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.”


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.”