Media Release: Second cohort of Vic and Tas for-purpose CEOs selected for innovative leadership program

Monday, 25 July 2022

Twenty-four not-for-profit leaders have been announced today as participants in the second cohort of the Social Impact Leadership Australia (SILA) Program – a five-year $9.6 million capacity building and leadership program funded by four of Australia’s major philanthropic foundations.

Built from a collective desire to support NFP leaders to positively influence their organisations and create a strategic network of more than 100 social impact leaders across the country, The Myer Foundation, Sidney Myer Fund, Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation and Paul Ramsay Foundation came together in 2020 to fund the SILA Program, which is being delivered by the Centre for Social Impact (CSI).

Cohort Two participants – made up of CEOs from Victoria and Tasmania within the climate, arts, agriculture, health and community services sectors – will experience a series of immersive learning experiences, one-on-one coaching, dedicated capacity-building support, and a fully funded three-month sabbatical over the 10-month program.

Arminé Nalbandian, CEO of CSI, said the SILA Program aims to strengthen the entire for-purpose sector through its innovative and immersive approach – an Australian-first and fully funded offering.

“SILA is a groundbreaking program that recognises the importance of investing in for-purpose leaders. Corporate leaders have long had opportunities for intensive professional support and SILA is a way for us to provide those same opportunities to for-purpose leaders,” she said.

“As Australia’s leader in social impact education we’re proud to be delivering this flagship for-purpose executive leadership program.”

Leonard Vary, CEO of The Myer Foundation and Sidney Myer Fund, doubled-down on the importance of SILA to prop up the underinvestment in tailored executive professional development within the for-purpose sector.

“The for-purpose sector is crucial to communities all across the country and we must continue to drive best-practice leadership. We are proud to be supporting this second cohort of experienced leaders who are working to find solutions for climate action, community arts, family violence, and more,” he said.

“We know from Cohort One and the CEOs who have already experienced the program, that SILA will strengthen this new cohort’s professional networks and equip them with the latest leadership skills to manage complex organisational change and collaboration beyond completion of the program.”

On being selected as a SILA Cohort Two participant, Bill Mithen, CEO of the Give Where You Live Foundation in Geelong, Victoria celebrated the program for its disruptive and evidence-based approach to developing leadership capability.

“I think we all inherently know that we’re at our best and most creative as leaders when we stop to consider all the angles and possibilities, but too often the daily imperatives don’t allow that. Getting the time to slow down, think and imagine is an exciting prospect which can only lead to greater impact.

“Leadership in smaller organisations often rests with the CEO and SILA provides a rare opportunity for us to take a breath and develop a more diverse breadth of leadership capability.”

As part of SILA, participants will complete a tailored sabbatical enabling time to reflect and apply learnings from the program while their organisation receives capacity funding and executive support through an identified ‘Step-up Leader’.

Jo Flanagan, CEO of Women’s Health Tasmania and another Cohort Two participant, is looking forward to building her own capacity, but also her Deputy CEO’s:

“SILA is more than just a leadership program. It has an emphasis on organisational capability as well as individual leadership and is an amazing opportunity to develop my own skills and knowledge, and those of our Deputy CEO, who will be our SILA step-up leader. I’m hoping it will really help my organisation position itself strategically for the next 10 years.”

The SILA Program’s Cohort Two participants include:

Adrienne PiconeTasCOSS
Aileen AshfordKids First Australia
Alison LaiAlcohol, Tobacco and other Drugs Council Tasmania
Andrea GoddardStars Foundation
Andrew DaviesB Lab Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand
Bill MithenGive Where You Live Foundation
Charlotte JonesMental Health Legal Centre
Chris PoveyJustice Connect
Daniel SantangeliFootscray Community Arts
Donna deZwartFitted for Work
Elisa BuggyWestern Region Centre Against Sexual Assault Inc (WestCASA)
Fiona DavisFarmers for Climate Action
Jaison HoernelGood Cycles Inc
James HattamTasmanian Land Conservancy
Jane HuntThe Front Project
Jo FlanaganWomen’s Health Tasmania
Kirsty AlbionCentre for Australian Progress
Melodie Potts RosevearTeach for Australia
Michael KellyRelationships Australia Tasmania
Natalie EgletonFoundation for Regional & Rural Renewal (FRRR)
Sam La RoccaThe Sunrise Project 
Sarah NealMalthouse Theatre
Simon RuthThorne Harbour Health (Victorian AIDS Council Inc)
Tania FarhaSafe and Equal

Participants in Cohort One (2021) were selected from NSW and the ACT, with SILA being offered to for-purpose leaders from all states and territories in Australia in a staggered roll-out. Nominations for the third intake will open in late 2023.


Participant profile: Suzie Riddell

Suzie Riddell

Suzie Riddell is CEO of Social Ventures Australia (SVA) and was a Cohort One SILA participant.

Suzie Riddell is completely convinced that we can do better in Australia to shift the dial on better outcomes for people and communities, and she’s dedicated her career to doing so.

Helping communities thrive

Journeying to Guatemala in her early 20s, Suzie had an eye-opening experience of social impact – not all of it was positive.

Her time spent working as a volunteer English teacher in a girls’ primary school led her to question the ethics and efficacy of such international programs.

She witnessed deficits in financial rigour and transparency and a need for evidence-informed solutions to foster positive change, locally. She “felt like surely there was a better way to help people and communities”.

Building on these experiences, and her early career working as a strategy consultant for Bain and Co, Suzie later joined SVA to get a “bird’s eye” view of the social purpose sector so she could learn about the sector and see where she would be best placed to contribute.

She’s now been there for over 11 years.

As an intermediary working to create change at scale, SVA is dedicated to improving and funding positive change initiatives for people and communities across Australia.

Helping children get the right start in life, supporting people to attain meaningful work and a safe and affordable place to live, and access to good, culturally appropriate health and social care are just some of the issues that drive the organisation’s focus.

SVA is a 100-person team that works across Australia in multiple disciplines to ensure funding, services and policy create measurable impact in our communities. This includes a strategic social impact consulting service, an impact investing team as well as teams incubating initiatives at different stages along the pilot to policy pipeline. .

“What I love most is that people at SVA and those we work with, all at their heart have an optimistic mindset that we can do better as a society,” says Suzie.

Building a trusted network to drive future change

Suzie was excited by the opportunity to join Cohort One of the Social Impact Leadership Australia (SILA) Program, and to learn from a really “talented and passionate group” of leaders, many of whom she had previously met.

The SILA Program provides a structure and container for group interaction, learning and the potential for collaboration to develop within the sector, outside of day-to-day work.

It’s common in the social purpose sector to feel like the “opportunities are endless, but time is constrained,” Suzie shares.

So time in SILA offered the opportunity to get to know each other and reflect, and come together to create change.

“When I look at some of the most remarkable social change initiatives that have happened in Australia, there is often a highly dense, trusting network of people at the centre,” says Suzie.

“With SILA, it felt like atoms would bump together in the universe and magic would happen,” she adds.

A mindset shift for CEO success

SILA helped Suzie to look at some subconscious beliefs and reconsider what success is. It was during the first retreat that she had a “real unwinding of some mindsets about what a real CEO is, what they look like, and how they behave,” she says.

With the focus on the wellbeing of for-purpose leaders, Suzie believes that SILA is sending a message very loudly that leaders matter.

“That’s important, because organisations will be better equipped to focus on their mission and vision with more effective leaders,” Suzie says.

Early ‘aha moments’ with her SILA coach developed further insight, which gave her permission to slow down during the sabbatical period and to use the time for herself.

“All of the ideas I had about how I might use my time, at first, were at a very high intensity. I’m so used to running fast. I had a shift in perspective during the program, to use the time instead to avoid burnout or recover from it,” says Suzie.

“I think SILA will have a huge and long-lasting impact on our sector. It will change the perspective and behaviour of funders, too, about the value of investing in capabilities of organisations and their people – something that is often overlooked in this sector.”


Facilitator profile: Mark Yettica-Poulson

Mark Yettica-Paulson

Mark Yettica-Paulson is the Indigenous Lead for the SILA Program. He is also the Deep Collaboration Lead for Collaboration for Impact and CEO of Super Native Unlimited.

Mark Yettica-Paulson is an experienced intercultural leadership and collaboration specialist, and an Australian Indigenous leader from the Birrah, Gamilaroi and Bundjalung peoples, from South East Queensland and North East NSW regions.

As the Indigenous Lead for the SILA Program he provides a rich perspective of First Nations leadership development and collaboration from his 20+ years of experience working in the field, facilitating the  exchange of intercultural leadership knowledge and providing expert advice for engaging with Aboriginal communities across Australia in locations where the SILA Program is held.

A First Nations leadership lens

“First Nations leadership development applies a cultural lens to governance and empowerment within Indigenous communities,” Mark explains.

“It harnesses a “dual-pronged approach”, to support Indigenous leaders to fulfil their own leadership desires within their community, and to develop skills to lead other people, from non-Indigenous, and multicultural backgrounds in Australia.”

The First Nations lens also looks at how leaders from diverse social and cultural backgrounds can develop the necessary strengths, awareness and practices “to lead together” with Indigeous people, to achieve better outcomes for all.

“The concept of cultural governance is central to the First Nations leadership model, which considers and establishes culturally appropriate ways of working with Indigenous communities. For organisations to blossom, they must determine who holds authority, and where decision making rests, within different contexts.

“We need to think about the kind of governance structures we need, and who the top layer of authority should be. This is important to ensure that organisations fit the cultural makeup and cultural comfort zone of key stakeholders,” Mark says.

For First Nations communities, “our highest level of authority is invested in our senior people, our elders, who are the custodians of our traditions and customs. They are the ones who hold governance and are ultimately the ones who we would want to represent us as we move forward,” he adds.

Adaptive strategies for strong leadership

The SILA Program encourages leaders to dive deep, have hard conversations with themselves, their coaches, their teams, and others, to establish authentic connections and achieve enduring positive impact.

“We are facing some big issues in Australia and the world, and new ways of thinking and operating are required to shift the dial on key issues, such as equality and climate change,” says Mark.

SILA explores adaptive leadership models to investigate challenge and complexity and Mark believes we have to be “adaptive enough to let go of the things that we once thought of as the pillars of our society, and the ways of doing and being that no longer serve us.”

Doing so requires tough conversations and courageous action, grounded in authenticity.

“We’re going to need different ways of knowing, being and doing, in order for us to save the planet, be better leaders, and carve out an identity that really feels like ours,” says Mark.

“That takes bravery and commitment, and summoning the strength is just like the moment before you step out on stage. You’ve got to conjure up self-belief, and know that you’ve got this and that change is truly possible.”


The key questions I asked to be a better leader for social impact

By Melissa Abu-Gazaleh | Managing Director, Top Blokes Foundation

This article was originally published in Philanthropy Weekly, the digital newsletter of Philanthropy Australia.

“One of the main indicators of a successful organisation is whether the CEO continues to grow and learn.” This sentence, said by Australia’s most significant and well-respected funders at the inaugural Social Impact Leadership Program launch event stopped me in my tracks.

Having established the Top Blokes Foundation, a leading boy’s mental health organisation that helps young males build the skills to lead healthy and safe lives, I was no stranger to learning. Learning how to reduce the rates of male suicide, incidences of mental ill-health and all forms of violence. That skill of learning means we’re always delving into the hard, difficult and messy issues that young males face.

I knew as CEO, I had more learning to do which is why I applied to be part of Australia’s ground-breaking leadership program for the social sector, SILA, a collaboration between the Myer Foundation, the Sidney Myer Fund, the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation and the Paul Ramsay Foundation and delivered by the Centre for Social Impact.

What I didn’t realise was how the program would have me asking some of the most critical questions that all for purpose CEO’s should be asking themselves.

From undertaking a series of activities including an organisational diagnostics assessment, wellbeing assessments, 360 reviews, coaching sessions, learning circles, three retreats and a three-month sabbatical, I have come to learn that as leaders in our field it is actually our responsibility and obligation to ask ourselves the hard questions, both in our work and of ourselves and to continually sit in the discomfort of those learnings.

At the end of the program, here are examples of the challenging questions I believe all for purpose CEO’s should ask themselves:

1. Do I actually understand my leadership shadow and is it driving cultural change?

Every leader casts a shadow. Our intentions, behaviours and language influences how we build our internal culture. But when was the last time we asked our teams how they experience our display of power, authority and influence?

How do we become more conscious and deliberate in the leadership culture we’re building to ensure it will drive positive cultural change within our organisations and within the communities we serve.

2. To what level am I helping our leadership team to instill a culture of curiosity and exploration throughout all levels of the organisation?

I just completed SILA’s three-month sabbatical, where I stepped away from the day-to-day of the Top Blokes Foundation and used the time to reflect, examine and explore the complexities of the social issues we’re working so hard to address.

I used the time to challenge my own assumptions, to understand the levers of change and to sit in the unknown. I learned that this sense of reflection, clarity and energy can be a source of innovation.

And in that time, I couldn’t tell you how many people would say that a sabbatical is a wonderful once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

My question is, why just once in a lifetime? Why can’t we embed a culture of reflection and clarification and instill it as a core value?

What if giving employees paid time away to explore and examine could lead to our sector’s most interesting innovations? I came to the realisation that one of my core priorities as CEO should be to create a culture of innovation by embedding curiosity and exploration as key values.

3. Can operating in fight or flight mode helps us achieve our organisation’s mission?

When meeting other for purpose CEOs, I’m never surprised by how quickly the conversation moves to the fast-pace nature of our work, the feelings of exhaustion and the sense of being overwhelmed. I’ve yet to meet a for-purpose CEO who doesn’t wake up at 2am with a panic thought about a detail they may have missed.

We often feel like our busy minds lead us to constantly operate in a fight or flight mode and we’re constantly fed messages how this isn’t healthy. Instead, we’re encouraged to achieve balance and calm (what even is that?!) in our roles.

So, I’ve been questioning, how would our relationship with stress and exhaustion change if rather than trying to move away from the tension we instead welcomed the benefits of functioning in fight or flight? Could it help us thrive even further and amplify our effectiveness as leaders? If we continued the pursuit to stop operating in this state, what are the impacts on our work and the people we’re ultimately trying to help?

4. Am I stepping into my authority and how do I better understand my growth edge?

Why do so many for purpose CEO’s battle imposter syndrome? Are our own sense of fears and limitations impacting how we step up and into our authority, the very authority we’ve worked so hard to earn? Are we struggling because we’re actually trying to find the line between confidence, skill and humility? What if we better understood our own vulnerabilities and used these as leadership strengths. Could we become better leaders?

The CEO role can be incredibly lonely at times. SILA has helped me find my tribe. The very people who simply understand the deep commitment and resilience needed to pursue long term social change.

We’re sharing our passions, our struggles and our personal and sometimes incredibly deep grief. We sit with each other and know how tiring yet exhilarating our leadership roles are. We sit with each other knowing that we do this work because it’s hard and we’re built for hard. We’re reigniting each other’s spark and we’re becoming stronger than we were the day before. And true to that funder’s observation, we are all seeking every opportunity to grow and learn.

SILA has already been transformational for our organisation, in more ways than I can currently acknowledge. If you’re a VIC or TAS CEO and you’d like to strengthen your leadership capabilities, I strongly encourage you to apply for the upcoming SILA Program.


Media Release: Innovative leadership program now open to for-purpose CEOs in Victoria and Tasmania

Thursday, 3 February 2022

Applications for the second cohort of the five-year Social Impact Leadership Australia (SILA) Program have launched today, with the aim of bringing together for-purpose leaders from Victoria and Tasmania over 10-months for a comprehensive and dedicated leadership and capacity-building program, starting in July 2022.

SILA is a $9.6 million collaboration between four of Australia’s major foundations: The Myer Foundation and Sidney Myer Fund, the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation and the Paul Ramsay Foundation.

Over five years, SILA will be offered to for-purpose leaders from all states and territories in Australia. Participants in the current Cohort One (2021) are based in NSW and the ACT and applications are now open for Cohort Two, for CEOs based in Victoria and Tasmania.

The evidence-based and fully-funded program, delivered by the Centre for Social Impact, is specifically designed to meet the needs of Australian for-purpose CEOs to help build the capacity of their organisations through leadership development, organisational capacity building and tailored executive coaching.

SILA aims to disrupt common ideas of leadership to create greater social impact across Australia.

Over 10-months, 24 selected leaders within each cohort participate in a series of immersive learning experiences, a sabbatical, one-on-one coaching and dedicated capacity-building support for their for-purpose organisatons.

Applications for Cohort Two are now open to social purpose CEOs from Victoria and Tasmania, who meet the eligibility criteria.

Funding of the program allows for participants to apply from across both states, including from regional and rural areas, with travel and associated costs covered.

Leonard Vary, CEO of The Myer Foundation and Sidney Myer Fund, said that the idea for SILA stemmed from a collective desire among the funders to address underinvestment in capacity building across the sector, to support for-purpose leaders through building their leadership skills, positively influencing their organisations, and creating a strategic network of like-minded leaders across the country.

“Beyond the professional development and the network we are creating through this program, SILA is a powerful way to influence and develop the entire sector across Australia, and importantly ensure that our leaders are ready to lead for greater social impact.

“We’re excited to see the next cohort get underway as we expand the program throughout Victoria and Tasmania.”

Cohort One participant, Penny Dakin, CEO of the Australian Research Alliance for Children & Youth (ARACY), based in Canberra, said that there is a lot of competition in the for-purpose sector for funds, skilled staff and opportunities, and praised the SILA program for disrupting that approach.

“The premise of SILA is that we’re much more powerful as a sector when we’re united and driven by what’s common between us, with shared skills and language. It’s about making us stronger,” Ms Dakin said.

A core feature of SILA is the fully-funded sabbatical which enables participants time to reflect and apply learnings from the program while their organisation receives capacity funding and executive support through an identified ‘Step-up Leader’.

CEO of Top Blokes Foundation and Cohort One participant, Melissa Abu Gazaleh, said that the sabbatical gave her the space to reflect on her learning and development, personal wellbeing and a strategic project.

“I was equally excited about giving the Top Blokes team an opportunity to grow and lead by the experience as well,” Ms Abu Gazaleh said.

Applications for Cohort Two close on 15 April. An online information session will be held on 9 March from 3:30pm AEDT.


Participant profile: Melissa Abu-Gazaleh

Melissa Abu-Gazaleh

Melissa Abu-Gazaleh is CEO of the Top Blokes Foundation and a Cohort One SILA participant.

Melissa was so passionate about “reducing disadvantage” that she studied both her undergraduate degree in communication and a diploma of community services at the same time.

And after a decade of work to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young men, Melissa still wakes up every day with a fire in her belly to make a difference.

Role modelling better choices for young men

When Melissa was 19 years old she saw her male friends experience mental illness, and “they would often suffer alone.” Some of her friends used alcohol or drugs as a way to “mask the pain” they were feeling.

Melissa was working in the community sector at the time, and could see that young men didn’t believe in themselves and many didn’t feel like they had a bright future.

She set out to help improve the mental health and wellbeing of boys and young men aged 10-24 years, through a peer-based role modelling and mentorship program. The community-led volunteer project quickly evolved and Melissa established Tops Blokes Foundation.

The organisation – which has become one of Australia’s leading boy’s social education programs – currently works with over 800 teen boys and young men each week in their mentoring programs across 95 schools and community groups in NSW and QLD.

“Our strategy is simple. It’s to connect young positive male role models to help misguided boys make better choices when in peer pressured and dangerous situations,” says Melissa.

“We’re creating a safe and non-judgemental environment where boys can talk openly about issues affecting them.”

The organisation has seen boys who have had multiple suspensions, reduced to none, after completing their programs. Some who have come from intergenerational unemployment have been able to secure their first casual job, simply because they felt empowered.

“On the surface these seem minor, but for these boys, this impacts the rest of their future. It’s the tiny milestones that will change a culture where young men themselves are questioning and redefining their own behaviours and feelings,” says Melissa.

A transformational experience

The SILA Program has been “incredibly profound” for Melissa, and it was during the first retreat she realised that being part of the program is exactly what she needs at this stage of her leadership journey.

“We were all challenged and stretched but we dropped our guard and shared our vulnerabilities in a way that saw us build a strong level of trust amongst each other in no time at all,” shares Melissa.

“It was a really special opportunity that will see friendships form for a lifetime.”

As well as being personally transformative for Melissa, the SILA Program is benefiting Top Blokes Foundation too, through the organisational diagnostic process, CEO wellbeing surveys and 360 reviews.

Bringing the Step Up Leader into the leadership program has opened up the team to explore their issues and opportunities together.

“We’ve been able to have powerful discussions that see us asking the right questions in a way we didn’t before the SILA Program,” Melissa says.

“We are examining how we can build on our strengths and understand which gaps to address.”

Currently on her three month sabbatical, Melissa jokes that the “big pile of books” she hasn’t had time to read are now directly in her sights. The sabbatical is also allowing Melissa to more deeply reflect and contemplate.

She has structured her time away from work to focus on three key themes: learning and development, personal wellbeing and a strategic project.

Melissa is also excited that her time away on the sabbatical is providing the Top Blokes Foundation team with the opportunity to grow and lead through the experience as well.

“It’s a really transformational experience for our organisation which we’re making the most of.”


Participant profile: Jarrod Wheatley

Jarrod Wheatley

Jarrod Wheatley is CEO of Personalised Individual Care (PIC) and a Cohort One SILA participant.

Jarrod Wheatley was working with refugees in Germany when he learnt about individualised out-of-home care as an alternative to foster care or group housing for vulnerable children.

He credits the model’s strength to the concept of “professional nearness, rather than distance” in caring relationships, and the expert skills of carers who know how to work with young people who have been let down by the system.

Caring for children, shifting to a relational model

While working for a German-based IJS, Jarrod spent two years scouring the for-purpose landscape for a partner to bring the personalised out-of-home care model to Australia. After many meetings it became clear that the best way forward was to establish an independent organisation.

In 2016 Jarrod founded Personalised Individual Care (PIC) with a vision to reform the out-of-home care system for children and young people. Once incorporated, there was a lot of “regulatory paperwork, including licencing and funding approvals to work through,” and it took an additional two years before PICs operations commenced – it was quite a journey.

PIC places children in the home of a Professional Therapeutic Carer, who understands complex trauma and provides tailored care, therapeutic intervention, and the opportunity for the young person to have a real relationship.

The evidence-based model has been operating in Germany for close to 30 years with “double the success rate of any other model of home care,” Jarrod explains.

“We work at the pointy end of the social sector with kids that no one knows what to do with,” he says.

Children with complex trauma are hyper vigilant, and “healing” is different for every child.

“It’s miraculous when a child rewires their brain and believes in connection, so they can drop out of the stress response,” says Jarrod.

Some children have cycled through the system, having spent time in up to 50-70 different houses. It takes a lot of work, and understanding from a professional carer to support them so the young person can build trust again.

PIC has currently placed 23 children in care. But for every one carer, there is a waitlist of 60 more young people seeking a placement, and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to help them.

As well as longer term placements, PIC facilitates short-term travel projects to children in transition between care.

“We might take them on a trip to Uluru or Romania if it’s in their best interest, and that then becomes the project so they’re not placed in a hotel placement unnecessarily because there’s no one else for them to go,” says Jarrod.

PIC works together with the child to determine their needs, and is flexible to offer tailored solutions, matched to the skills of the carer and the needs and desires of the young person.

Relationships are the cornerstone of the PIC model, and are central to the organisation’s ethos, culture, and operations. The current system is entrenched with “clinical medical concepts of care, and we’ve forgotten how to really care,” says Jarrod.

“People say what we do is innovative, but it couldn’t be further away from innovative,” he argues. Around the world Indigenous populations have understood “the centrality of relationships in raising a child, and as I parent, I wouldn’t raise my child any other way.”

Addressing wicked problems through cross-sector collaboration

Jarrod was drawn to the SILA Program because of its collaborative approach to capacity building within the sector.

Jarrod feels that the social sector has been segregated based on funding models that force organisations to focus on “maintaining their market-share,” rather than working collaboratively to achieve greater impact.

“If you’re talking about improving outcomes for young people, you can’t just focus on juvenile justice, education or health,” he says. The problems cross all of “those artificial boundaries.”

SILA aims to bridge this divide, by bringing people together who are in a position to have “some influence” over their organisation and the sector, to join forces for good, he believes.

“There’s usually very little space for collaboration in the social sector, but a lot of problems we’re working on are systemic.

“What’s really attractive to me about SILA is not only the learning, but the fellowship with other people in the social sector.”

SILA’s learning environment enables for-purpose CEOs to come together, and share their collective wisdom “to address some pretty wicked problems,” says Jarrod.

The SILA Program gives participants space to consider, “How can we use this opportunity, as a sector, as a catalyst for positive change for the people that we’re working for?”

“SILA is a very holistic offering, and the team has done an incredible job in pulling the program and partnerships together. It’s a privilege to be part of it.”


Participant profile: Penny Dakin

Penny Dakin

Penny Dakin is CEO of the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) and a Cohort One SILA participant.

With a passion for serving young people and communities, Penny Dakin has a strong sense of social justice – a driving force throughout her career.

Penny first made her move into the for-purpose sector after 15 years working in public service. The constant “churn,” as she describes it, with little tangible impact on the ground, led Penny to make the leap.

Realising children’s potential

Established in 2002 by former Australian of the Year, Professor Fiona Stanley, ARACY works as a “systems intermediary” that brings bright minds together to turn research and evidence into practical tools.

It’s an organisation that’s very clear about who its beneficiaries are, says Penny – “it’s the children and young people of Australia.”

Having first joined ARACY as a Research Manager – where she brought her big-picture ideas to the table – Penny’s ability to think strategically and fit different organisational and project requirements together, saw her soon move into a national leadership role with the organisation.

After a short stint with a local collective impact initiative, she then returned to ARACY in the role of CEO.

The time away working with the grass-roots organisation really “grounded her in the community,” and honed her understanding of young people’s needs, and she was pleased to return to ARACY with this expanded perspective and knowledge.

Isolated leadership, no more

From the moment Penny heard about Social Impact Leadership Australia (SILA) she knew the program was right for her, as a leader, and for ARACY too.

“I reacted so strongly at the time because being a CEO, and particularly of a small not-for-profit, can be really isolating,” Penny explains.

“I sit between two fabulous groups of people, our board and our team. But when you’re in this role, you can feel quite alone.”

For Penny, one of the biggest assets of the SILA Program is the relationships with the other participating leaders, from across the social sector.

Even after a short time together the group is bonding, especially through the program’s learning circles, and the ability to support others through their challenges has been especially rewarding:

“Whatever the circumstances…there are things that cut across the different types of organisations. It’s amazing to be able to contribute and help somebody think through a challenge they are facing.”

SILA’s peer-focused learning environment increases social capital among leaders, boosts organisational capacity, and facilitates greater collaboration across the sector, as Penny shares:

“There is a lot of competition in the for-purpose sector. We’re competing for money, the best staff and opportunities. This program disrupts that approach.

“The premise of SILA is that we’re more powerful as a sector when we’re united and driven by what’s common between us, with shared skills and language. It’s about making us stronger.”

Personally, Penny considers herself to be “very much a service-focused leader.”

She is increasingly trying to bring a systems-based and adaptive lens to her leadership and work at ARACY, and SILA is helping develop her skills and resources in this area.

“The real opportunity here is the relationships. It will stand the sector in such good stead, as we start to develop genuine systems leadership.”


Media Release: CSI announce the first cohort of leaders selected to drive and amplify positive social change

Monday, 11 July 2021

Today, the Centre for Social Impact (CSI) officially announces the first of five Social Impact Leadership Australia (SILA) program cohorts – a diverse group of 24 leaders and organisations who will participate in a series of immersive and dedicated training and support opportunities over ten months.

The #SILA24 will focus on driving positive change for society through individual and organisational capacity building.

In 2020, CSI announced the SILA program, a five-year national capacity-building and leadership program for the Australian for-purpose sector.

Built from a collective desire to support for-purpose leaders to positively influence their organisations and the sector, four major Australian foundations – The Myer Foundation, the Sidney Myer Fund, the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation and the Paul Ramsay Foundation – have come together to fund the $9.6 million SILA program over five-years.

SILA is an evidence-based program specifically developed to meet the needs of Australian for-purpose CEOs and build the capacity of their organisations directly and indirectly. Crucially, SILA builds leadership cultures and capacity within the wider ecosystem of for-purpose organisations, as well as within individual leaders.

SILA’s first cohort of 24 leaders is drawn from NSW and the ACT (listed below). The cohort will participate in a series of immersive learning experiences, a tailored sabbatical – a unique offering in Australia – one-on-one coaching and dedicated organisational capacity building support. Crucially, the leaders will connect and learn from each other, creating a strategic network on which to build and amplify their social impact.

In 2022 SILA will be offered to for-purpose CEOs in Victoria and Tasmania. In following years SILA will be offered to for-purpose leaders and organisations across the breadth of the country.

SILA aims to improve economic, social, cultural and environmental outcomes for individuals, each participant’s organisation and the broader for-purpose sector within Australia. It will be delivered by leading academics and practitioners, in a range of nurturing and conducive environments.

The first cohort has been selected through a rigorous and competitive process, with a focus on diversity and representation from both metropolitan and rural and regional areas in NSW and the ACT.

The selection committee comprised Jenny Wheatley, CEO of the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation, Robbie Macpherson, SILA Program Director, and Sarah Davies, CEO of the Alannah & Madeline Foundation.

Mrs Wheatley expressed her excitement at the calibre of the first SILA cohort saying the interview panel was required to make tough decisions to settle on the 24 participants from many strong applications:

“The cohort consists of experienced leaders with strong track records and great potential, not just for future leadership of themselves and their organisation, but for the sector and system more widely. SILA offers an opportunity for leaders to build a strong professional network that will support them well past the completion of the program, and this aspect is particularly important for those participants who work in rural and regional areas.

“The application process confirmed the need for targeted professional development opportunities for the really good people doing really good work in the sector. I am confident the return on investment for the four funding foundations will be high.”

Successful candidate, Penny Dakin, CEO of the Australian Research Alliance for Children & Youth, said she was excited by the potential of the program after being selected in the first cohort:

“The benefits to the for-purpose sector are enormous. For the first time in Australia a broad cohort of the for-purpose sector will have access to the highest quality professional leadership development as a group. It will strengthen relationships and collaboration, provide common language and common frames, help address silos and ensure that we’re all thinking with an ecosystems lens. This will enable us to adapt how we lead to embed these same things in the organisations we come from.”

Fellow participant, Melinda Phillips, CEO of BackTrack Youth Works, agrees: “I was particularly impressed that this program recognises the challenges CEOs traditionally face and allows leaders to continue learning, manage their personal wellbeing and collaborate with a network of social leaders to activate change and impact across the sector.”

A full list of the first SILA24 cohort can be found below.

SILA Cohort 2021/22 NSW/ACT Participants
Melissa Abu-GazalehTop Blokes Foundation
Kathi BoormanOne Door Mental Health
Nick ChapmanPolicy Cures Research
Janet CousensAct for Peace Ltd
Frances CrimminsYWCA Canberra
Penny DakinAustralian Research Alliance for Children & Youth (ARACY)
Annabelle DanielWomen’s Community Shelters
Jodie DargeProject Youth
Rory GallagherThe Behavioural Insights Team
Cassandra GoldieAustralian Council of Social Service (ACOSS)
Michele GoldmanAsthma Australia
Michelle HigelinActionAid Australia
David KeeganHOST International
Alice LansNoah’s Inclusion Services
Jordan O’ReillyHireup
Melinda PhillipsBackTrack Youth Works
Suzie RiddellSocial Ventures Australia (SVA)
Liz RitchieRegional Australia Institute
Antonia RuffellAustralian Philanthropic Services
Frances RushAsylum Seekers Centre
Fiona StrangHealthWISE
Leanne TownsendNational Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy (NASCA)
Jarrod WheatleyProfessional Individualised Care
Jess WilsonGood Things Foundation Australia

Media Release: SILA Launch

Friday, February 5, 2021

Sydney, Australia: Four major Australian foundations have announced they will be collaborating to create a national capacity-building and leadership program for current leaders in Australian for-purpose organisations.

The Social Impact Leadership Australia program is a five-year, $9 million program, and will be delivered by the Centre for Social Impact (CSI).

The Myer Foundation, the Sidney Myer Fund, the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation and the Paul Ramsay Foundation have collaborated to fund Social Impact Leadership Australia and in doing so unlock leadership potential to improve the wellbeing of Australians.

The program was created by a collective desire to support not-for-profit and for-purpose leaders to enhance their capacity, positively influence their organisations, and create a strategic network of like-minded leaders across the country.

Leonard Vary, CEO of The Myer Foundation and Sidney Myer Fund, said that the idea stemmed from the recognition of a damaging and persistent lack of investment in the leadership of the for-purpose sector in Australia.

“We’re inspired by the success of programs in the United States, supported by foundations which see the value of investment in building the capacity of for-purpose leaders.” Mr Vary said.

“Beyond mere professional development, Social Impact Leadership Australia is a powerful way to influence whole organisations, while ensuring the next tier of leaders is ready to take the reins and lead for social impact.”

Jo Taylor, Chief Capability Officer of the Paul Ramsay Foundation, said the investment in Social Impact Leadership Australia is a reflection of the Foundation’s long-term commitment to breaking cycles of disadvantage.

“The exacerbation of disadvantage we have seen in the wake of a cluster of once-in-a-generation disasters – the bushfire, drought and COVID-19 pandemic – have strengthened our collective resolve to build more effective offramps from the cycles that trap people in poverty.

“To break complex cycles of disadvantage, we have to enhance the capability of the for-purpose sector which plays an increasingly central role in developing new approaches and delivering support to those who need it most,” said Ms Taylor.

One third of participants for the program will be drawn from rural and regional areas, a focus that Jenny Wheatley, CEO of the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation said was “exciting and important”.

“It is critical that we develop a truly national program. By broadening our reach in this way, we are ensuring we will be available to a diverse group of leaders and organisations from across Australia.” Ms Wheatley added.

The program will be delivered by the Centre for Social Impact, a leader in social impact education. Professor Kristy Muir, CEO of CSI described the program as “visionary” and applauded the collaboration.

“We know that people are an organisation’s most important asset, and we know that there is persistent underinvestment in the professional development of for-purpose leaders.” Professor Muir said.

“This program helps change that. We’re incredibly honoured that CSI has been selected to create and deliver this ground-breaking program and can’t wait to work with the first cohort of leaders.”

The cutting-edge program design is based on international best practice and covers leadership of the self, the organisation, and the system. SILA includes a series of immersive learning experiences, a tailored sabbatical, one-on-one coaching, and dedicated organisational capacity building support. The curriculum is delivered during three retreats by a faculty of leading academics and practitioners.