24 January 2017
In this week's blog, we think of the people of Melbourne in light of Friday's tragic events, hear from some of our financial supporters on the top reasons they support us and I share what kept me busy last week. Read on for more.
Bourke Street Mall tragedy
I'm sure you have all been saddened by last Friday's terrible events in Bourke Street, Melbourne. Five people have lost their lives and we extend our heartfelt condolences to people who have lost family and loved ones and to those injured.
We were activated by the Victorian police and more than 120 volunteers and staff have been providing psychological first aid at Bourke Street Mall and the memorial site. Last night, a vigil took place at Federation Square, with large crowds attending and our volunteers were there for anyone needing support. Thank you to everyone who has been part of our emergency response.
A memorial has been set up outside the GPO building in Bourke Street Mall to honour the victims of last Friday's tragedy. Our teams are there. If you or your friends and family are feeling distressed, take a look at our tips on coping in a crisis .
My first week back
Like many of you, my first week back gave me time to review progress on priority items, catch up and plan the year ahead.
I was briefed on the great work of the Consumer Centred Care team, led by Helen Sheppard (National Manager Service Development), who are helping manage our response to changes in the delivery of disability and aged care services in Australia.
We commissioned a study by the University of Adelaide Centre for Housing, Urban and Regional Planning. It looks at known and anticipated gaps and barriers in service access arising from the Commonwealth Aged Care Reforms and implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
If you didn't know, Consumer Centred Care means clients who receive government support will be able to choose and purchase services. At Red Cross, we're concerned that some people will miss out on these opportunities, so we'll be focussing our efforts on those experiencing deep social exclusion.
I learned about some great work Gary Bristow (General Manager Marketing) and Eleanor Kennett-Smith (National Coordinator, Service Development) are doing using maps to build up a picture of significant disadvantage across Australia. The mapping shows how disadvantage relates to where we offer services and where our volunteers and members are based. The next step is to build in a few more layers - eg social exclusion (eg loneliness), disaster prone communities, refugee settlement, digital exclusion and so on, which will give us more detailed insights.
I also had time with each of my team members on how they are going in achieving their outcomes and on where they will focus for the rest of the financial year.
This highlighted important outcomes to achieve in the next six months on:
youth justice; volunteering and local action; ensuring that those who are most vulnerable are not left behind in the consumer centre care reforms; specific measures to support those refugees and asylum seekers who are yet to find out whether they will stay in Australia and taking a leading role in the Federal government's Australian Humanitarian Partnership.
These will be areas of focus for me too.
I also worked with Shakirah (my Executive Assistant) on how we set up my calendar this year so that I have the time for these things but also time to make sure I'm out and about hearing from you, seeing how we're going in delivering our services and programs and having time with volunteers and members every month.
Cameron Power (Chief Financial Officer) and I also went through our half year financial check. We're on track to achieve our FY17 budget - we would have preferred to come in higher but for now that's what the forecast says. Cam also took me through the proposal for the executive team on how we build longer term financial sustainability. This will be going to the Board in February.
Finally, I did my half year performance check-in with Michael Legge our President.
Listening to our supporters
I also had time in the week to review the results of a recent survey we did with some of our financial supporters.
Here are the top four reasons given for supporting Red Cross:
Red Cross is a respected organisation with global reach and impact (55.87);
I believe in helping others and want to make a difference (54.53%);
Red Cross is at the frontline of response to disaster and emergencies (49.48%);
Red Cross principles such as humanity and neutrality are aligned with my personal values and beliefs (45.51%)
When you look at their reasons for supporting us, trust in who we are and what we do is a big motivator.
In Strategy 2020 we want to be even more accountable to those we support and to our supporters. I encourage you to jump onto Ideas 2020 before this Thursday 26 January to share your ideas on how we can grow trust and respect (Just on logging in, if it's your first time, select 'organisation login' and click 'sign in'. If this doesn't work, select 'crowdicity account' and then the black 'register' button).
This week the country will be marking Australia Day, and it will be my first in many years after a decade overseas. It strikes me that it's a day which means many things to many people.
We celebrate being Australian and inspirational people who have made important contributions; new Australians take pride in citizenship ceremonies as they build a new life in a new home and for others it's a day to enjoy the vibrant and contemporary country we have become.
It's a day that means different things to many people, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It's worth remembering that it's a time which can evoke mixed feelings and for many is about mourning losses, while also honouring the survival of the world's oldest continuing culture.
Words from our founder, Henry Dunant
To finish off, I was surprised in the week to see reference to our founder from an unexpected place - the Chinese President's speech at the World Economic Forum. See a summary of President Xi Jinping's speech where he mentioned our founder:
"All this shows that there are indeed problems with world economic growth, governance and development models, and they must be resolved. The founder of the Red Cross Henry Dunant once said: 'Our real enemy is not the neighbouring country; it is hunger, poverty, ignorance, superstition and prejudice.'
I'll leave you with that thought as you start your week.
21 December 2016
I just returned from Fiji last week, where I saw first-hand how we're helping almost one year on from Cyclone Winston. Right now, the island is facing severe floods, and I've been thinking about what strength means.
I've learnt a lot this year but one of the most profound learnings for me is that everyone, no matter what their circumstances, has strengths they can draw on to change their lives.
Whether it's the community of Wailotua in Fiji, young parents making a stronger future for themselves and their children or migrants sharing emergency preparedness advice with their communities, this 'strength-based' approach is a critical part of how we do, what we do.
2016 has been a big year. For people living in Aleppo, for those recovering from local emergencies and for those whose lives you have helped improve here and across the Asia Pacific. You have played a critical role in that. You can see what you've been a part of in our 2016 'year in review'. Thank you for your contribution to what we achieved.
So it's time for a well deserved break for many of us. I hope that your holiday season is fun, relaxing and filled with love. I'll be having three weeks with family and friends, on the beach and in the bush. I am a believer that 'holidays are holidays' and I am hanging out for a good break (subject, of course, to any natural disasters where I may need to help).
I am conscious though that over the holiday season, while many of us will be taking a break, many of you will be working around the clock. Those volunteers on standby should an emergency break, others making phone calls on Christmas day to those who are isolated, aid workers who are far from home and who will spend Christmas day working in places like Kiribati, Nairobi, Nigeria and Fiji.
Before signing off for the year, I thought I'd share a video of Yves Daccord, the Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It's called Everyone a Humanitarian. I think you'll find it thought provoking. I did.
It starts with four examples of 'new' humanitarians self-organising to take humanitarian action. It made me wonder how far we could take this.
He talks about trends facing humanitarian organisations like ours which made me wonder how we'll adapt and change next year. He talks about our Fundamental Principles which made me more determined that we live these in everything we do.
He talks about the importance of listening, really listening, to those we work with so that we uncover their strengths even when they are in desperate circumstances.
And this leads me back to where I started this blog, reflecting on the year and looking ahead. I'm really excited and energised about where we are headed and what we will achieve in 2017 as we drive even more towards achieving our 2020 outcomes.
Thanks again for a huge year of dedication, commitment, unbelievable effort and hard work. You are a remarkable group of people who believe deeply in what you do. I have learnt a lot from you all this year and I really appreciate that.
All the best for a wonderful break and see you in 2017.
13 December 2016
This week I share the winners of our disability and inclusion awards, think about how the laws of war could protect places like Sydney Opera House or Kakadu and remind you of some simple ways to show pride and respect for first Australians.
We think of the people in Aleppo and Indonesia in crisis and I share our latest submission to the Government's National Mental Health Plan and more.
I always welcome your feedback, so please drop me a line via email if you have any questions or comments.
People on War survey in the media
I spent much of last week involved in the work of our International Humanitarian Law (IHL) team. Firstly, we launched the People on War survey.
Based on our media team's work, we got excellent media coverage with interviews on ABC TV, Nine news online and SBS along with a number of Australian newspapers including the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. We worked closely with the ICRC on this critical issue.
I also put in a personal call to thank Keith Campbell the World War II veteran, who kindly shared his story in the media. Gatdet Bol who moved to Australia last year from South Sudan, also added his voice to the discussion. Both of their personal stories were excellent ways of reminding us all of the horrors of conflict.
Culture under attack
I also attended the IHL team's conference Protecting Cultural Property in Conflict in Adelaide. As I prepared my speech to open the event, I thought a lot about how I would feel if an armed group deliberately targeted some of our icons in order to destabilise our society.
I can't imagine the impact on me if, for example, Uluru was deliberately bombed or the Opera House was destroyed wilfully and deliberately in order to destroy who I am, what I am a part of and how I belong.
Cultural icons are important because they are about identity, belonging, pride and being part of something bigger. They give communities a base around which to be cohesive and have strength. They give countries and their populations the inner fabric needed to survive, thrive and prosper.
The conference was an excellent reminder that we have a role to play in promoting the laws of war. Yet as we also saw on the weekend, with militia groups entering Palmyra, this problem of protecting cultural icons in conflict is a really hard one and is not going away. Whether for profit or ideology, culture continues to be under attack. The conference was well attended and important for strengthening international and Australian commitment to the laws of war.
Congrats to our disability and inclusion award winners
Our first ever disability and inclusion award winners are in and I thought I'd share a few examples of inclusivity inside Red Cross.
In Townsville, where the Street to Home program provides a specialised retreat for Sista Girls, transgender Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have experienced homelessness. Or in our Supporter Services Centre, where for more than seven years the team has proactively recruited and nurtured staff and volunteers with disabilities.
Similarly, the Property and Procurement team have put practices in place that give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-owned organisations every chance of getting Red Cross business when we purchase goods and services.
Staff member Anthony Benedyka has championed sexual and gender diversity by raising our people's awareness of LGBTI issues, establishing a working group that informs our practices, attitudes and behaviors.
We held the awards to recognise Red Cross people who have made outstanding contributions to embracing diversity and promoting inclusiveness.
There are more than 300 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations across Australia, each with their own languages and customs. Given the importance of being aware of this and understanding and respecting the custodians of one of the oldest, unique living cultures in the world, I asked the other day about how I can show respect appropriately.
Our Reconciliation Action Plan outlines how we're building a culturally-competent organisation that ensures our relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are meaningful, respectful and culturally safe.
We also have guidance from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership group on 'welcome to country' and acknowledging the traditional owners, when we open meetings, at events and on your email signature.
Plus a series of helpful information sheets on things like respectful communication, Acknowledgment of Traditional Owners and more.
You would have seen in the news that Indonesia is in the midst of a recovery effort after suffering a major earthquake in Aceh last Wednesday. The damage is still being assessed, but more than a 100 people are reported to have died.
I thought you'd like to know that we are in touch with the Indonesian Red Cross who have activated emergency response teams and volunteers rescuing injured people and searching for survivors. They know we are on stand by to help if needed.
Thinking of the people of Aleppo
As we hear about fighting intensifying in Aleppo, I was moved by the actions of our colleagues at Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the ICRC last week. Late in the night on Thursday, they helped evacuate 150 people from a hospital. Many of the rescued were disabled and in need of urgent care.
As we continue to remind people of the laws of war, and the importance of protecting civilians in conflict, our colleagues are doing everything they can to assist. The ICRC is calling on all parties to allow a humanitarian pause to deliver aid. Find out more.
National Mental Health Plan
The last job of the week was to finalise our submission to the Australian Government's fifth National Mental Health Plan, which seeks to establish a national approach over the next five years, achieving more integrated services for clients and carers.
We focussed on three issues:
how to support the most vulnerable groups of people affected by mental illness in the community;
emerging service gaps for these vulnerable people due to the other reforms including the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme and the primary health networks;
the importance of more focus upon early intervention and prevention.
Time with the leadership team
One of the things which is really important to me is 'being there' to support the leadership team.
So last week I had time with Penny Harrison (Director, Volunteering), Elaine Montegriffo (Director, People and Organisational Effectiveness) and Caroline Sheehan (Acting Director, Public Engagement, Reputation and Funding) with each talking through their thoughts on the approach to their new roles. I caught up with Helen Connolly (Director, SA) in Adelaide just to check in on how she and the team are going - I'm keen to get out to some of their community work in January so we also talked about that.
I connected with Wenda Donaldson (Director, VIC) who was pretty excited about getting her 'feet under the table' in Victoria and I also called Leisa to catch up on some of the great things she is doing in Queensland and the re-opening of Dreamworld. I also caught up with Phoebe Wynn-Pope (Director, IHL) in Adelaide.
It is very rewarding working with such a great bunch of people and with all of you at Red Cross.
That's it for this week.
6 December 2016
There's a lot to talk about this week. From the big issues, like a survey into attitudes on torture in armed conflict, to joining a coalition of organisations in Canberra to call for urgent action on food security.
I've also shared a story about a colleague who felt compelled to help when she saw a taxi driver being racially targeted. And of course, as yesterday marked International Volunteer Day, we thank the thousands of volunteers who make an extraordinary difference in our communities at home and around the world.
Living our principles through simple acts of kindness
I was talking to one of my colleagues last Friday and she told me how over lunch she witnessed a road rage incident where a driver was yelling and racially abusing a taxi driver who had cut him off on the road.
The taxi driver bunkered down in his car trying not to escalate the situation. In a wonderful humanitarian act, my colleague went up to check on the taxi driver to see that he was OK.
I'm sure we've all read about similar incidents and how such an act of kindness can make a difference to those targeted. It got me thinking over the weekend.
It reminded me about an idea Helen Connolly, Director SA, shared with me about offering psychological first aid to those people being targeted by hate. I imagined what could have happened if our colleague could have given the taxi driver a card with a number to call to access our psychological first aid.
A similar theme also emerged from a conversation I had with Tom Scarborough, Director Commercial Operations, earlier in the week. He had been thinking about an idea for our next Ideas 2020 which would be to launch a hotline (or online equivalent) to 'be there' for people when they needed help recovering from 'anger' incidents.
Then I started to think how community members who are interested in social cohesion could crowd-fund a service like this. There are so many great ideas just like these I am sure you have some too. I encourage you to share them in Ideas 2020 which has officially opened this week.
Ideas 2020 Round 2 officially open!
It's time to get involved in round 2 of Ideas 2020 and share your brightest ideas on four new outcomes.
Until 26 January 2017, you can lodge your ideas and comment.
Log into Ideas 2020 here: https://australianredcross.crowdicity.com/ (If this is the first time you are logging in please select 'organisation login' and click 'sign in'. If this doesn't work, select 'crowdicity account' and then the black 'register' button.) From 27 January until 10 February, you can vote on the best ideas.
From 27 January until 10 February, you can vote on the best ideas.
This round of themes seeks your ideas on how to bring our Fundamental Principles 'to life', how to build trust and respect externally, how to change our funding model and sources and how best to be transparent with the good and the bad.
I look forward to hearing your ideas - jump online today. You can also find out more about Strategy 2020 here.
Urgent action on food security
Last Tuesday at Parliament House in Canberra, I joined a coalition of health and community organisations to call for urgent action to improve the availability and affordability of nutritious food for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Latest figures show around one in four Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live in a household that, over a 12 month period, had run out of food or could not afford to buy more - a figure six times higher than non-indigenous Australians.
We called for food and nutrition security for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be front and centre in the country's National Nutrition Policy, and in rolling out the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan.
The next step - develop a more detailed sector-wide implementation plan building on the excellent work and analysis already done. We have a lot to contribute with the work we already do in places like Elcho Island, Woorabinda, Broome, Tennant Creek and our FoodRedi workshops and breakfast clubs. Find out more.
National Outlook Project: influencing Australia's prosperity and resilience
I also participated in the first workshop for an initiative called the National Outlook Project. Led by CSIRO and NAB, it aims to explore and influence how Australia might shape its future prosperity and resilience.
Essentially it's a two year business-led assessment of Australia's emerging issues, risks, and opportunities, and seeks to identify the near term decisions and actions that could have the biggest positive impact on our national prospects.
With 40 leaders from Australian business and non-government organisations, the group will identify, explore, and assess nationally significant risks, trends and issues which will then be tested and assessed using scenario analysis and modelling. The project will draw on
CSIRO's world-leading analytical capacity, demonstrated in the first Australian National Outlook, published in late 2015.
With the help of members of the leadership and executive, the horizon scan we did recently and the readings on our Yammer Social Cohesion group, I was able to participate actively in the first session. The next step is to identify some credible and authoritative analysis which we can provide to the group in some critical areas.
Survey reveals Australian attitudes to laws of war
Much of last week was also spent preparing for today's launch of a collaboration with the ICRC on their largest ever survey of attitudes towards the laws of war. Australia was one of the few countries to do its own survey off the back of a poll of 17,000 people in 16 countries.
What we found was illuminating. While 57% of Australians think that torturing an Australian soldier for military information should not be allowed, 23% did not know and 21% thought it was okay.
Read about the survey here.
Clearly we need to remind many Australians that torture is unacceptable in any circumstances.
Today and tomorrow you may see our media and social media stories as we try to do just that. Please join the conversation and remind your friends and families that torture is an attack against humanity that can never be justified. You might like to share this video on social media for example.
We encourage everyone to learn more about the laws of war and why they matter to all of us. Here on our website you can find training courses, public events, subscribe to our magazine or email alerts, or listen to the Laws of War podcast.
Thanks to Phoebe Wynn Pope, Director IHL and her team and Belinda Noble and the media team who have worked hard to get us to the launch.
International Volunteer Day Around the country this week there are fantastic events to celebrate the people who donate their time to Red Cross - all 35,000 of them! I encourage you to join in and celebrate our incredible network of people helping people.
At the heart of it, volunteers help people to improve their lives; they strengthen communities to be more supportive, connected and inclusive. That's a lot to celebrate and this week we'll be saying a big thank you! Find out more.
Have a great week!
29 November 2016
What a week. From meeting ministers from Mexico to locals from Alice Springs; from indigenous governance to community disaster resilience; from checking how we're tracking today to looking years ahead with the Board - it was a great, albeit busy one.
I'm really conscious that I only do what I do for us with the help of a lot of people - planning ahead, briefing material and sessions, speech writing, etc, etc. I appreciate it and, when we have a week like last week, I am constantly reminded.
Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey and Australia (MIKTA)
As a member of the Australian Business Roundtable on Disaster Resilience and Safer Communities, I was invited to attend the meeting of MIKTA countries hosted by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The governments were together in Sydney to reaffirm their commitment to address the growing challenge of humanitarian crises around the world. Our session was about sharing what we're doing on the round table together to build greater upfront investment and more resilient communities. It was a good discussion. Peter Harmer, IAG CEO, also briefed me on a mapping tool they released recently, which shows the link between the risk of natural disasters and the ability of communities to recover. We could build on this from a humanitarian point of view.
Culture and self determination: keys to lasting change
I was also invited to the 2016 Indigenous Governance Awards, along with Andy Kenyon, to be with finalists, Tangentyere Council (right).
These awards are led by Reconciliation Australia to recognise organisations that are demonstrating positive long term changes in their communities. Tangentyere Council were one of nine finalists and we are helping them in a number of ways including aiding them to improve their digital presence.
It was an impressive night. I wouldn't have wanted to be one of the judges who had to find the top nine finalists and ultimate winner from over 100 entities. The winners were Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku - a community run health organisation which provides dialysis treatment and support services to indigenous renal patients from remote communities across central Australia. Overall the night was a fantastic display of organisations doing great things and the music was also terrific - a duo called Microwave Jenny performed.
Our own governance - the Annual General Meeting
My first AGM was in Melbourne last Friday night. We reported on our performance from the last financial year. For the first time Shelly Park, CEO of the Blood Service also presented at the meeting - highlighting how we are increasingly working together with our sister organisation. She and I are a good team - supporting each other, learning from each other and being our own 'critical friends' when needed.
I shared some of the inspiring things we've done in partnership with the community. This included attending community emergencies, such as the tragic death of eight children in 2014 in Cairns. We helped set up a healing centre which has since become a place where the community can look to the future with optimism.
I talked about innovative initiatives such as our Red Talks podcast and video channel, which is helping attract the next generation of young humanitarians, bringing nearly 5,000 people to our first Facebook live broadcast.
I shared important highlights like the release of our Rethinking Justice reportin March, calling on governments to invest in communities and not more prisons.
There are so many amazing stories of inspiration and hope that you're a part of, but you can take a look for yourself. Check out our Year in Review for 2015/2016.
Strategic outlook - Saturday's Board meeting
We took two hours on Saturday with the Board and the Executive Team and did three things. The first was to talk through the most important external trends. The second was to discuss three critical internal abilities and to 'rate' where we think we are now versus where we need to be in 12-18 months. Thirdly, and where we spent most time, was to split into three groups to define what Red Cross would be like if it was an 'active disruptor', a 'opportunistic navigator' or a 'conservative survivor' as per this Riding the Wave video.
There is no one answer to this question - in reality we will need to be a mix to achieve our 2020 outcomes. It was an excellent discussion - everyone was involved, constructive and open with their thinking. This is all input to developing our FY18 annual plan and budget.
Ideas 2020 Round 2
We had a huge response to our Ideas 2020 Challenge earlier this year, where you shared your ideas on how to meet four of our Strategy 2020 outcomes - one on volunteering, one on disaster readiness, one on asylum seekers and refugees and one on building Australia's humanitarian values. The winning ideas are being developed as we speak.
This week, the Leadership Team will launch Round 2 of Ideas 2020, giving you the chance to again influence how we achieve our 2020 outcomes.
This round has a new group of themes (see below). Plus we'll be giving everyone a bit longer to contribute and bringing in more of you - including those who aren't online.
So, here's a snapshot of the areas we'll be seeking your ideas on.
Our 2020 outcome: Australians trust and respect Australian Red Cross
What's your idea on how we build trust and respect?
Our 2020 outcome: There are diversified multi-year funding streams in place with no single funding source exceeding 50%
What's your idea on new funding sources or models?
Our 2020 outcome: We are transparent with the public each year about what we have achieved, where we have failed and the impact we have delivered
What's your idea - on what we should be transparent about and how we should do that?
Our 2020 outcome: All Red Cross people are empowered, engaged, accountable and acknowledged for their contribution to our humanitarian goals
Humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity, universality. What's your idea to bring these Fundamental Principles to life so that they help us make every day decisions and guide us in this century?
Get involved from next week
Log into Ideas 2020 from Monday 5 December to join the discussion.
From 5 December until 26 January 2017, you can lodge your ideas as well as comment on others.
From 27 January until 10 February, you get the chance to vote on the best ideas.
You could be in the running for a People's Choice Award - that's where everyone votes on the best idea - or a Most Promising Idea Award - for the idea which has the most potential. I can't wait to hear your ideas!
Judy Slatyer CEO
9 November 2016
Refugee resettlement deal
It was a bitter sweet week for refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island. Over the weekend, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a refugee resettlement deal with the US. This is a big step forward for many of those who are on Nauru and Manus Island but there is still much to understand about the proposed arrangements, such as when the changes will happen and whether people can be reunited with their families. It means a renewed hope for many refugees and asylum seekers who have been in this awful predicament for so long.
On the other hand, the government also introduced legislation which proposes a lifetime ban on travel to Australia for people who were transferred to Manus or Nauru. The legislation was promptly transferred to a Senate Committee for urgent review. Our focus with both of these things is about encouraging all involved to make changes which offer enduring safety, dignity and wellbeing to this particularly vulnerable group and, importantly for the legislation, ensuring families can be reunited.
International development meetings
While in Canberra, I also attended a session with the new Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Frances Adamson, with my peers from Save the Children, The Fred Hollows Foundation, Oxfam, Plan International and others. Noel Clement and I also met with UNHCR. I was also able to spend time with Wenda Donaldson and the team in Canberra as they prepared for Matt Davies to start this week as Territory Manager. Matt comes to us from roles in Indigenous education and community services. He has also been a volunteer, social change advocate and campaigner.
International critical incident meetings
I also attended a terrific but rather sobering all day workshop set up by Peter Walton and his team with ICRC. It was about what to do if we are ever faced with a critical incident internationally such a delegate being abducted. David Horobin a Red Cross Red Crescent Movement Security Advisor led the workshop and we were joined by folks from International, Legal, HR, Finance and Media as well as ICRC people from the regional office in Fiji
I say it was terrific because we were able to tap into the in-depth knowledge which exists in the ICRC and to know that they would do 'whatever it takes' to help us if we ever faced a critical incident. I say it was sobering because as the day progressed it became increasingly obvious what it takes to get someone who has been abducted (for example) back safely.
These are extraordinary situations, often involving complex crisis, where coordinated action, under heightened time pressure, needs to be taken. The ICRC faces about 80 critical incidents a year, often with several in parallel. At the moment, we have around 35 Australian delegates and 50 Australians working for ICRC. Any incident would involve their family, the government, ICRC and us. Needless to say we hope something like this never happens. Being prepared though, gives us some comfort.
A solemn tribute at Dreamworld
Thank you to our incredible teams of staff and volunteers who have been working tirelessly at the memorial, providing support for more than 2,100 people. Your efforts have meant so much to the community as they express their grief and make sense of what happened. This was particularly the case with your help in moving 1,000 bunches of flowers and other gifts left at the memorial to the Dreamworld theme park where they will be reused as part of a memorial to those who lost their lives.
Thinking of our colleagues in New Zealand
You would have heard that New Zealand's South Island was hit by a powerful earthquake in the early hours of the morning. It hit in a remote area of New Zealand (Hanmer Springs and Kaikoura) but was felt strongly as far south as Christchurch and north as Wellington.
Given the remote location the number of people directly affected has been limited but the earthquakes and the regular aftershocks have shut down much of Wellington CBD and evacuations have happened in Christchurch.
Sadly, at least two lives were lost and significant damage has been reported. Our New Zealand Red Cross colleagues are now going door-to-door in towns in the Marlborough region to check on people and 19 emergency response teams are on standby. If you're on Twitter, follow @NZRedCross for updates.
Much is still unknown but as things fold out during the day we will hear more. I have informed New Zealand Red Cross that we are here if there is a need for additional support.
7 November 2016
Given the Blood Service data security incident Michael Legge and I decided to cancel our planned trip to Fiji (to attend a regional IFRC meeting) and to New Zealand (where we were due to attend the Annual General Meeting). These were good opportunities to meet and talk with Red Cross Red Crescent colleagues in the region but it was more important to be here last week.
Blood Service data security incident
CEO Shelly Park and her team continue to support those Blood Service donors who have concerns and are responding quickly and thoroughly to the questions raised. Many blood donors have expressed support via phone, email and on social media and they have reiterated their support for the Blood Service and the many lives it saves.
Shelly and team are also working through all follow up issues plus conducting a thorough review of what happened and what needs to be done to ensure breaches like this don't happen in the future.
This incident has also given us a good wake up call about how we manage our information and data. We have established a task force (Veronica, Cam, Bruce and I and three Board Directors) to take stock of where we are in terms of data protection and information management, where we might have gaps or weaknesses and what we need to do to ensure we continue to have a robust approach to data security and information management.
In the meantime, as with all issues of this scale, we continue to provide updates so there is no misinformation. Should you or your friends be affected or have questions - please refer them to the special Blood Service website or call the hotline on 13 95 96.
"Banning asylum seekers if they arrive by boat"
I am very mindful that last week the government announced a policy that could have very real humanitarian impacts on some of our clients and their families, as well as our communities more broadly. While we have not seen the legislation as yet, public discussions have focussed on asylum seekers and refugees currently on Manus Island and Nauru effectively banned from visiting Australia.
As a Movement we work across the world to reconnect families and loved ones separated by war, conflict, disaster or migration. As well as the impacts on clients, I know for many of you - caseworkers, volunteers and broader staff - the current public debate around people seeking protection is so very difficult on a professional and personal level.
I am concerned about any measure that adds to the distress of people seeking asylum. I can assure you Red Cross continues to advocate behind the scenes on these important issues.
I urge all of you to read and share our "fact vs fiction" leaflet on refugees and asylum seekers, as well as our "5 things campaign", that talks about what we can all do to make Australia a more welcoming place.
Joe Cropp reports from Mosul, Iraq
As violence intensifies in Mosul, families are starting to flee the Iraqi city under the cover of darkness. Our Iraqi Red Crescent colleagues are waiting for them, with food, water and shelter. We've heard that tent cities are being set up around the city, designed to house thousands of people.
Melbourne staff member Joe Cropp is part of the relief effort and sending us regular reports. You can see what Joe sees by following his blog on our website and our social media channels.
New Australians help more of us get prepared for summer
It was great to see the ABC cover a great collaboration between our emergency services and migration support team. Twenty new volunteers from culturally and linguistically diverse communities are joining our efforts helping people in their communities get prepared.
This is a great initiative. Our volunteers hail from places like South Sudan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Iran, Kenya, Vietnam, Afghanistan and the Republic of the Congo! It's good to see more people join us as we aim to help 3 million Australians prepare for and recover from disasters.
PS - Our 2015/2016 Annual Report publications - Year in review and Financials are now live on our website.
31 October 2016
Supporting communities in Queensland
You would have heard about the tragic accident at Dreamworld last week, in which four lives were lost. It's been a difficult time for everyone affected. QLD Health activated us to provide psychological first aid and within the hour, staff and volunteers were onsite. The team have been quietly talking to and helping people, tending to the flowers (over 1,500 bunches) and just being there as the community experiences shock and disbelief.
Leisa Bourne (Acting Director, QLD) and the team also had to juggle a tricky situation exacerbated by the relentless media reports. In amongst supporting the team and doing media, Leisa is also working with other stakeholders to help set up a transparent process for the distribution of any funds. We haven't set up an appeal but any funds coming to us will go in full to those impacted.
It was a good team effort on all this from our Queensland team. Leisa told me how supported she felt as she had to navigate the situation. Find out more about our response.
Blood Service data security incident
You would have also heard about the Blood Service data incident on Friday. Our Blood Service CEO Shelly Parkes and her team did and are still doing an amazing job - highly professional and at all times focusing on those blood donors who may have been impacted.
We are doing whatever we can to support them as well as managing the media and enquiries which came to us, double checking our own IT systems and putting additional protections in place.
Shelly and team continue to focus on responding to all blood donor concerns and questions and monitoring donations so that the blood and platelet supply stays at normal levels (which it is).
This was a major event for our Blood Service colleagues. We've been there supporting them wherever we can. Find out more here.
A step closer to banning nuclear weapons
Last Friday, the world took a big step closer to eliminating the world's most destructive weapons. After years of pressure, the United Nations General Assembly First Committee has voted to convene a conference in 2017, which will be charged with negotiating a legally binding treaty to ban nuclear weapons.
This is huge news. It commits the UN to starting the treaty negotiation process, and it means that by the end of next year we should have a concrete pathway to a nuclear weapon free world.
We played a part in getting us to this point. Starting in 2011, we worked to mobilise public opinion on the inhumanity of nuclear weapons, and to lend our voice to the global expert discussions on the need for a treaty to ban their use.
We feel very proud to have played a small part in this outcome. Until the 2017 conference is over, we'll continue to do everything we can to make sure this treaty is as strong as possible. Read more about this news here.
What else happened in my week?
I was meant to spend most of my week at the annual conference of the Australian Council for International Development. As it happened, I couldn't because of the events above but there were a number of interesting things I did get to see - the launch of Australia: Ahead of the Curve with a number of really interesting 'think pieces'. Kerry Graham, Centre for Social Impact gave a really good speech on collective impact. Victoria Thom, from Think Impact also impressed me with her thinking on measuring impact.
It was also an important week in terms of Executive Team recruitment. I finalised the recruitment of the Chief Finance Officer, appointing Cam Power to the role which I'm very happy about. With the support of Pearl (who is Chair of the National Youth Advisory Committee and on our Board), Kylee Bates (who is on our Members and Volunteers Committee) and Peter Walton (Director, International) we also did the first round of interviews for the role of Director, Volunteering.
There has been huge interest in this role and those we interviewed came from different backgrounds with very different perspectives and ideas. It was hard to get to the short list but we did. The second round of interviews is next week.
We also did the second round of interviews for the role of Director, People and Organisational Effectiveness with John Newman-Morris (who is on our Nominations and Remuneration Committee). Janice Murphy from HR has been doing a great job in supporting me on all this.
I was also able to join our National Youth Advisory Committee, Caroline Sheehan (Head of Strategic Operations) and Michelle Ewington (National Lead Youth Engagement) on Saturday to talk about their role in contributing to the Strategy 2020 outcomes and to hear their ideas. It was the first time they had all been together in one place this year and there was good discussion and debate.
That's all from me for this week.
24 October 2016
Highlights from our national Board meeting
On Saturday, we had our October Board meeting in Sydney and it was an excellent one. I wanted to share some of the highlights with you.
Following significant work by our finance and marketing teams, the Board approved our annual report, the Year in Review, which includes our financial results from last financial year. As part of this, Deloitte audited our financials and gave us a clean bill of health in terms of our financial stewardship and management. We're now ready to launch the Year in Review at the November Annual General Meeting.
The Board also heard about the great work of Kerry McGrath, Russell Penman, Penny Harrison, Helen Connolly and Wenda Donaldsonon two areas. Firstly, how we go about 'freeing Red Cross' communities and secondly, early thinking on how we achieve the Strategy 2020 outcome - '500,000 Australians are connected to and supported by the community to overcome their deep social exclusion.' We'll share more about this with you soon.
We kicked off the Board discussion on Friday night with an inspirational talk from Dr Amanda Cahill. Amanda works with communities to help them determine their own economic future and by doing so, build a sense of common purpose. She's worked internationally and in Australia. It's amazing what she's achieving with very little resources. She started this work because she could see the level of despair, disempowerment and fear as people watched their communities decline because industries and jobs were moving elsewhere.
Amanda's thinking and approach is great inspiration as we develop a model for 'freeing' Red Cross communities to take even more locally relevant humanitarian action. With the benefit of Amanda's thinking and the work of the folks I mentioned above, we had a good interactive session with the Board on Saturday. We are lucky to have the Board we have - they bring a great mix of experience and knowledge and they are willing to jump in and roll up their sleeves to help us.
Just on the work we are doing on freeing Red Cross communities. The first step is to work with four communities (two of which we already have a presence) as pilots to co-create the approach we will take across Australia. This will take about 4-6 months. The communities we've selected are Whyalla, Burnie, Bendigo and Kawana.
What does leadership mean to you?
To me leadership is about connecting with and learning from others. It's about having a common purpose and enabling your people to achieve it. It's about asking open questions which help people see a solution to a tricky issue or to grab an opportunity they many not have otherwise noticed. It's also about being really mindful of the impact you have on others and to do that, you need to know yourself.
Our HR team has developed some impressive resources for our teams to tap into including a leadership toolkit - a one stop shop of resources, tools and techniques - and all this week they are holiday daily webinars from leadership experts.
Speaking of leadership, we're celebrating people who are helping build an inclusive and diverse Red Cross, where staff, volunteers, members and clients feel accepted and included, where we make the most of our diversity by listening to and embedding different perspectives, ideas and approaches to what we do and how we work. The first ever Red Cross Inclusion and Diversity Awards are now open, and nominations close on Friday 11 November.
How are we tracking on Strategy 2020?
I realise that we need to find a way to engage everyone on how we performing against our Strategy 2020 outcomes as well as operationally and financially. At the moment, we do this with the Board and the Board committees but we also need to find a way to share more broadly. We'll come back with some ideas on how we can keep you informed of our progress.
Red Talks tackles emergency preparedness
Tomorrow night (Tuesday 25 October 2016) in Sydney, two of our young emergency services project officers will be appearing in Red Talks: a series of filmed talks that seeks to inspire young people to get more involved with Red Cross and connect with our work online.
The duo will share what drives them to help others, but also more about how we help communities prepare, respond and recover from emergencies. One of the talks will be streamed on Facebook Live, via our Australian Red Cross Facebook, just after 6pm.
Red Talks is part of our efforts to build a culture of advocacy at Red Cross so that we can meet our humanitarian goals. We all have a part to play. When it comes to getting three million Australians prepared, as Red Cross people we're in a great position to influence others and, by making our own plan, we're in a better position to encourage others to prepare for emergencies. I have completed my RediPlan, have you?
Check out our Red Talks online, or subscribe to the Red Talks video podcast in iTunes so you can also learn more about our work and get ideas on how to advocate for us in the community.
Thinking of the people of Mosul
The people in the Iraqi city of Mosul are being trapped as the battle for control of the city intensifies and up to a million people may be forced to flee for safety. Teams from Red Cross and Red Crescent are ready to help with food, clean water, medicines and other essential items.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement issued a press release to remind everyone involved in the conflict to do everything they could to avoid injury to those not part of the fight, and in particular not targeting health care facilities and workers. Our Movement continues to remind everyone involved that even laws have wars, and that the Red Cross and Red Crescent emblems are there to protect people who are not a part of the fight.
In an opinion piece on ABC this week, Phoebe Wynn-Pope our Director of International Humanitarian Law posed the very real question, what behaviour are we willing to accept in war?
Reflections on the year
A couple of weeks ago, Kerry McGrath asked me how I was going. A few others have asked me the same. It really got me thinking. I've had a big year - leaving WWF (an organisation and people I respect and love); starting a new job with Red Cross (an organisation and people I respect and love); moving from Switzerland back to Australia and doing all the things involved in moving country.
I also realise that in all of these changes I've dropped a few routines which are critical to me such as cycling, time to myself and singing lessons. So while I'm very happy, I realise I haven't looked after myself well enough.
Kerry's question was a great reminder for me. I've downloaded 'Headspace' (a mindfulness app) and am using it each day. I have also changed my diary to give me free time in the morning and at the end of the day, just to give me a bit of space to stay on top of things. I'm taking a walk or cycling each day, to and from work. I'm also trying not to work on weekends (except for Board meetings of course).
We spend so much time helping others in our community at Red Cross, so I'd encourage you to pause and reflect on your year. Have you been prioritising your health and wellbeing so you can be the best you can be here at work and at home?
Have a great week everyone.
17 October 2016
It's the season of AGMs and last week I attended South Australia's. The day included lots of different sessions - some were about sharing good ideas, some were about developing solutions to tricky problems and some were about the normal business of an AGM. Those who attended were wonderfully diverse - young and old and many from different nationalities and backgrounds. This diversity was best illustrated by a dance put on by the children from the SA Red Cross African Women's group.
I spent most of my time learning about how we're building communities across South Australia. There were two examples I found particularly heartening. One was a community hub in Port Augusta where Red Cross volunteers help people to learn to do their banking, send emails, meet My Gov requirements and access the My Aged Care system, for example.
One lady attending the café who is originally from Europe has no family in Australia and her dream was to reconnect with her family back home. Through our support and training, her IT skills and confidence grew and she now sends emails and Skypes with her family from home. The same hub has a craft table which is always buzzing and we invite guest speakers ranging from government departments through to local NGOs.
In Port Pirie we promote our regional hub as 'a place where laughter is welcome and kindness is free'. Currently the program supports 79 participants to overcome mental illness with a recovery focus. Telecross, Telechat and social support also operate out of the hub with 2-3 volunteers making approximately 55 Telecross calls each morning.
I also had the privilege of congratulating 103-year-old Dorothy Harris with her 60 year membership service medal. She doesn't plan on slowing down anytime soon.
Presented with her 60 year service medal, 103-year-old Dorothy Harris doesn't plan on slowing down anytime soon. She's one of our proud members.
It's time to rethink the way we manage disasters
Another big focus for last week was the release of the World Disasters Report calling for radical changes in the way we manage disasters. The latest research shows that if we invest before disasters strike, we will save lives and money.
Last year's natural disasters cost Australia at least $9 billion, according to research commissioned by the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience and Safer Communities. That's expected to double by 2030 and reach $33 billion per year by 2050.
Yet we spent much less, around $50 million to prepare for these disasters. Numerous studies show that every dollar spent on risk reduction can save up to $10 in recovery. Red Cross believes it's time to shift the balance.
You might have seen or heard Noel Clement (Director of Migration, Emergencies and Movement Relations), Peter Walton (Director, International Program) and I in the media calling for a four-fold increase in investment in disaster risk reduction and community resilience (one of our 2020 targets). Peter did a great job on breakfast television on The Today Show: you can watch it here. We also added our voice to the issue in this piece which featured in the Daily Telegraph.
Fighting poverty in Australia and around the world
An estimated 13.9% of Australians - that's 2.5 million people - live below the poverty line. That figure includes 603,000 children. They are numbers we can't accept and this week we're proud to be a principal supporter of Anti Poverty Week. Around the country, a number of events are taking place to mark this week, including a pop-up restaurant in inner city Brisbane to raise awareness of food insecurity issues; an amazing race event in Canberra which will give participants a passport to our specialised services which help fight poverty through to teams in Perth feeding a family of four for under $10.
"A price too high - rethinking nuclear weapons in light of their human cost"
As the UN started deliberations on nuclear disarmament last week, the Vice-President of the ICRC, Christine Beerli, delivered the ICRC's statement on Wednesday. You can find her statement here.
In parallel, ICRC published its annual International Review which focuses on the human cost of nuclear weapons, and we launched the review in Melbourne last week. This review is focussed entirely on the human cost of nuclear weapons and it is indeed sobering reading.
It includes a hard hitting chapter about protecting humanity from the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, written by Richard Slade PhD candidate, Robert Tickner our former CEO and Phoebe Wynn-Pope Director of International Humanitarian Law and Movement Relations. Find the e-briefing here.
NT Youth Justice Royal Commission commences
Last week the Royal Commission into youth justice and child protection in the Northern Territory commenced. As we prepare our own submission to this enquiry, we will be watching the outcomes of the commission closely. We also continue to advocate that abuse must stop in youth detention facilities, but that we must also look at better ways to keep kids out of prison in the first place. You can see a recap of the first day of proceedings here on the ABC.
Boko Haram releases 21 girls
Finally, many of you might remember the #Bringourgirlsback campaign, a public outcry in response to the kidnappings of 230 school girls in Nigeria in 2014. Last week we heard news that Boko Haram released 21 of the girls in the northern town of Chibok. The International Red Cross and the Swiss Government helped to broker the negotiations between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram, which led to the release of the girls.
Our thoughts are with those girls who have been held captive for more than two years.
10 October 2016
Last week was a real mix of things - from meeting with some of Australia's top business leaders to talk about how we can make communities more resilient to disasters, to discovering some promising initiatives in Victoria which bring together young members and volunteers with refugees and asylum seekers. I've saved the best for last though, and in this edition of my blog I'm sharing a refugee's touching poem about his experience of Australian Red Cross.
In other news, the Audit and Risk Committee has reviewed our financial statements pertaining to last financial year, and the next step is to recommend these to the Board for approval.
Highlights from Victoria
I attended the Victorian Division Annual General Meeting and heard about the great things they've achieved. The numbers certainly stack up: volunteers made 125,000 phone calls to older, isolated or otherwise vulnerable people; they provided 24,500 breakfasts in 14 schools and they helped Victorians prepare for emergencies by distributing 8200 RediPlans!
I also heard about a promising Red Cross Young Humanitarian Camp that happened last weekend, and was developed by a team of young asylum seeker and refugee clients together with youth committee members, supported by our Red Cross staff. The camp was borne out of a desire to bring young asylum seekers and refugees, volunteers and members together in a space where they could share their stories, skills and ideas, connect with each other and learn more about how they can be further involved with Red Cross.
Aged between 18 and 22 years of age, those involved were born in 11 different countries! The camp is a joint effort with Life Saving Victoria, Victoria Police, YMCA and Kathmandu. I'll be keen to know how it goes.
The really special moment at the AGM was when Mohammed Sharabah, a refugee, read out a poem about his experience with Red Cross. I've left that to last in my blog this week because it is so wonderful and a testament to the good work you do.
Building resilience together with IAG
In June 2016, we signed a ten-year collaborative partnership agreement with IAG to build resilience in Australian communities. Last week, I caught up with Peter Harmer, the CEO and Managing Director of IAG, so that we could talk through how to make the most of this agreement.
We talked about the launch of a digital platform for people to access psychosocial focussed preparedness, response and recovery information, how to work together to help build resilience at the local community level and the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience and Safer Communities which, Peter chairs and Red Cross is a member.
My first meeting with the Australian Business Roundtable
I attended my first meeting of the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience and Safer Communities, which was formed in December 2012 and includes business leaders who all believe it's a national priority to make communities safer and more resilient to natural disasters before they happen. Organisations like IAG, Investa Property Group, Munich Re, Optus and Westpac are members, as they all play a crucial role in community planning or disaster recovery and have all supported customers and communities affected by the devastating effects of floods, storms and bushfires.
At the meeting, I observed a real commitment to work together to increase the nation's investment in disaster preparation and resilience. We signed off on a proposed research plan and agreed to continue work which is underway on a bond/investment vehicle to build economic and social resilience.
Good things happening in Red Cross Shops
A lot is happening in the retail space at the moment. Our Red Cross Shops are calling for donations in their Spring Cleaning campaign; they've launched an online gift catalogue so you can avoid those Christmas shopping queues and they've relocated four stores in the last month to new sites (Corrigin - WA, Cairns - QLD, Coffs Harbour -NSW, as well as a pop up shop in Erina in NSW). And that's just business as usual!
This month we also received significant clothing donations from top clothing brand Pretty Girl (think Rockmans, Beme and W Lane). It's so important for us to have both new and quality pre-loved clothing in our stores, and this, together with a major name partnership currently in negotiation will help build our reputation as the op-shop of choice for fashion-savvy shoppers.
All of the work of our retail shops wouldn't be possible without the help of 4,500 volunteers who are the face of our shops in the community. One of those volunteers is Lorna from Kurri Kurri who turned 95 this month. She's volunteered with us for an incredible 24 years. Guess where she celebrated her birthday? Our team at Kurri Kurri were thrilled to celebrate with her!
And now for the highlight of my week...
Red Cross in our Hearts and Eyes, by Mohammed Sharabah
This is what we are seeing in Red Cross
Smiles, smiles, smiles, we clearly find them everywhere
Delights, delights, delights, simply is flying here and there
Happiness, happiness, surely its address is located in here
This is what we are feeling in Red Cross
Humanity is reflected in all the procedures
Sympathy always comes from the caseworkers
Friendliness is simply daily common behaviour
This is why we trust in Red Cross
Justice and equality are applied on the whole
Generosity and tolerance are given to all
Peace and safety are surely their main goals
This is what they are showing in Red Cross
One policy is valued by all staff and managers
One achievement is attained by trainees and trainers
One goal is strived for, by united volunteers and workers
With one hand they are all working tightly together
In one family, they are look like sisters and brothers
Equality and brotherhood is echoed to their characters
I hope this poem is a highlight for your week too.
PS Have you heard about the Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe? They'll be in the limelight this month with the release of a new Australian documentary which tells their refugee stories. We have a connection with one of the women, who was helped to reunite with her family through our international tracing service.
3 October 2016
Last week was an exciting one for Red Cross as we officially opened two new sites in Darwin and the Tiwi Islands that will strengthen our long-term commitment to working with the people of the Northern Territory. It was also an especially difficult week for South Australia with cyclonic conditions that unexpectedly impacted the whole state, in a once-in-50-year storm event.
Storms, floods and emergencies
We've had a terrible month of weather, starting with floods in South Australia, Victoria and later New South Wales. And then, last week the worst storms in decades hit South Australia.
Again, our thanks go to our hardworking volunteers and staff who were on the ground helping people who'd been affected by the emergencies. They were there to assist those who'd evacuated from their homes and, to visit communities offering recovery advice, making sure everyone was okay.
It's a stark reminder of just how important it is to prepare for emergencies, whether you live in a city or the country. Who'd have expected that the whole of South Australia would lose power? What would you do? I'd suggest heading to redcross.org.au/prepare.
Celebrating our partnership in the Tiwi Islands
Last week I had the opportunity to join the community in the Tiwi Islands just north of Darwin to open a new community centre. It was an unforgettable experience.
As Michael Legge our Board President, Kerry McGrath, Director of Community Programs and I walked through the gates, Tiwi men came up to greet us. With arms lifted, they chanted and stomped on the ground, calling out to us, "Come. Welcome". We reciprocated, lifting our arms and stomping on the ground in unison with our hosts. See it for yourself and watch a video of the opening ceremony.
The opening was a day of great celebration of our partnership. The office is well placed next to the supermarket and easily accessible to everyone. Red Cross's partnership with Tiwi has grown over 15 years and the new office reflects our ongoing, long term commitment to working with Tiwi people.
From a school holiday program to a team of 11 local staff building community capacity, providing youth and mental health programs and emergency preparedness. The new building is an important step for us working alongside Tiwi people, developing sustainable opportunities in education, employment and business.
A new office hub for Red Cross in Darwin
I also had an opportunity to spend time in Darwin as we opened a new office. It's a great step which means we can better coordinate services across the Territory, bringing together Red Cross people from a wide range of programs including: personal support and wellbeing services, food and nutrition programs, helping refugees and those seeking asylum, people who teach first aid and emergencies.
I learnt that the Arafura Pearl is a well known song that describes Darwin, its beautiful landscape and friendly people. It was fitting that writer Kathy Mills and her daughter June sang the song at the opening. Kathy also read one of her poems written about the strength of women and Cyclone Tracey which devastated Darwin on Christmas Day in 1974.
The song and poem really set the scene for a true Darwin style event. You can listen to this iconic song and meet the team in this event video.
While in Darwin…
While in Darwin, we took the opportunity to meet with community organisations and the new government to reinforce the need for change in youth justice. We are preparing our submission to the Royal Commission and these meetings were an opportunity to reinforce our views face-to-face.
Kerry McGrath and I also attended the meeting of the NT Emergency Services Steering Group volunteers who are working hard to prepare for the forthcoming disaster season. They are exceptionally well organised with each of the members leading on a key area of preparedness (supported by our Red Cross emergency staff).
These folks also worked together to submit one of the winning ideas on the Ideas 2020 platform - the Prepare, Respond, Recover App which will not only allow digital access to RediPlan but also link to a broader range of tools and information that will support people to prepare and recover from disasters.
Forced marriages in the spotlight
Forced marriage has hit the headlines again following comments by the NSW Minister for Families and Community Services. Helen Signor from our Trafficking Program was interviewed on the ABC and helped raise awareness and de-bunk some myths around this important issue. Following the criminalisation of forced marriage in Australia in 2013, we expanded our Support for Trafficked People program to include this group. Read a little more about how we help.
Around the world
The UN Security Council met last week to talk specifically about the continuing deaths of civilians and medical and humanitarian workers. Peter Maurer (President, ICRC) and Dr Joanne Liu, (International President, Medecins Sans Frontieres) spoke.
Dr Liu summarised the scale of the issue: "The conduct of war today knows no limits. It is a race to the bottom. The unrelenting assault on Aleppo by Russian and Syrian forces over recent days - with no evacuations possible, and bodies lying unburied - testifies to that."
Political pressure is building but it remains desperately short of what is needed to solve this issue.
Meanwhile, there is growing interest in the potential of the forthcoming UN negotiations on a ban on nuclear weapons with Peter Maurer calling for leadership: "I call on all States to seize this opportunity," he said.
He went on to affirm: "The time has come for world leaders to show leadership on this issue. We need to rid the world of nuclear weapons once and for all. Until we do, the potential for the intentional or accidental use of nuclear weapons remains as does the risk of the catastrophic and long-lasting consequences that nuclear weapons can have: on human health, the environment, climate, food production and socio-economic development. Ridding the world of nuclear weapons is a humanitarian imperative."
Dear Judy… a letter from prison
Last week I received a thoughtful and well researched letter from Michael Challis, an inmate at the Glen Innes Correctional Centre in NSW. He was writing to ask how he could be involved in volunteering. He's completed a Certificate III in Community Service and has also read our Rethinking Justice Report and is keen to find a way to help young people find positive directions in life and a sense of individual purpose. He sees volunteering as a way to do this. He is very aware of the obstacles to him doing this but is keen to try with our help. We'll be in touch with him.
26 September 2016
Here's my weekly blog for Monday 26 September for staff, members and volunteers. Please read on to find out what's happening at Red Cross.
Restoring a path to humanity in Syria
Last Monday the world was shocked to hear news of an aid convoy bombed in Syria. At least 21 people were killed trying to deliver life-saving supplies to Syrians surviving in, what can only be described as, hell on earth.
Ironically as we mourned the loss of life, it was 'World Peace Day': the contrast couldn't be starker. Such a deplorable act underlines how we must be relentless in our global efforts to make sure everyone knows, understand and abides by the laws of war, which give humanitarian workers the right of access to those in need of help.
In a show of solidarity, we turned our social media profiles red in support of the thousands of volunteers and staff risking their lives every day to save others. Thank you to those of you who joined us - you helped send a message to the world that enough is enough and that these laws must be protected.
We also added our voice to the issue, in an opinion piece published in a few Australian newspapers to highlight the three things we must not accept if we want to restore humanity, even during the brutality of war.
Michael, our Board President, started this month's Board meeting by acknowledging those from the Syrian Red Crescent who had lost their lives. He knew a few of them personally and was visibly shaken by what had happened. I'm sure like me, many of you read about the terrible and worsening situation in Aleppo. So much of what is happening there is against the core principles for which we stand and which are enshrined in international humanitarian law. It is hard to imagine what can change this terrible situation.
Public discussion on migration and refugees
As the migration crisis continues to unfold, the world's attention turned to a refugee summit in the US last week. The Red Cross Red Crescent was an observer at the meetings.
In Australia, public discussion centred on migration, particularly in response to Pauline Hanson's provocative calls to ban Muslim migration, as well as a survey suggesting that 49% of Australians would support such a ban.
Of course at Red Cross, while we leave politics to the politicians, we do seek to intervene through regular, robust and confidential dialogue with government. While you may not hear directly about these engagements, you can be assured we diligently continue this important work.
I think it's worth remembering that there's a lot to celebrate here as one of the most culturally diverse nations in the world. More than half of us were born overseas, or one of our parents was. One in five of us speak a language other than English at home. We practise over 120 different religions. Our diversity is a great point of strength.
Unfortunately the migration crisis is stoking racial tensions around the world, but we can all do something to make our communities more welcoming, particularly for refugees. Why not consider a few ideas from our guide: Five things you can do.
At Red Cross, we actively champion humanitarian values and want to see a more caring, compassionate and inclusive Australia that accepts people of all walks of life. This is critical if we are to help people most in need in our communities, without discrimination as to nationality, religious beliefs, class or political opinions.
A day in the life of a fundraiser
Last week I had the opportunity to hit the streets with these fundraisers, to see and experience how they inspire new supporters to get on board with regular giving.
If you didn't know, regular givers are the generous Australians who give an ongoing donation every four weeks. They are an important part of our financial future. Their ongoing generosity means we can ensure a strong future of support for people in need.
We've set ourselves some big goals in Strategy 2020 and some ambitious income targets, and regular giving is very much a part of this. Today regular giving is our largest source of flexible income, with over 120,000 people around Australia giving regular funds.
The passion of the face-to-face fundraisers was terrific. We were out on a cold and wet spring morning on the corner of Swanston street in Melbourne. It was a busy time with people going about their daily lives and not wanting to be distracted or slowed down.
The face-to-face team were optimistic and resilient talking to many people about who we are and what we do and asking for them to become financial contributors. It takes guts to put aside inhibitions and step out in front of strangers to do this and it was great to see the fundraisers in action.
While I wasn't successful in signing anyone up to be a regular giver, I did enjoy talking to many people about who we are and what we do. It was a good reminder that all of us at Red Cross should be able to recommend the benefits of making a regular donation - whether it is by encouraging people to sign up online, over the phone, or by interacting with one of our face-to-face fundraisers.
You will also know that year-round, many thousands of volunteers and members get out and about with local, creative fundraising activities. Together all of these wonderful people are raising vital awareness and funding for our work around Australia and overseas!
Board meeting update
Last Friday, the Blood Service Board meet with our National Board. Once a year the two Boards meet so that the Red Cross Blood Service team can update the Australian Red Cross Board on their progress.
It was a good discussion where we talked about how the two organisations can work more closely together (amongst other things).
The Australian Red Cross National Board then met on Saturday in Melbourne. We had an in-depth session on our future role in migration, on the development of services in central QLD to support vulnerable families and on our possible approach to working with other NGOs in the Pacific. The Board also had an update on our financial performance so far this year, our workplace health and safety results and proposed future improvements to our telecommunications.
Floods in NSW
After floods in VIC and SA, there has been more disruption over the weekend, this time in NSW. An evacuation centre was set up at Forbes High School over the weekend, and according to the ABC more than 100 homes were affected. Thanks to our Red Cross volunteers at the centre providing support, making people feel comfortable, and providing registration services to people affected by the floods.
Off to Darwin and the Tiwi Islands
This week, I'll be joining the team in Darwin and in the Tiwi Islands as we open two new offices. I look forward to sharing stories of the people I meet, and more about the work we do.
PS - Did you see Four Corners last Monday? It's definitely worth watching as it showed how the Aboriginal community in Bourke is turning the town around to reduce crime rates and improve outcomes.
In the show a driver mentor program was featured, which we also run at Red Cross in different locations. Some of the people we help to get a driver's license includes young Aboriginal people referred by the court system. It sounds like a simple thing but it makes an incredible difference to their lives.
19 September 2016
It was an early start for me today as I was interviewed on ABC TV at 6.30am, to help launch our public campaign reminding people to prepare for emergencies. Too many conversations begin with "I wish I had" after disasters strike, so we're raising awareness of our RediPlan; a free guide that helps you prepare for emergencies of all kinds.
Have you completed yours?
I spent last weekend unpacking lots of boxes with Peter, my partner. Everything finally arrived from Switzerland! But one thing I haven't done is complete my RediPlan and I need to.
Have you completed your personalised emergency plan? It's important, because the odds are pretty high that you'll face an emergency, with a one-in-three chance you'll experience a natural disaster in your life time - as well as those everyday emergencies life throws at us. As Red Cross people we're in a great position to influence others and, by making our own plan, we're in a better position to encourage others to prepare for emergencies.
On that note, please support our social media campaign this week. Get online and share the special belongings you'd protect no matter what, and why you care so much about them. Have fun and help us raise awareness of this serious issue by sharing your photo and its story on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #CouldntLiveWithout. You can also take a look at this video we're using in our social media promotions, to remind people that the better you prepare, the quicker you'll recover.
Responding to emergencies in Victoria and South Australia
Widespread rainfall swept across Southwest, North Central and Northern Country Victoria and the Adelaide Hills area of South Australia last week forcing residents from a number of communities to evacuate their homes. I just wanted to say thanks to our many staff and volunteers on the ground, providing support, making people feel comfortable, and providing registration services to people affected by the floods.
News from Canberra
Last week, at Parliament House in Canberra, we launched a new Handbook on International Humanitarian Law (IHL), which gives parliamentarians and law makers a straightforward guide to the Geneva Conventions and the laws of war. Far too often we see news that fighters have broken these laws, with a disturbing trend of attacks on hospitals, ambulances and other essential infrastructure that civilians desperately need to survive with any kind of dignity.
Just this week there was an attack against a hospital supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Sadly it is unlikely to be the last. Raising awareness of the protections offered under IHL and ensuring that fighters respect these laws is more urgent than ever.
In my speech, I asked our parliamentarians to support and advocate for the laws of war, here and abroad. The laws are the most powerful tool we have to try to protect human life and dignity in the midst of horror and brutality.
It was part of a full few days in Canberra where Barbara Livesey, Noel Clement, Vicki Mau, Peter Walton and I met with various people in Parliament and in the public service to discuss a range of issues - social cohesion, justice reinvestment, youth justice, migration and refugees, international aid and disaster resilience and mitigation in the Pacific.
We also got news that this week Senator Ludlam is moving a motion in the Australian Senate aimed at the elimination of nuclear weapons. It calls on the Australian Government to support all efforts at the United Nations General Assembly, which is meeting in the coming weeks, to begin formal negotiations next year to prohibit nuclear weapons once and for all. We'll share more news once we hear what happens.
15 September 2016
I'm pleased to announce the winners of the 'Most Promising' ideas from our Ideas 2020 challenge. Read on to see why they were selected and what happens next in terms of getting these and the People's Choice ideas off the ground. You may remember we announced the People's Choice winners on Tuesday 23rd August.
Migrants in transition have their humanitarian needs met and are participating in and included in Australian society
The Most Promising Idea for A safe and welcoming Australia is Corporate Connections - Spread the Word by Sian Gair, a Migrant Link Project Officer in WA. Sian's idea is about increasing awareness of the experiences of asylum seekers and refugees through engaging with corporate organisations. Challenge Lead, Vicki Mau and her selection panel identified opportunity to build on this engagement towards an employment pathway for Migration Support Program clients, as well as the social cohesion benefits. As a next step, Vicki will meet with Sian, our corporate partnerships team, and social cohesion leads to further develop this idea and link it with broader strategy around corporate partnership, employment and social cohesion.
The People's Choice winner for this outcome was Australian Red Cross rolls out the Red Carpet by Shammy Baijnath, a Caseworker in WA. As a next step Vicki would like to bring Shammy together with some other key internal stakeholders to workshop how this idea can build on and add to other similar activities underway.
2.5 million people, reflecting the diversity of our community, take voluntary humanitarian action with Australian Red Cross to help others.
The People Helping People winning idea is Time banking submitted by Belinda Noble, Head of Communications based in NSW and Fiona Amundson, a Voluntary Service Business Partner in ACT. Belinda and Fiona have combined two ideas: the use of technology to connect people seeking and offering support, and the concept of community members 'acquiring' and 'spending' time.
Danny Croucher and his challenge team were excited to draw on the success of time banking programs overseas, and the potential to engage Red Cross member, volunteer, supporter and donor networks. They also saw the idea addressing a number of strategy and process improvement priorities, as well as feedback heard through the volunteer engagement survey that volunteers want to do more to support their local communities. Danny will be in touch with Belinda and Fiona to explore next steps, with the view to bring key internal and external people together to develop the idea in a 'hackathon' for implementation.
The next step for the People's Choice in this outcome, Start 'em young, keep them keen by Dilini Perera (a Multimedia Producer based in NSW) will be to unpack Dilini's vision and the potential to connect this idea with the youth participation consultation currently underway. Michelle Ewington, National Lead for Youth Engagement, will be in touch with Dilini shortly.
Australian attitudes and behaviours strongly reflect humanitarian values based on survey responses
A more humanitarian society winning idea is Humanity Heat Map by Susie Gemmell, Supporter, Acquisitions and Development Manager based in NSW. Susie imagines an interactive Google map that shows a growing footprint of acts of humanity - providing a visual depiction of the Strategy 2020 goals coming to life as acts of humanity flourish across the nation.
This idea sparked the imagination of the Challenge Lead Phoebe Wynn Pope and others for the potential for simple impact, as well as the way this idea adds to a number of other activities in the pipeline. As an initial step, Chris Wheatley who is responsible for this strategic outcome will meet with Susie to brainstorm best next steps and identify how best to develop this idea and connect it to other related outcome activities.
The People's Choice winner in this category was Courage to be Kind, by Jayne Uthmeyer, a Digital Media Producer based in Victoria. This idea links really interestingly with Fiona and Belinda's 'People Helping People'/'Time Banking' idea above, and so as a next step Danny Croucher will be in touch with Jayne to explore how these ideas might leverage off each other.
3 million Australians are equipped to be prepared for and recover from disasters
The Building Resilient Communities winning idea is Prepare, Respond, Recover App, submitted by Pat Sim on behalf of the NT Emergency Services Steering Group volunteers. Challenge Lead Andrew Coghlan noted that a number of ideas highlighted the importance of digital access to REDiPlan preparedness materials, with this winning idea extending the potential impact through linkage to a broader range of tools and information that would not only support people to prepare for a disaster, but also through a journey of recovery.
Planning and consideration of the digitisation of our emergency services preparedness materials has already begun, potentially drawing upon our collaborative partnership with Insurance Australia Group (IAG) to bring it to fruition. The next step will be to involve the NT Emergency Services Steering Group volunteers in a scoping exercise, which will build on our aim to make information most readily accessible to the community in a digital form, whether it's via website or app for example.
Andrew will be meeting with the winner of the People's Choice, Dianne Buckles (Volunteer, Member and Chair of the WA Divisional Advisory Board), later this week to discuss the best way to progress her idea, Welcome to your new Home.
Australian governments are directing into justice reinvestment at least 50% of savings delivered by a 10% reduction in Australian prison numbers
A new approach to justice winning idea is WorkREDI by Helen Connolly, Director SA. This idea was also the People's Choice, and was identified by Challenge Lead Helen Sheppard and her network of external experts, including Mick Gooda, Warren Mundine, Mark Halsey and Tasmanian peer mentors who are currently incarcerated as an idea that could have big impact in a complex policy context.
To quote Mark Halsey, a Professor in the Centre for Crime Policy & Research, Law School, Flinders University: "Long and short is that prisoners need jobs and the personal stability that flows from such. Full time employment has been and remains one of the most effective protective factors against crime and recidivism." As a next step Helen Sheppard will flesh out the plan with Helen Connelly and other key stakeholders with a view to seeking funding and piloting the model.
Congratulations and please keep the ideas coming!
Congratulations to all the winners, and thank you to everyone who participated in and supported this first Ideas 2020 event. We had 1,249 Red Cross people participate - 748 staff, 281 volunteers and 220 members - contributing 269 ideas, 1,635 comments on other people's ideas, and 4,084 votes! We also had a few get involved through facilitated groups because there were challenges with using the Internet.
We are currently drawing on learnings from this first Ideas 2020 event, and encourage you to feedback on how you found the experience. Stay tuned for more opportunities to get involved in the next ideas challenge soon.
12 September 2016
I had a fulfilling week working with members and volunteers in Bendigo, spent time with the ACT Divisional Advisory Board and discovered an international academic community in South Australia, dedicated to researching the history of our Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. I even had the privilege of meeting Professor Melanie Oppenheimer, who wrote our Centenary book.
On the road to Bendigo
Penny Harrison (Director, Victoria) and I drove out to Bendigo from Melbourne. Driving through surprisingly green countryside is always a great way to catch up and Penny and I talked about everything from the successful work that has seen children at Melbourne's child detention facilities finishing school, through to property changes in Victoria.
We joined members and volunteers at a zone meeting and Red Connect function in Bendigo to talk about engaging more supporters, with young people hosting a workshop on how to encourage regional youth to connect with us. There were about 60 volunteers and members involved.
Meetings in Canberra
In Canberra I was able to be a part of the team's RUOK Day, as part of events taking place Australia wide. Neale Robert, a Beyond Blue ambassador spoke powerfully about the impact of depression.
We also had a good session with the ACT Divisional Advisory Board brainstorming the contribution of the ACT to our 2020 goal - 2.5 million people, reflecting the diversity of our community take voluntary humanitarian action with Australian Red Cross to help others.
Students experience Fundamental Principles in action
I also had the chance to catch up on community work underway with a high school to experience our Fundamental Principles in action helping them develop skills around critical thinking, non-violent communication, active listening, non-judgement and valuing diversity. For example the students were assigned the role of a prisoner or a guard and personally experienced how the role we play in society, and the associated power, significantly influences how we communicate and experience communication.
This helped students to understand their own perspectives and experiences and how these shape their values, behaviours and interactions with others. This knowledge in turn helps them gain a deeper understanding of how they can bring humanity into action. They are now developing what action they will take. The same program is also being designed with a local, Muslim youth community (Youth for Global Peace) and the Muslim Women's Association.
Conference unpacks the history and future of our movement
In Adelaide, I joined Red Cross, Red Crescent historians and academics at Flinders University to speak at their conference. The keynote speaker was Professor Michael Barnett, International Affairs and Political Science at George Washington University. He teaches and publishes in the areas of international relations, international organisations, humanitarianism and Middle Eastern politics. He gave a good explanation for a 'newbie' like me on the difference between humanitarian and human rights organisations.
The conference reminded me that stories like that of the late Nelson Mandela who was visited regularly by Red Cross during his 27 years of detention at Robben Island, make you realise how our Fundamental Principles can and do change lives. Following his release he said, "What matters is not only the good the ICRC brings but the evil it prevents."
Multiculturalism in Australia: how does it look?
Recently the Scanlon Foundation published new research which speaks directly to our work in bringing all Australians together. The Australians Today report looks at multiculturalism in modern Australia with some challenging results. It found most new migrants living in Australia are optimistic about life here but breaking into the job market, racism and discrimination are still major problems.
Keep an eye out for some really interesting new programs from our Migration Support team which will help bridge these gaps and build more understanding within our diverse communities and help us reach our Strategy 2020 outcome to help migrants participate fully in Australian life.
Greg Vickery Scholarship recipients announced
Congratulations to Danny Croucher (National Manager Voluntary Service) and Kylee Bates (Member and Volunteer) who have been awarded this year's Greg Vickery Scholarship. The $25,000 scholarship will allow the two to explore new approaches and opportunities for volunteering, including the use of technology and social media to engage youth volunteers, and getting volunteers involved in digital volunteering and advocacy. This will be especially interesting in light of our goal to attract more people to our movement and diversify our volunteer base in the years to come.
Have a great week everyone!
5 September 2016
My Week Last Week
I was in Melbourne and Sydney last week and we had a lot on. Firstly, on Monday we launched our Accessibility and Inclusion Plan 2016-2019. This plan deepens our commitment to include people with disability in all that we do. We also launched our Inclusion and Diversity Awards. These awards will recognise people who have made outstanding contributions to embracing diversity and promoting inclusiveness. The award categories cover outstanding contributions to the inclusion of people of diverse gender and sexual orientation; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; people from ethnic and linguistically diverse backgrounds; people with disability; and for the inclusive delivery of services to clients or communities. Nominations are now open and all Red Cross staff, members and volunteers can nominate someone, and be nominated themselves.
Last week we also finalised an agreement for HELP Enterprises to take over Bowen Hills and Gympie Business Services in Queensland. We have been proud to run these businesses for over 40 years but, with the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, we decided to make this change to ensure supported employees have a secure future. The career paths offered by HELP along with their compassion and commercial sustainability were critical factors in our decision and we're confident they will offer our employees a bright future.
We also announced our hope and desire to mobilise millions across the country to help others and reduce inequality and exclusion. You can read it in the Adelaide Advertiser. We worked with the Board on our proposal to the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade for the Australian Humanitarian Partnership. Veronica and I also met with potential future suppliers of our phone and internet services. Veronica's team put this to tender a few months back and we are down to the final negotiations. We need a communications partner who will provide the services we need in the future (e.g. Skype, significant data, regional and remote communications) but will do so in a way which is as cost-effective as possible.
The fundraising team briefed me on their plans for direct marketing this year and the marketing team and I brainstormed how we want our communications 'tone of voice' to be received. We talked about words like 'friendly, accessible, open, warm' but also 'credible, calm, uncompromising'. We'll be doing more on this.
I attended a meeting of the Association of Major Community Organisations to talk with them about building community capacity to identify and respond to their issues and ensuring that communities have a greater say and control over the services they get and the issues they want to tackle.
Finally, we had a meeting of the Members & Volunteers Committee where we talked about a range of matters. Kylee Bates gave us an update on the shifts in volunteering internationally, we talked through how we can approach our goal of 2.5million Australians taking humanitarian action and we had an update on membership fundraising (in total, Branches contributed $3.9million to Red Cross last year).
Unrelated to me, we had a breakthrough with one of our important internal changes - the Birth Family Advocacy Service (BFAS) in ACT and Young Parents Program (YPP) in NSW became the first services to introduce our new Client Case Management (CCM) system. The introduction of CCM will allow for more consistent and client centred service delivery within and across programs, and of course we're helping our case workers (and volunteers) spend less time on paperwork and more time doing what they love - providing valuable support to our community!
So, all in all, it was a full week. This week is no different!
This Thursday it's RUOK Day and we're getting behind it with special events such as the world's longest back massage in SA, a picnic at Casuarina Beach in the NT and a public promo at a Brisbane café. It's all about us supporting a positive attitude to mental health at work and in the community.
This is especially important as the stats tell us that almost half of Australian adults will have a mental illness at some point in their lives. So at Red Cross we want to be the kind of place where you have the confidence to talk to each other about life's ups and downs. Many of us don't know how to ask "RUOK?", so this week, watch this video by one of our team in SA who shares how you can ask.
Get involved this Thursday by wearing yellow to work and show your support by posting your event pics on social media, with #RUOKDAY2016 and @RedCrossAU.
Playing our part: keeping children safe
Child Protection Week has launched with the theme 'Stronger Communities, Safer Children'. It's a reminder to all of us about the vital importance of close knit and supportive communities in helping kids thrive and feel safe.
Many of you are an important part of the solution, helping Red Cross support more than 10,000 families across Australia, whether it's supporting a family to get through a rough patch; working with communities to improve things locally so kids get the best possible start in life or helping parents build valuable life skills.
Every year in Australia more than 31,000 children are abused or neglected. We can all be a part of the solution and I encourage you to learn your child protection responsibilities and help build a culture that stops child abuse and neglect.
Have a great week!
29 August 2016
Last week I had three full and fast-paced days in Central Queensland with Kerry McGrath (Director, Community Programs) and Leisa Bourne (Acting Executive Director, Queensland) getting to know more about the area, the work we do and who we partner with.
Meeting inspiring people
One of the people who made an impression on me during my visit was a man named Lee, who volunteers at the Walali Neighbourhood Centre in Rockhampton. He's a peer mentor and brings great perspective to this role as he himself has been through tough times at various points in his life. We first met on Monday afternoon and then again on Wednesday during breakfast at Walali.
Wednesday was a tough day for him because he had to appear in court. It was great to see the spirit of 'humanity' alive and strong amongst those around him in Walali and especially from Lesley Guy, one of our team, who went with him to court. At times like this it is so important to have someone who cares beside you; someone who is 'there' for you. Lesley and others in Walali did just that.
It was an informative and inspiring trip - on Monday we visited Walali and Nalu Bulla. We talked with the regional team, visited the Branch shop and met with Michael Shearer in the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services.
Opening the Bill Thaiday Centre in Woorabinda
The next day we were off to Woorabinda, an Aboriginal community we've worked alongside for the last decade to help them realise their potential. Aunty Rosa, Uncle Henry and I opened the new Red Cross premises, the Bill Thaiday Centre, named after the late elder who was a legendary broadcaster and someone who had dedicated his life to mentoring young people.
Aunty Rosa is Uncle Bill's widow and is a wonderfully warm person who has incredible life experience and strength of character rarely seen. It was a moving ceremony in lots of ways. The Bill Thaiday centre will accommodate staff, volunteers and community services. You can read a story which was featured on the ABC last week to learn more.
While in Woorabinda, we also had a tour of the Council Chambers and the Gumbi Gunyah Women's and Children's centre. I also had the chance to meet our locally employed team of 19 people led by Samantha Meek who is another wonderful woman, with a calm, warm and inclusive way about her.
Advocating for justice reinvestment on ABC radio
We had an early start on Wednesday to do a radio interview with ABC Capricornia. The focus of the interview was justice reinvestment and the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prison. I talked about our justice reinvestment plan and reiterated that by spending a portion of the $3.5 billion currently spent each year on prisons instead on providing support to minor offenders in practical ways, we can keep those people out of prison.
After the ABC interview, and breakfast back at Walali, we then joined the Red Cross members of the Rockhampton Branch for the Annual General Meeting (AGM). The branch members do a range of activities in the community, run an emergency accommodation centre for those visiting the hospital, run the shop, raise funds and are the community backbone in times of disasters. As well as me learning about what they do and how they work, I gave a talk about what I'd been doing since I started in the role plus my thoughts on how we will achieve the 2020 outcomes. It was great to have time after the AGM to sit and talk with the Rockhampton members.
In amongst all of this, there was one trip I couldn't do because it clashed with the ABC interview - that was going with Alyson to raise funds at the Rockhampton Santa Gertrudis Bull Sale! BUT I was presented with a bull all of my own as a memento of the visit (left).
You may be aware of the Emerging Leaders program we run to help develop managers and people in leadership roles across the organisation. On Thursday, the participants presented the outcomes of projects they had worked on for the last three months. The projects ranged from social impact investment to volunteering to the balance between the commercial and community goals of our retail shops and more. Our leadership team met with the group to go through their work. To do this they were given the task of presenting using the Pecha Kucha presentation format, showing 20 images, each for 20 seconds to communicate your idea. It forces presenters to organise their thinking, be clear on their message and communicate in an engaging manner. I was really impressed by the calibre of the participants, the presentations and the work they had done.
I thought you'd like to know that we have a team at the hostel in Home Hill, North Queensland helping all those impacted by the tragic stabbing and on Friday we sent our condolences and offers of help to our colleagues in the Italian Red Cross.
P.S. Are you on Twitter? I am! I'm still learning the ropes but think it's a great platform for discussing humanitarian issues. You can find me on there as @SlatyerJudy.
22 August 2016
I left Alice Springs at midday on Saturday with this lovely image in my mind of young girls participating in the Henley-on-Todd parade. They were taking the whole thing very seriously. Their obvious pre-event practice had paid off and they were contributing with great gusto and enthusiasm to this weird and wonderful event.
Our Board was meeting in Alice Springs to focus on youth and justice and to build understanding of what we do in the Territory. The sessions were obviously very relevant given the Don Dale revelations and the news of similar issues in Queensland and Tasmania last week.
The board sessions on youth justice included understanding what we currently do in the field and going through our ideas on where to focus in the next few years. Several of the board members had also looked through the ideas on justice reinvestment on IDEAS2020. There was also an excellent and thought-provoking session with Colleen Gwynne, the Children's Commissioner of the Northern Territory. With all this input, we then discussed at length how we can achieve the goals we have on justice reinvestment and youth justice specifically. Just in case you're interested, in amongst all this we heard of two pieces of worthwhile reading: the article They Need to Destroy It, plus Commissioner Nyland's report, The Life They Deserve.
Youth justice, or justice reinvestment more broadly, was one of the challenges on the IDEAS2020 platform that many of you engaged with. We'll now take some of the ideas you proposed (see below), along with input from the board, and work up the final approach we will take to achieving the 2020 outcome - "Australian governments are directing into justice reinvestment at least 50% of savings delivered by a 10% reduction in Australian prison numbers".
Community work in the Northern Territory
The second theme we spent most time on was the community work we do in the NT. Andy Kenyon arranged for several sessions from various members of his team. In amongst this we heard about some kids who have not been at school for five years or more; the fact that there are more kids out of home in the NT now than during the 'stolen generation'; the fact that young Aboriginal men have the highest suicide rate in the world; 97% of those detained are indigenous; and some pretty stupid government decisions such a closing bilingual schools. We were taken through our involvement in DARWWYN which is the youth service providers network for the Darwin urban area; our specific programs like the SHAK, volunteers who provide support for people/kids in police custody (65% of those in the NT justice system are on remand - not even convicted); and 'Healthy Baby, Healthy Community' on Galiwin'ku Elcho Island (where many kids in particular are facing severe malnutrition - for example, one four year old child had the weight of an 18 month old child). We finished the presentations with a discussion on a program in Tenant Creek called Everyone Can Garden - a real community-based initiative on building gardens in a tough climate.
It was a thought-provoking morning. We then went out with two Aboriginal men on a cultural tour which left us with just the very beginning of understanding about the different worlds of Aboriginal men and women and the complexities and importance of Aboriginal culture.
Winning ideas from Ideas 2020
Over the last few weeks, many of you had moments of inspiration on Ideas 2020. In total we had 740 staff, 218 members and 280 volunteers get involved, contributing 269 ideas. Thank you to everyone who contributed. After over 4,000 votes were counted, I'm pleased to announce the following winners of People's Choice Awards:
Outcome: 2.5 million people reflecting the diversity of the community, take voluntary humanitarian action with Australian Red Cross to help others
Courage to be Kind, by Jayne Uthmeyer
Jayne's idea is that Red Cross leads a campaign that encourages and empowers people to take voluntary action. Jane notes that during times of natural disaster we see all the generosity that humanity is capable of and she wants to extend that framework to everyday life.
Outcome: 50% (of 2.5 million) are self organising and leveraging Australian Red Cross knowledge, expertise and evidence to advocate for and help others
Start 'em young, keep them keen by Dilini Perera
Dilini's idea is to engage primary school students as young humanitarians. Her idea was inspired by conversations with bequestors who described an association with Red Cross since childhood.
Outcome: Migrants in transition have their humanitarian needs met and are participating in and included in Australian society
Australian Red Cross rolls out the Red Carpet by Shammy Baijnath
Shammy's idea is to invite high profile celebrities to be the face of a public campaign promoting a safe and welcoming Australia.
Outcome: 3 million Australians are equipped to be prepared for an recover from disasters
Welcome to your new Home by Dianne Buckles
Dianne's idea is to partner with real estate agents, developers and housing institutes in order to provide an emergency kit to people moving into a new home. Dianne believes that this is a way to engage with newer housing estates, which often lie in outer metropolitan areas, in preparedness awareness and action.
Outcome: Australian governments are directing into justice reinvestment at least 50% of savings delivered by a 10% reduction in Australian prison numbers
Work Redi by Helen Connolly
Helen's idea is to supports offenders in a 'throughcare' approach over a nin month period to successfully reintegrate them back into society through a focus on work ready skills and/or other training opportunities. Structured with pre and post-release components, the idea aims to balance practical support, education, and mentoring, leveraging off Red Cross internal and external networks.
These ideas will now go to the next level. Winners will be engaged over the coming weeks in a process to further develop and test their ideas for possible implementation.
In terms of the Most Promising Award, challenge leads are currently considering a shortlist of the best ideas in each challenge to be awarded 'Most Promising' and we should be able to announce winners in two weeks' time.
One of the toughest nuts the world has to crack relates to nuclear weapons. This is a critical part of the work of our team who lead us on our International Humanitarian Law work. Last week there was a breakthrough - the UN working group on nuclear disarmament agreed on a resolution which will ask the governments of the world to start negotiating a treaty banning nuclear weapons in 2017. This will now be put forward to the UN General Assembly in October. In something so important for the whole world, it takes time to slowly navigate everybody (or almost everybody) towards getting an agreement to ban nuclear weapons. While this seems a small step it is a big victory.
Elsewhere around Australia
The 50th anniversary of the Wave Hill walk off took place last week; a protest which saw 200 Aboriginal men and women walk off a cattle station in a cry against atrocious work and pay conditions, which also marks the beginning of the land rights movement in Australia.
This week on social media, you can read a story about our staff who helped four elderly clients at our Kalano Aged Care Facility in Kathryn join the commemorations, and return to country for the momentous event.
Yesterday our new executive and leadership team structure came into effect. So, as we continue to make adjustments over the next few weeks, I want to thank all of you for your professionalism and patience. Learning to adapt, work in different ways and re-assess our priorities is essential if we are to be more effective and sustainable.
P.S. You might have seen Op Shop Week in the news last week, as it launched at our Rozelle Shop in inner city Sydney. Please support our shops and let your friends and family know about our network of 152 stores around Australia, in every state and territory.
15 August 2016
I'm writing this as I fly back from Nepal after three days there with our colleagues at Nepal Red Cross and before that two days in Kuala Lumpur at the Asia Pacific regional office. While I was away, The Guardian Australia broke news of conditions at offshore detention centres in Nauru, through a leak of thousands of incident reports.
Our response to Nauru
Like many of you, I am deeply concerned about the plight of asylum seekers and refugees in the offshore detention centres. The recent reports follow many others detailing alarming incidents on Nauru and Manus Island.
We continue to do all we can to urge the Department of Immigration and political leaders from across parties to urgently address the humanitarian needs of those on Nauru and Manus Island, including through appropriate and durable settlement arrangements. We have a long held position that prolonged detention and uncertainty are extremely harmful, especially for children. The current situation can not continue.
We also work with the ICRC in its monitoring of the offshore processing centres to assess conditions and speak with people about how they are coping. People in detention speak with us knowing that they can trust Red Cross to confidentially raise their concerns. Our teams visited Nauru and Manus Island as recently as last week to monitor conditions. While our reports from these visits are confidential, please be assured we strongly and regularly raise concerns and advocate for people in humanitarian need with all appropriate authorities and will continue to escalate our concerns.
You may also have seen an interview with Yves D'accord (Director general of the International Committee of the Red Cross) in the weekend's media - 'The end of internationalism - are rich countries turning their back on the world?', where he comments on the issues from a global perspective. He underlines the importance of countries like Australia ensuring the humane treatment of people in detention, in the face of the world's largest migration crisis since WWII.
Banepa: the story of one village in Nepal
After a long and tricky drive on steep, rocky and narrow roads, then a hot and steamy walk through the forest on a small path, we arrived at Banepa; one of the villages devastated by Nepal's earthquake on 25 April 2015.
We've all heard of the widespread devastation and loss of life this earthquake left. What struck me most was just how long it will take to recover.
One story in particular comes to mind. The people in Banepa owned cattle and buffalo before the earthquake and a big part of their livelihood was selling their organic fertilizer in the market. The earthquake not only destroyed the village, but it also changed the water courses high above the village which people relied on. So their most basic fresh water needs are no longer met plus, they no longer have cattle and buffalo or the income from their organic fertilizer.
What's worse is that now they have to buy chemical fertilizer to grow their staple crop of maize which is reducing the yield and undermining their access to this most basic food staple.
Unstable shelter, little fresh water, reduced food, reduced livelihoods - a terrible combination.
How we're helping in Nepal
Under the leadership and coordination of Nepal Red Cross, we are responsible for the water, sanitation and hygiene work as part of the group of Red Cross Societies working in Nepal to help the recovery. Our team are working to help solve the situation in Banepa. Our teams also have to work in difficult circumstances and their quiet and humble support, combined with their technical expertise is invaluable. In amongst it all, the people from Banepa are resilient - perhaps best evidenced by the fact that school is a priority and 40% of the kids attending are girls as well as the fact that there's a community recovery committee leading the way.
This is just the story of one village; it will be the same in many communities across the country. Nepal Red Cross is playing a crucial role. Its staff and thousands of volunteers and members are working in all communities impacted, supported by National Societies like us.
With disasters predicted to become more frequent in our region, we are supporting National Societies as they build community resilience and disaster mitigation and response capability. It takes investment - disaster management programs, health programs, partnerships, volunteers and delegates, good governance and accountability.
It also takes long term commitments so before we left Nepal we signed a new MOU demonstrating our continuing commitment to Nepal Red Cross through to 2020.
Learning more about our work in the Asia Pacific region
It was great to learn more about how we work in places like Nepal and to hear more about our work in the Asia Pacific more generally while I was in Kuala Lumpur. The two days in KL went fast. I was fascinated to learn from Jay Matta about the recent, comprehensive, well planned and highly successful disaster simulation - see #RCDrill on Twitter.
May Maloney also briefed us on the program she is leading in the region to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in disasters. Women and children are 14 times more likely to die in disasters and 245 children have so far been intercepted from being trafficked after the Nepal earthquake. We talked about how we can raise funds for programs like these which don't have the urgency and immediacy of lost lives and devastation and are not something the media covers but are just as important.
The other area I found interesting was the work of the Federation in helping all National Societies (including us) to improve their performance and share good practices. We talked about the work of Red Cross Mongolia and Afghanistan in building vibrant Red Cross communities and other National Societies we can learn from. I'll be reaching out to my peers in Mongolia and Afghanistan to share learnings. We also talked about a tool called BOCA, which is designed to help branches do better. It looks helpful for us too. The trend I found most interesting was the increasing role of the military in disaster response in the Asia Pacific region - lots for us to understand on this one.
This was a week long visit by me, Michael Legge (our President) and Ross Pinney (our Vice-President) and Peter Walton (Head of International). Michael, Ross, Peter and I learnt a lot about the work of the International team in the region and in Nepal and were really impressed. The preparation and background briefing materials were excellent - reflecting our deep knowledge of the region, opportunities and issues.
Ideas 2020 - start voting today!
Thank you to everyone who shared their game changers on Ideas 2020 - we have had around 250 in total and fantastic engagement from people from all over Australia with around 900 people joining up. It's excellent to see this level of enthusiasm around how we'll reach our ambitious outcomes.
From today, you can vote on the best ideas in our People's Choice Award for each of our five humanitarian challenges. When you are casting your vote, consider that we're looking for ideas which will allow us to reach the ambitious targets like engaging 2.5 million people to take humanitarian action.
You can vote for up to 10 separate ideas, and show your level of support through a one, two and three star rating method.
We also have a panel of judges who will select a Most Promising Idea Award for each of the humanitarian challenges.
On Monday 22 August, idea winners will be announced. So get voting!
World Humanitarian Day
This Friday, our movement will be marking World Humanitarian Day by sharing a behind the scenes look at a typical day in the life of humanitarian aid workers.
You can check out the IFRC on Twitter, to see images of aid workers working around the clock. Look out for hashtag #ADayInTheLife. Or you can tune into our second season of podcast How Aid Works which hit the episode list this month. More than 20,000 people have already tuned into the first season, with guests sharing stories from the frontlines of humanitarian aid.
Have a great week!
8 August 2016
This week I'm writing to you from Kuala Lumpur, as I join Peter Walton, Michael Legge and colleagues from the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to talk about our essential humanitarian work with our partners in the region.
Later this week we're visiting Kathmandu just over a year after the devastating Nepal earthquakes which claimed thousands of lives and reduced entire towns and villages to rubble. I'll be meeting some of the thousands of Red Cross volunteers who have been working tirelessly to help so many communities rebuild safer homes and recover from the emotional scars of the biggest disaster the country has experienced in living memory.
We're signing a new agreement with Nepal Red Cross to work together over the next four years and I hope to share some details of this, as well as progress of the recovery efforts when I come back from the trip.
Wasn't it great to hear the roar from the crowd in the opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympics when the Olympic refugee team came on. The team is attracting a lot of media attention including one eighteen year old Yusra Mardini from Syria. Now an Olympic swimmer, she was once an asylum seeker who swam for her life from Turkey to Greece. She hopes the Olympics will include a refugee team every year to give refugees hope and show them that the world is behind them.
As we face the world's largest refugee crisis since WWII, with people increasingly having polarised views on the issue, it's important that there are hopeful and positive stories out there just like this one.
Could we have come up with a game changing idea like this, of an Olympic refugee team? How can we be part of the solution, so that asylum seekers and refugees in Australia are actively participating and fully included? So far we have 172 ideas from Red Cross people on this. Jump onto Ideas 2020 and let us know your idea. There's only one week left for you to come up with ideas on how we can meet ambitious humanitarian goals.
Don Dale continues to be a national conversation. Last week, on Twitter, I shared a confronting story from The Guardian on alarming statistics in Western Australia, which show every night one in 15 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men will spend the night in jail. Last Thursday was Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children's Day and The Australian newspaper chose to mark the day with a racist cartoon by Bill Leak. They have been rightly criticised across media platforms.
In our humanitarian advocacy, we continue to call for urgent reform to the justice system, and particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are locked up at unacceptably high rates - at 13 times the rate for non-Indigenous people. The stories above show how important our justice reinvestment work is and the size of the challenge ahead. Again, on Ideas 2020, there are some great ideas on more we can do in this area. It's also worth a look.
Diversity and Inclusion is here
I've been lucky to see the benefit of diversity and inclusion in my last role, where I worked with people from over 100 countries. We were so much stronger because we benefitted from everyone's ideas, different perspectives, and different challenges. We are on our own journey here at Red Cross to be a place where diversity and inclusion is not only encouraged but celebrated and in support of this, our Board has endorsed the development of an Inclusion and Diversity Strategy.
We want to be a workplace where everyone is valued for who they are and the contributions they make and the ideas they have, regardless of cultural identity, age, sexuality and gender identity, work style or whether they identify as having a disability.
This week we are also introducing an e-learning module for our team about lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) inclusiveness. It was developed by the Blood Service which was awarded a Silver Status on the Pride in Diversity Workplace Equity Index last year.
Just a reminder on Ideas 2020. We now have 172 ideas and over 800 Red Cross people involved. Over to you to share your ideas on how we can achieve our ambitious outcomes.
P.S. Are you on Twitter? I am! I'm still learning the ropes but think it's a great platform for discussing humanitarian issues. You can find me on there as @SlatyerJudy
1 August 2016
I'm not sure about you but much of my reading over the weekend was about the deeply shocking images which emerged from the Don Dale Youth Detention facility last week. I read the speech by Stan Grant, an article by Warren Mundine and news coverage about the protests in Melbourne and other cities. I listened to an interview in the Northern Territory and some of the events at GARMA. At Red Cross, we strongly believe that funds spent incarcerating people could be better spent on community programs that help people stay out of prisons in the first place. In Ideas 2020, you can share your ideas on how we, together with other organisations, can see fewer people in prison - take a look at the challenge 'A new approach to Justice'.
Last week over 500 of you (staff, volunteers and members) joined our Ideas 2020 platform. I was really happy to see lively conversation taking place and many of you already started workshopping ideas and solutions. There were interesting discussions about the role of creativity in community development and how simple things such as community gardens can help forge social connections and better health.
Last week was thinking time; this week is when you post your ideas and build on each other's ideas.
By now you would have had the chance to see our targeted outcomes as part of Strategy 2020 and over the next two weeks, you can lodge ideas to help us achieve the following:
- a more humanitarian country, that lives humanitarian values
- 2.5 million Australians are taking voluntary action with us to help others
- all migrants in transition are participating and involved in Australian society
- 3 million Australians are equipped and prepared for disasters
- a new approach to justice and prisons
Think big everyone! It's about coming up with ideas that will help us, together with others, achieve the ambitions we have set for our future.
This Saturday 6 August is Hiroshima Day, the anniversary of when an atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city in 1945. Despairingly, some 70 years later, nuclear weapons continue to be a threat to humanity. Right now, there are more than 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world and around 1,800 of them are 'launch ready'. The only safe option for humanity is to eliminate nuclear weapons forever, which is why we're making a sustained call to ban their use.
And we're on the verge of a break-through with 127 States having now signed the Humanitarian Pledge, committing to the elimination of nuclear weapons.
I hope to have an update on the progress of these negotiations following August's UN session on nuclear weapons.
27 June 2016
Here's my weekly blog on our top priorities and what I've been up to over the last week.
Courage to be kind
On Friday night our National Board was joined by Anne Carey, West Australian of the Year and Red Cross aid worker. We were humbled to listen to Anne talk about her work in the Ebola treatment centre in Kenema, Sierra Leone at the height of the Ebola crisis.
In her gentle voice she described how she and her colleagues worked tirelessly in conditions which were emotionally and physically difficult, to do what they could for the people of Sierra Leone. What a wonderful representative of the work we do; what a courageous person. She is now applying that courage to highlight the issue of workplace bullying.
Updates from our Board meeting
At our weekend meeting, the Board approved our new Strategy 2020 outcomes and our annual plan and budget for the coming financial year which is great news. This took up the majority of the meeting but the Board also discussed our work with refugee and asylum seekers, the results from the staff engagement survey, our current financial performance and our Young Parents Program.
Shelly Park CEO of the Blood Service also joined the meeting and described how inspired she has been listening to donors and recipients around the country and by the generosity of giving blood. This was part of Shelly's report to the Board on the many things our colleagues in the Blood Service are doing.
It was heartening to see our staff, volunteers, clients and other supporters attending the various Refugee Week activities last week. From soccer tournaments to cooking classes, Red Cross hosted or supported a variety of events across the country. In Queensland our In Search of Safety program visited a number of primary schools, introducing students to refugees and asylum seekers, allowing them to ask questions and learn about the issues faced by refugees and asylum seekers.
In Victoria, we put up a new sign outside the Villiers St office mirroring the on the Pelham Street office proudly stating 'Asylum Seekers. People like you and me seeking a safe future'. Our Migration Support Program staff proudly showed off their own refugee backgrounds in a powerful photographic exhibition.
My week was a mix of being in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.
In Melbourne, I had time with the team reviewing possible online platforms we can use so you can put forward ideas on how we can achieve our Strategy 2020 outcomes. We also met to discuss how to do more with companies to mitigate disasters. And I had some of my regular one-on-ones with team members to talk through what they're working on and where they need support.
In Sydney, the brand team and I met with the Republic of Everyone; the company who helps us with fundraising campaigns like Doing it Tough, which you may have seen on social media, or through our television advertising campaign. In Canberra, we had discussions on our social cohesion work, trafficking and the shifts in international aid funding.
Heading off on holiday
I'm now heading home to Switzerland for the last time to have a break and to pack up everything (husband, pets, furniture, clothes, household goods, kitchenware, etc, etc) to finally move home to Oz for good. My husband, Peter, has been a trooper on his own in Switzerland since February when I headed down under to start with you at Red Cross. He's sorted out everything we need to move countries. All we have to do now is pack.
I'm a firm believer that holidays are holidays so this will be my last blog post for two weeks. So look forward to speaking to you when I'm back.
20 June 2016
Refugee Week: celebrating positive contributions
It's Refugee Week (19-25 June), and we're celebrating the amazing contributions refugees and people seeking asylum make every day of the year, as leaders, volunteers and in our communities. You can read some of their stories here on our website.
We know many Australians want to learn more about refugees and asylum seekers, and support them in practical ways, but many people don't know where to start. So, we're sharing a few ideas on what they can do. Look out for our tips on social media as we promote redcross.org.au/5things.
With an election coming up, migration is again a hot political topic. While Red Cross is a neutral and impartial organisation, and we don't take sides in conflicts or in politics, we do continue to focus on our humanitarian mandate. This means we're there to assist whoever is most in need, wherever they are, regardless of their nationality, race or religion. It also means we continue to provide factual information so people can form their own views about important humanitarian issues.
We are absolutely committed to helping make sure the humanitarian needs of asylum seekers and refugees are met, and that they are able to fully participate in Australian life. So this week, get involved in what's happening in your local office, and get involved on social media. Join us in adding a positive voice to the discussion.
News on our budget
I know it's been some months since the budget process started, and managers submitted their proposed budgets for 16/17. Last week was all about getting our budget papers for next financial year finalised and ready for Board approval.
Setting budgets is about making sure we're earning more than we're spending; allocating the money we have to what's most important, and having enough in the bank for a 'rainy day'. It's much harder than it sounds.
Collectively, you've worked hard over the past year to get us in a stronger financial position. We've paid off the overdrafts we had with the bank; we're shifting funds to our priority outcomes from Strategy 2020, and we're building what we have in the bank for a 'rainy day'. That doesn't mean we're exactly where we need to be financially but we're on a good path.
Just before leaving financial matters, I do want to say thank you to the finance team. They have worked hard over the past couple of months and have done so with professionalism and flexibility. Thanks also to all managers for your work in building the proposed budgets for your areas back in March and April.
Tragic news in Orlando and the UK
Finally, I'm sure, like me, many of you found the events of last week difficult to comprehend. You would have heard about the tragic mass shooting in Orlando and of course, the unfathomable death of a British MP, Jo Cox.
Our colleagues at American Red Cross expressed their deepest sympathies to the people of Orlando and are working closely with local authorities determining how they can support the community over the coming weeks.
From everything I have read about Jo, she was a very special humanitarian. In her memory, and in recognition of Refugee Week, I thought I'd finish by sharing this quote from her maiden speech in the British Parliament last year.
"Our communities have been deeply enhanced by immigration, be it of Irish Catholics across the constituency or of Muslims from Gujarat in India or from Pakistan, principally from Kashmir. While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us."
13 June 2016
Welcome back after the long weekend, I hope you had a great break.
What I've been up to
Over the last week I met with a variety of people to learn more about how others see us and the work we do.
I spent time with the NSW Commissioner for Corrective Services and the CEO and Co-Chairs of the National Congress of Australia's First People who are also based in NSW. I also spent time with people from the Federal departments of the Attorney-General, Prime Minister and Cabinet and Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Kerry McGrath (Director of Community Programs), Vicki Mau (National Manager Migration Support), Penny Harrison (Executive Director Victoria) and I attended the two-year anniversary event of the Red Cross Society of Women Leaders who had asked for a briefing on our work in migration, trafficking and forced marriage.
I was also impressed by our team in International as we transition out of Australian Volunteers for International Development.
It's a tough gig to transition out of something like this but the team are doing it in a way which is impressively professional - they are celebrating what they achieved and also turning their experience and wisdom from years of involvement into knowledge which others can use.
East coast storms and floods in Tasmania
I spent the long weekend with my mum at her place in NSW. It's a changed place after the storms, but the damage is nothing compared to what others experienced.
It has been good to know that our volunteers and staff have been out and about checking in on people over the last week, helping those in evacuation centres in Tasmania and NSW. In the Sydney's south west and northern beaches, Picton and in the Wollongong region, volunteers also hit the streets and knocked on doors to check people were okay.
Helping the community in winter
Winter is often the hardest time of year for people doing it tough and it's critical that we all think of lending a hand to our friends, neighbours and family members. This month we're urging people in the community to make a donation to our Doing it Tough fundraising campaign, so we can continue to be there when adversity strikes.
Our shops around Australia are also looking for donations for all types of warm clothes. So if you happen to have a pre-loved woolly jumper lying around, drop it off at one of our donation bins or at your local Red Cross Shop. It's an easy way for you to help us raise money to help people in need.
Ready for Refugee Week?
Refugee Week (19-25 June) is on the horizon. Keep an eye out for our social media campaign - we'll be sharing some fantastic stories of people making a difference in their communities. It's one way we can highlight the valuable contributions of refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia today.
6 June 2016
A weekend of storms
What disruptive weather the NSW east coast has suffered over the weekend. The impacts are widespread ranging from Sydney city to Lismore to the Snowy Mountains.
Red Cross is there: we've activated around 20 volunteers helping people in six evacuation centres up and down the coast. In the CBD of Sydney, we're also set up to help with public enquiries and coordination, and we're on standby for seven other evacuation centres.
Learning from Kenyan Red Cross
Meanwhile, Veronica Frost our Chief Information Officer spent last week in Geneva with her peers from all over the world. She did a great job of sharing with the leadership team what she learnt each day.
One of the most interesting things was a new app from Kenyan Red Cross. The app is essentially a one stop shop where the public can find information and connect with all of the services Kenyan Red Cross offer. The app covers topics like donating blood, learning more about specific projects, and enrolling in courses.
Doing it Tough
I spent a big part of last week doing radio interviews in support of our 'Doing it Tough' fundraising appeal. The main focus was on highlighting loneliness. Nearly 1 in 3 Australians experience loneliness and last year our volunteers helped more than 20,000 Australians living alone.
That's a great achievement but we want to reach more, and that's what I spoke about in the interviews.
So far our message has got out to more than 2.8 million people with hundreds of media mentions of Red Cross work. Highlights include a feature article in the Sydney Morning Herald, which also ran across regional newspapers in NSW and over 150 Fairfax digital publications nationally. Interviews were also featured on commercial radio news along with ABC and commercial radio talk programs around the country.
This is fantastic for Red Cross, as Doing it Tough is one of our biggest fundraising appeals of the year.
Challenges for Fiji
Last week, another highlight was meeting with Margaret Twomey, the Australian High Commissioner to Fiji. We heard more about how Fiji is recovering from Tropical Cyclone Winston.
We talked about how strong the disaster response was (led by our colleagues in Fiji Red Cross and supported by us), current challenges related to shelter, clean water, energy access, getting schools going and so on. She gave our teams a big pat on the back for how we helped and for our continued help.
That's all from me this week. Have a good one.
30 May 2016
It's Reconciliation Week and my first one with Red Cross
Reconciliation Week is about changing hearts and minds, and thinking about how we can all be a part of a healing story. Here at Red Cross we're doing our part to make positive changes through many of our programs. And I'm sure many of you are involved in this work.
This week on social media we'll be sharing examples of reconciliation in action. That is, the work we do through initiatives like the Wellbeing Centre in Cairns, our diversity employment targets and working with more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses. But we'll also share the story of Boundary Street in Brisbane because we do think there are truths that need to be told. I encourage you to take a look.
Donating for tax time
We've also kicked off our annual tax time fundraiser Doing it Tough, which is one of our biggest sources of income. You can expect to see a lot more of us over the next few weeks with air-time on TV, and outdoor and digital advertising.
You can help us by letting your friends know they can make a donation at redcross.org.au/DoingItTough.
Last week at Red Cross
This morning I read a great story in the news about Nirary Dacho, a refugee from Syria. Here's an excerpt:
"Armed with two university degrees, his only barrier to finding a job was his lack of local work experience … He has just started a three-month contract with technology company Dolby where he is working in software development. Now he is helping other refugees get the work experience they need to find employment … [with] Anna Robson … they have established refugeeintern.com, a self-funded digital platform to connect skilled refugees with companies offering internships or traineeships."
Alongside the important work our caseworkers do daily to support refugees and asylum seekers, you might remember the Techfugees Hackthon in April. Out of the hackathon came 15 ideas for apps that could help refugees and asylum seekers. Last week we decided on three of those apps which we'll now develop with others.
Sharing interesting ideas
In a surprising link, I also met with one of our major funding partners who has been instrumental in the breakfast clubs we run in regional NSW. As part of our wide-ranging discussion, he mentioned a new app called 'Ezispeak' - an online, on-demand interpreter service.
I was reminded of when I went out with one of our caseworkers, Ali, to visit a young Iraqi woman who is on a temporary visa. The woman has twin two-and-a-half-year-old boys, and it's hard for her to get out and work. She also spoke fantastic English.
This service could be a great opportunity for her and others like her. She could jump online and be an interpreter whenever the boys were asleep or at playgroup. I let Ali know about the app and she is going to talk to her.
Back to Reconciliation Week
I'm sure many of you will be taking action in one way or another this week in support of reconciliation.
I encourage you take part in our Reconciliation Week survey; we want to know what you think about reconciliation and our Reconciliation Action Plan.
You might also like to make a reconciliation pledge on social media. You just need to upload your photos on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook - remember to use #NRW2016 and if you're on Twitter tag us using @RedCrossAU.
23 May 2016
Amazing stories and incredible people
Last Monday I sat mesmerized listening to Bob Handby tell an audience of Red Cross people in NSW about his international missions as an aid worker for the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. He is an amazing and brave person. What tales he had of helping people who are experiencing prolonged suffering. And what a talent he had in helping us laugh, as he often did with those he was helping.
Afterwards he and I talked - true to his humanitarian instincts he took the opportunity to tell me how he thinks Red Cross people can help those in the Pacific and Queensland to reduce the impact of the Zika virus.
I also spoke at this same World Red Cross Day celebration. I talked about our future by way of telling the stories of four young people who support Red Cross - one on our National Board, one in Timor Leste, one from Woorabinda and one from Perth.
In Australia, we have some 2,000 youth members, plus some 1,800 volunteers who are under 25. Add to that our young staff members and the many, many young people we support through our programs, as well as the 29,000 young people who follow us - and like, love and share our stories - on Facebook. This is quite a community of young people.
Learning from our Red Cross community
I have now had two and a half months in the job. I have spent the time with Red Cross people around Australia, attended all kinds of events, been interviewed by media, and met partners, government and our Geneva colleagues. I am learning a lot from you all. My enthusiasm is building and I feel very supported.
Reconciliation: we can all play a part
The other main event coming up is Reconciliation Week. Preparations are underway to mark Reconciliation Week and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and rights as part of our nation's story. Watch this space.
Breaking records at Bindaring
Just to finish I thought I would share something nice I just read. An email from our Executive Director WA Steve Joske about the famous Bindaring Clothing Sale we hold in Perth each year. This year's sale was on Saturday (14 May).
He says, "… the Red Cross Bindaring Unit have today broken their one day sales record. After 50 years of running these clothing sales events for Red Cross, today's event grossed over $150,000. Record amount was due to self-generated publicity - newspapers, radio and Today Tonight on Channel Seven - all organised by the unit themselves. Over 3000 people attended. Ruthlessly well organised and all volunteers and staff feeling very proud of this amazing effort."
What a good note to end on this week.
9 May 2016
Making the world a better place
Each year across Australia more than six million volunteers are making our country a better place; our communities are stronger and more resilient because of them. And this week we celebrated National Volunteer Week (9-15 May).
There are more than 17 million Red Cross volunteers worldwide and 20,000 in Australia. They support local communities, they are there in times of disaster both in Australia and overseas, they take the time to talk to those who are lonely every day, they help the children of refugees with their homework, and many other activities. It's all about people helping people in very practical ways.
A big thank you
To our volunteers, I'd like to say a massive thank you for giving your time and skills. Your generosity creates a more connected, inclusive and happier Australia; something you should be very proud of - I know I am.
To those staff who work alongside our volunteers, I also want to say thank you. You work every day to help our volunteers do what they do.
My week at Red Cross
I joined World Red Cross Day celebrations in Sydney last week and was awed by the story of one of our ambassadors, Dr Munjed Al Muderis - who went from refugee to a leading orthopaedic surgeon.
We also launched our new emblem app and shared with the Australian media. It was also good to read the various tweets from our Red Cross, Red Crescent peers worldwide as they celebrated our 17 million volunteers in 190 National Societies.
For our colleagues at the Canadian Red Cross the week was particularly poignant as they helped the Alberta community evacuate 80,000 people.
Pacific Humanitarian Summit
We also celebrated being a winner in the Pacific Humanitarian Summit with our proposal to engage Pacific Island businesses across almost every aspect of a disaster response: from providing and storing relief supplies, transporting them in boats and providing contract labour to help with rebuilding homes or clearing roads.
Through a digital platform we'll share information between the local Red Cross society and the humanitarian and private sectors about local goods and services available in the countries concerned.
We were pleased that NZ Red Cross was also a winner. It was a global competition with over 120 applications from around the world.
The end of being new
For me personally, this last week I felt it was the end of being 'new'. And the beginning of a new stage.
Anyway, that's it from me for now, have a great week and til next time.