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The CEO who believes in miracles

22 July 2022 at 3:30 pm
Isabelle Oderberg
Jane Edge, CEO of CBM Australia, is passionate about inclusion and developing solutions that have real, positive impact. She is this week’s Changemaker. 

Isabelle Oderberg | 22 July 2022 at 3:30 pm


The CEO who believes in miracles
22 July 2022 at 3:30 pm

Jane Edge, CEO of CBM Australia, is passionate about inclusion and developing solutions that have real, positive impact. She is this week’s Changemaker. 

The seeds for a career in social justice, sustainable development and positive impact at scale were planted for Jane Edge when she was a child in church, but her first job was actually in journalism, as she was drawn to the experiences of people and their communities. 

This in turn fuelled her passion for amplifying voices; for giving disadvantaged groups a platform to be heard. She then joined an international development organisation leading marketing and communications, before becoming a CEO at the age of 27. 

“The experiences I gained in those years, including responding to disasters such as the Boxing Day tsunami, were invaluable,” Edge explains. “They compelled me to find new ways of helping people unlock their potential. Putting my faith into action has always been a driver. I’m grateful to be able to use my gifts to make a difference.”

In this week’s Changemaker, Jane Edge talks about how to approach inclusion within communities, why foreign aid must be a priority for the Albanese government and the need for work-life balance. 

How did you get into the job you’re in now?

While working on development programs and disaster response efforts, I was troubled by the fact that the world’s largest minority, people with disabilities, were often left out of development efforts. Then, and still now, people living with disabilities in poverty are some of the most disadvantaged in the world, often unable to access food, basic services, go to school or earn a living.

In 2012, when the role came up at CBM Australia, I was living with my young family in the UK. I had left my leadership role in international development and transitioned to executive coaching and consulting in organisational change. CBM provided an opportunity to bring together all my leadership experience, my commitment to social justice and my faith. It was also the right time to come back home with my family.

In 2015, I became the CEO of CBM Australia and I am proud to say that I lead an organisation that has catalytic, collaborative, and innovative approaches, which see millions of lives transformed each year in a growing movement to end the cycle of poverty and disability. It is truly a movement of the heart.

 What does a typical day look like for you?

The joy of this job is that there is no typical day! A day usually involves connecting with all those who are part of our work; supporters who engage in our advocacy and give sacrificially to enable our work, global colleagues as we think about where to best place CBM’s expertise and resources to advance the rights of people with disabilities living in poverty, our staff who are an incredible bunch of people, passionately committed to our shared desire to enable those in need to transform their lives.

What are some of the challenges working in NFPs generally?

There are always challenges working in this space, mainly around having enough resources to do everything you hope to in service of those at the heart of your organisational mission. As the vice president of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), I hear this from my colleagues in the sector every day. 

At CBM we have committed supporters, a strong Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) partnership and Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) funding, however overall, the core disability funding in the aid budget was cut by 25 per cent in the height of the pandemic.

The challenge of COVID-19 for our partners in developing countries was, and remains, very real. It has derailed development efforts worldwide and is particularly catastrophic for people with disabilities who, due to higher rates of poverty, will also experience the reality of climate change through increased natural disasters, food insecurity and displacement.

Ensuring we are focused on the right priorities at the right pacing is challenging. Staff and partners care so much about our shared vision that it can be difficult to slow down or gracefully let some activities stop.

What is your proudest achievement?

There’s been quite a few over the years. This year we are celebrating 10 years of our Miracles Day fundraising campaign to restore sight to some of the poorest people around the world. When I reflect that over 300,000 people have had their sight restored in that decade, I think of the amazing transformative impact on all those individuals’ lives, and their families. It’s a miraculous change that I’ve had the privilege of witnessing, a 12-minute surgery to remove cataracts. The wonderful thing is many Australians can help make it happen year after year, and they will have that chance again on Miracles Day on 18 August.

Overall I’m proud of our sustained effort over the years in ensuring disability inclusion is always on the agenda, including with the Australian government and other NGOs. We’re fighting to end the cycle of poverty and disability, advocating for and alongside people with disabilities who deserve the same opportunities as everyone else, the chance to go to school, to earn a living, to access clean water, to have a say in the decisions that affect them and to contribute to their communities in meaningful ways.

What do you think are some of the challenges being faced by the sector going forward?

The Albanese government has made clear commitments to putting development at the heart of foreign policy and to recognising the severity of climate change. This is a challenge. We have less than eight years to meet Australia’s obligations under Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.

To meet those goals, and in line with obligations under the Conventions of the Right of Persons with Disabilities, disability inclusion and rights must be central in Australia’s new international development policy. Critically, the government must also develop a new, ambitious Disability Inclusion and Rights Strategy in 2022.

The government must underpin its strategic leadership with tangible commitments, including increasing the central disability funding and increasing mainstream programming with a focus on including people with disabilities and capacity building for partnering with Organisations of People with Disabilities. When I think of CBM’s challenges, our partners on the ground in many developing nations once knew that Australia could be counted on to support people with disabilities and their communities, but now they can’t be sure. We must turn that around and rebuild that trust.

What do you do when you’re not at work?

I spend as much time as I can with my family and friends. I have teenage daughters who are strong, independent young women with clear ideas on what needs to change in the world.

COVID-19 has made me appreciate even more how precious this time is. I’m also intentional about balancing my work, my health, and my wellbeing. I journal, I exercise, I love reading and I am always researching the next hiking adventure I can embark on. Losing myself in nature puts everything in perspective.

What do you want to achieve by the time you retire?

In terms of my leadership of CBM Australia, there is still much to do! I’m energised by the innovation shown by our people and our partners, and want to continue to nurture these efforts. Miracles Day started as a little campaign and has turned into a huge annual event. We developed our inclusion advisory group here in Australia with just a few partners and a couple of advisors, and it has now scaled up to be a highly influential and valued global service. It works hard to advise other organisations, including the World Food Programme and United Nations, in disability inclusive development.

I think it will be evolution rather than retirement, whatever that looks like! I’ll always be engaged in unlocking the potential of people and organisations that are focused on making lasting, positive impact. That’s my passion and my vocation, and I feel privileged to have a career that serves others in enabling growth, innovation and catalytic change.

Isabelle Oderberg  |  @ProBonoNews

Isabelle joined as the editor of Pro Bono Australia after working as a journalist and media and communications professional for over two decades.

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