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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.

For interview requests, images or further media enquiries please contact:

Jasmine Turvey
Account Director
Reverb Media
E: jasmine@reverb-media.com.au
M: +61 437 762 320

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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.”