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Leadership with impact: new evaluation shows SILA is making a difference

A new evaluation of the Social Impact Leadership Australia (SILA) program, created by the Centre for Social Impact, shows that CEOs are continuing to experience significant benefits from the world-class professional development program specially tailored for our not-for-profit leaders.

The independent evaluator, Nous Group, found the SILA program continues to deliver impactful results across the spectrum including for participating CEOs, at the organisational level and within the broader social purpose ecosystem.

Three-quarters of CEOs who responded to a post-program survey rated their SILA experience as 10 out of 10.

Labelled Australia’s most comprehensive program for for-purpose leaders, the $9.8 million SILA program aims to strengthen the social purpose sector over a five-year period by enhancing the wellbeing and effectiveness of leaders, advancing organisational capability and building a network of system thinkers.

Over the first five years of the program it will offer 120 CEOs from for-purpose organisations a rare, fully-funded opportunity for tailored learning and professional development. It is jointly funded by four of Australia’s major foundations: The Myer Foundation, the Sidney Myer Fund, the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation, and the Paul Ramsay Foundation.

The most recent group to complete the program was comprised of 24 CEOs based in Victoria and Tasmania.

In their overall assessment of the program, three-quarters of CEOs who responded to a post-program survey rated their SILA experience as 10 out of 10. The evaluation also found participants gave SILA an exceptional net promoter score (NPS) of 85 out of 100. An NPS score above 80 is considered a world-class result. This score is consistent with earlier feedback from the first cohort of CEOs based in NSW and ACT.

Through courses such as SILA, as well as our undergraduate and postgraduate programs, the Centre for Social Impact works to builds capacity in the for-purpose sector, educating current and future for-purpose leaders, with the ultimate goal of igniting positive social change.

Centre for Social Impact acting CEO Lyndsey McKee said the evaluation results were further confirmation of SILA’s vital role in driving the sector forward.

“This is a wonderful endorsement of the value that high quality professional development can bring not just to leaders but to organisations and systems working to drive lasting social impact” she said.

“For-purpose leaders confront a myriad of challenges in today’s landscape, including rising demand for their vital services against a climate of diminished funding. Tackling these obstacles requires new ways of thinking and system transformation, and that’s what the SILA program delivers.

“We’re only at the halfway point of our initial five years of funding, but it is clear that SILA will have an impact for many years to come.”

SILA participants have also shared their thoughts, with 95% of CEOs from Victoria and Tasmania (Cohort 2) saying they can make a difference in their organisation and sector using the skills they learned. The independent survey also revealed 100% of CEOs agreed that their organisation has or is likely to enhance its capability and culture due to their participation in SILA.

“SILA has been a transformational experience for myself and our organisation,” said one of the Cohort 2 CEOs who was interviewed for the evaluation.

“As a result of SILA…I can see now how intrinsically linked professional development is to systems reform, organisational development as well as client experiences.”

“I’m loving the program. [It’s been] life changing for me and can’t wait to see where it continues to take me. Thank you for the opportunity. It is indeed a gift,” explained another CEO.

The next group to benefit is for-purpose CEOs from Queensland and the Northern Territory, with expressions of interest in the SILA program due to open later this month.


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Media release: For-purpose CEOs from WA and SA selected for world-class leadership course

24 for-purpose CEOs across two states have been announced today as participants in the third cohort of Social Impact Leadership Australia (SILA) Program, Australia’s world-class course for social purpose leaders.

Headshots of the 24 for purpose CEOs chosen for the SILA program. A ap of Australia is in the centre of the image.

Delivered by the Centre for Social Impact and designed specifically for CEOs of Australian for-purpose organisations, the fully funded professional development program is valued at over $80,000 per delegate and gives leaders exclusive access to executive coaching, group learning retreats, and a tailored three-month sabbatical.

Now in its third year the ground-breaking 10-month course is being delivered to leaders in South Australia and Western Australia, following overwhelming success across NSW, the ACT, Victoria and Tasmania, where the course has been completed by almost 50 social purpose CEOs over two years.

Jointly funded by four of Australia’s major foundations – the Myer Foundation, the Sidney Myer Fund, the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation, and the Paul Ramsay Foundation – the $9.8 million SILA program aims to strengthen the for-purpose sector by enhancing the wellbeing and effectiveness of CEOs, advancing organisational capability, and building a network of systems leaders.

The deep understanding these leaders have of the local context, coupled with their impressive track records as CEOs, positions them as powerful agents of change within their communities,”

Leonard Vary, CEO of The Myer Foundation and Sidney Myer Fund. 

“We look forward to supporting a third cohort on their leadership journey as they tackle the unique challenges and opportunities in the Western and South Australian regions.”

SILA – which offers accredited executive education to 24 for-purpose CEOs at no cost every year for five years – was established in 2020 through a collective desire to address the chronic underinvestment in professional development and leadership training in the for-purpose sector.

In an independent evaluation of SILA, the program received a world-class Net Promoter Score of 86 out of 100, with 95% of participants saying they could draw upon what they learnt in the program to make a difference in their organisations and across the sector.

“The 50 CEOs who have been through the program have already had an incredible ripple effect across their organisations, networks and sectors.”

Arminé Nalbandian, CEO of Centre for Social Impact.

 “As Australia’s leader in social impact education, the Centre for Social Impact is proud to be delivering this flagship for-purpose executive leadership program to CEOs in SA and WA,” Arminé said.

The non-profit sector plays a significant economic role in both South Australia and Western Australia, employing more than 200,000 people. Furthermore, research shows that education and training in the for-purpose sector delivers strong cost-benefits and social benefits which flow on to the community. For each dollar spent on capacity building, an average positive return of about six dollars can be attributed to the training and the resulting behaviours, decisions and flow on effects.

Professor Paul Flatau, Director of the Centre for Social Impact at The University of Western Australia, congratulated the WA CEOs selected for the program.

“These leaders represent a broad cross-section of the not-for-profit work conducted by more than 4,000 organisations in Western Australia,” he said. “Taking their skills to the next level and growing the impact of their organisations will have monumental flow-on effects across the state.”

Professor Paul Flatau, Director, Centre for Social Impact UWA

Professor Ian Goodwin-Smith, Director of the Centre for Social Impact at Flinders University, also commended the selected South Australian CEOs.

“The for-purpose sector is crucial to communities, working on the frontline across multiple areas of need,” he said. “I’m delighted to see how the SILA Program can elevate the skills and impact of these exceptional leaders to help them address challenges facing South Australians.”

Professor Goodwin-Smith, Director, Centre for Social Impact, Flinders University.

On being selected as a SILA Cohort Three participant, Andrea Creado, CEO of Ishar Multicultural Women’s Health Services in WA, applauds the program for its network-based and tailored approach to leadership development.

“Having started at Ishar as a volunteer over 20 years ago, I understand the impact strong leadership has through an entire organisation. Yet the tight resource constraints felt across our business means, as leaders, we rarely get an opportunity to step away and develop those capabilities, which are unique in our sector,” she said.

“SILA offers that extraordinary chance to pause and develop our voice as leaders, while establishing a strong network across the state we operate in, which undoubtedly will lead to greater impact for the communities we serve.”

Andrea Creado, CEO of Ishar Multicultural Women’s Health Services in WA

The SILA Program will be offered to for-purpose CEOs in Queensland and the Northern Territory in 2024, and we are exploring ways to boost First Nations participation, with many First Nations leaders citing their focus on Voice as taking precedence this year.

Congratulations to the SILA Cohort Three participants, including:

South Australia

 Western Australia

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Media Release: Turbo boost for non-profit CEOs thanks to homegrown leadership program

Australia’s most comprehensive program for the for-purpose sector is making an impact, helping fill a historic chasm between the corporate sector and not-for-profits by providing world-class professional development to take these crucial organisations further.

Around $3.6 billion is spent by commercial corporations on employee training and development in Australia each year, while the domestic not-for-profit sector suffers from a profound absence of professional development.

The Social Impact Leadership Australia (SILA) program, created by the Centre for Social Impact, has stepped into this gap by offering 120 CEOs from not-for-profit organisations a rare, fully-funded opportunity for tailored learning and professional development. The program is jointly funded by four of Australia’s major foundations: the Myer Foundation, the Sidney Myer Fund, the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation, and the Paul Ramsay Foundation.

The program aims to strengthen the entire for-purpose sector by enhancing the wellbeing and effectiveness of leaders, advancing organisational capability and building a network of system thinkers. NFP leaders from South Australia and Western Australia will have their first chance to apply for the program from March 20th.

Offering each CEO one-on-one coaching, peer-to-peer learning and leadership diagnostics, as well as a first-of-its-kind sabbatical, enrolment in the course would normally cost more than $80,000 per delegate. This includes over $30,000 of untied capacity funding provided to each CEO to meet the needs of their organisation.

Evaluation of the $9.6 million program, which has been completed by almost 50 NFP CEOs so far, shows it is achieving strong results, with all participants agreeing their organisation has or is likely to experience tangible improvements due to their participation. The program received a strong net promoter score of 86 out of 100, which is a world class result.[3]

The independent evaluation by the Nous Group also found that 95% of participants said they could draw upon what they learnt in the program to make a difference in their organisations and across the sector, and that CEOs now intended to invest in their teams’ leadership and professional development.

The Centre for Social Impact CEO, Arminé Nalbandian, said the program was taking leadership to the next level, ultimately delivering greater social impact across the non-profit sector. 

“We can’t tackle Australia’s complex social problems in siloes,” she said. “This program unites social impact leaders, arming them with the tools to deliver meaningful social change beyond the parameters of their own organisation.”  

Women’s Community Shelters CEO Annabelle Daniel, who recently graduated from the SILA program, said the experience had broadened her leadership skills but was also more than ‘just a development program’, as she stayed in touch with fellow CEOs and received ongoing coaching.

“Now I have new ways of thinking and skills to deploy in supporting some of the 56,000 Australian women who are currently experiencing homelessness every single night,” Ms Daniel said. “Everything was highly relevant to our work and challenges.

“SILA fills a really unique space. This program is a rare chance for leaders in our sector to learn new skills so we can help our organisations achieve more and have greater impact across Australia. Building a strong network of peers and having that ongoing ‘brains trust’ to tap into is so valuable, as we all face similar challenges.”

Delivered by the Centre for Social Impact, a national collaboration of four of Australia’s leading universities, the SILA program is fully supported by major philanthropic foundations. Their generous contributions mean every year for five years, 24 for-purpose CEOs from around Australia will be selected for an accredited 10-month executive education course at no cost.

Ms Nalbandian said the comprehensive development program is also a shining example of how Australia’s unique social impact landscape was best supported by locally-based education providers.

“As a homegrown professional development program, but at a world-class level, this work is building an important legacy. The impact of this program will be felt for years as we foster an environment where like-minded, local leaders can lean on each other and benefit from peer-to-peer learning that ultimately enriches and benefits the entire system.”

Applications for leaders based in WA and SA open on March 20, 2023.  

Media enquiries:
Pia Akerman 0412346746

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The SILA Sabbatical

Each CEO participant will undertake a 3-month sabbatical. During this sabbatical period, CEOs are asked to completely disengage from their organisations and take a period of leave.

The organisation will commit to the CEO continuing to be paid during their period of leave, on top of their usual annual leave entitlements, and the identified Step-Up Leader from the organisation will step-up into the CEO role.

The organisational capacity funding may be put towards some of these costs, such as additional duties pay for the Step-Up Leader or backfilling a position.

SILA’s 3-month sabbatical will provide CEOs with dedicated time and space away from their organisation, enabling them to deeply reflect on, discuss and apply learnings from the SILA Program, and to also focus on personal and professional issues of importance to them.

Sabbatical periods have been proven to have several benefits for organisations and their CEOs. Research has shown that there are many demonstrated individual benefits of participating in a sabbatical, including rejuvenation and personal renewal, reduced burnout and stress, improved wellbeing, increased capacity, creativity and innovation, and gains in knowledge from personal and professional development.

Sabbaticals also offer important benefits for organisations too, and research indicates they help to: improve productivity, morale, governance, recruitment and retention, reduce costs and promote leadership distribution, and create enduring positive changes in infrastructure and systems – which are put in place to manage the CEOs planned absence – leading to greater time and capacity on an ongoing basis for addressing strategic issues.

SILA’s 3-month sabbatical will provide CEOs with dedicated time and space away from their organisation, enabling them to deeply reflect on, discuss and apply learnings from the SILA Program, and to also focus on personal and professional issues of importance to them.

The sabbatical is tailored to the needs of each CEO through the leadership and wellbeing assessments alongside the executive coaching program, and may incorporate, for example, self-directed learning, work on a small personal or strategic project, a period of travel, and focus on their own health and wellbeing.

The sabbatical period will also allow the Step-Up Leader to access personalised support and acquire new skills that will enhance their leadership capabilities, and build greater resilience within the organisation.

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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:

NameOrganisation
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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”