside an amazing inspiration to me, Dr Dimity Dornan AO. She really showed me the way in terms of the sort of person that I wanted to be and what I wanted to bring to the sector.

We started a charity called Bionics Queensland, which is still running today and doing amazing work around fast tracking bionic devices to people with disabilities, and actually building and manufacturing them right here in Queensland. 

What that sparked in me was the interest in actually bringing innovation to the disability sector, because realistically, the wheelchair has looked exactly the same for the last hundred years. We really could be doing so much more to innovate and improve the space for people with disability. 

And what are you trying to achieve at Sporting Wheelies?

My vision for Sporting Wheelies is to help people see what’s possible, to see those magic moments in sport and to have the realisation that they too, can actually work towards achieving a goal. 

One of the guys here at Sporting Wheelies, Jason, was born with cerebral palsy about 35 years ago. At the time his parents were told he would never walk and never talk. By the age of nine, he taught himself to speak, and just last year, with the help of Sporting Wheelies, he took his first steps ever. And not only that, Jason’s gone on to have an extremely fantastic career in sport, and he’s likely to make the next Paralympics. 

He is just one of those guys that always says, “what’s next?” That’s what I want to be able to bring into this sector – not just a complacency that if you have a disability, you have to just do this, but actually say, well, what’s next? What can we achieve next? What new devices and what new therapy can we come up with?

How do you manage challenges in your job?

I was the first woman appointed to CEO of Sporting Wheelies in its 40-year history, and never would I have imagined that I would have to navigate the organisation in the first 12 months through COVID. At the same time, our landlord decided to redevelop the site that we were on, so I had to relocate the entire organisation through the middle of the pandemic. 

But what I learnt through all of this is that it’s really important to not waste a good opportunity for change, and that often, change doesn’t happen because there is no burning platform. So as much as I would have loved it to have been smooth sailing for the first 12 months, what’s actually happened this year is an imperative for change. And as a new leader coming into the role that’s actually given me the wind in the sails to make some really fantastic things happen, and we have. 

We’ve secured a new site which is bigger than our old site and 100 times better than our old site. We have pivoted the business so that we now offer tele-practice services and have realigned and redesigned our sporting programs to actually assist people in different ways. 

And I really think that some of those changes might not have happened if I hadn’t had that really strong burning platform behind me.

And what do you love most about your job?

I love being able to see the change that I’m creating for people every day. We opened a new facility on 11 September, having signed the contract on 7 August and needing about $300,000 worth of work for the building and having only $100,000 to spend. But bringing the community on board with what we were doing was amazing, seeing them getting involved by donating their time and materials to support us.

And then on 11 September, opening it up to our members and just watching the delight on their faces when they rolled into the building for the very first time, was truly amazing. 

And what kind of advice do you have for someone looking to make a difference in the world and to their community?

My advice is that it’s absolutely possible to make a difference. Sometimes the differences that you make are small and incremental, inch by inch. Sometimes they go in leaps and bounds. But at the end of the day, if you have a vision, if you know what you want to achieve and if you can relish in the delight of making it happen, then you will make it happen.


Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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