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An extraordinary year of resilience

Messages from the President and the CEO

From the President

We have seen resilience in people rebuilding after cyclones, bushfires, tsunamis and the way farmers continue to deal with crippling drought. We have witnessed it every day, in different ways, in the people we work with.

The people who see this resilience every day are the dedicated members, volunteers and staff of Red Cross. We owe so much to them, as they have been at the forefront of a year of locally-led, formal and informal humanitarian action.

Take the Skyrockets Homework Group. This volunteer-delivered program, supported by the Woolgoolga Branch, develops resilience in young Australians. The program provides a safe, supportive and fun environment for the children of former refugees.

A local program helping children get a better start in life and feeling good about themselves.

Or in WA, where the Bindaring Unit have been running a clothing sale for the past 56 years and the past year raised $192,000. Some of these funds went towards a new van for the local Red Cross Soup Patrol; a community service providing free hot meals, a friendly chat and referral to other support services for people experiencing homelessness. Sometimes that is all it takes to strengthen someone’s resilience.

Red Cross people selflessly helping thousands get through a difficult time, feel better about themselves and cope with the recovery journey.

And in our international work we are prioritising locally-led response too. When a tsunami struck Sulawesi, Indonesia in September 2018, local Red Cross volunteers were among the first responders. In our international work we are focused on supporting Red Cross Societies in our region to have the resilience to respond and lead with local knowledge when emergencies strike.

You don’t have to look much further though than drought-affected farmers and their families to understand true resilience.

During the past year, in some of the driest conditions she has known, NSW farmer Sue Strahorn has looked beyond the impact on her own property and volunteered to help others with their mental health and wellbeing.

Sue’s involvement in the Let’s Talk program is just one of the selfless ways she is helping her local community. Initiated by Red Cross members, Let’s Talk brings people together at events, from barbeques to working dog training days, for support, feeling better about themselves and finding good friends.

In February residents of Townsville experienced the other end of the natural disaster spectrum. They called on their resilience when the city experienced significant flooding. The community’s strength was severely tested and more than 20,000 homes were impacted.

Our staff and volunteers from across the country sprang into action, helping people with access to financial assistance, emotional wellbeing and support services, as well as information, referrals and advice. In outreach work, more than 10,000 phone calls were made to check people were ok.

Red Cross people selflessly helping thousands get through a difficult time, feel better about themselves and cope with the recovery journey.

The Australian Red Cross Society Board played their part in a year of extraordinary resilience.  Many were directly involved in supporting the communities I have mentioned above.  We also looked externally and into the future so that Red Cross itself adapts to the changing world around us, we focussed on essential cultural shifts such as with our Reconciliation Action Plan and we shifted our own focus to stay abreast of and deliver on the shifts in corporate governance.

I want to thank the members, volunteers and staff for the work they’ve done over the past year to live the fundamental principles of Red Cross and draw out resilience in others.

Ross Pinney

From the Chief Executive Officer

Resilience is people having the energy and strength to be clear about what’s important to them and bringing that to life, even when they are hit by really tough times.

Resilience can look like a circle of friends; it can look like a whole community, working on initiatives together; it can look like the simple plan of what you do when something goes wrong; and it can look like setting yourself something to achieve and then achieving it despite setbacks.

In Galiwin’ku, in East Arnhem Land, resilience is building strength out of thousands of years of culture and tradition.

With support from Red Cross, Yolngu Wananhamirr Mitj women are passing on the concept of Dhatam, to young mothers. The women told me it means water lily. The seeds of the waterlily represent their children and the stem represents the pathways they take with their children.

For 21-year-old Robert, resilience was starting over again. Recently out of the justice system, he was completing an intensive employment development program, requiring 6am starts, without fail,. With two weeks to go in the course, his girlfriend went into labour and Robert was late for work.

With one of our caseworkers for support and using all of his own strength, Robert picked himself up, completed the course from scratch and has since got a job as a labourer.

For others resilience is having the right tools to help you reach out.

In April we launched the My Team mental health support app. Based on a co-designed community program it took the concept of tracking your goals and mood with a support team and put it into an easy to access app form.

We co-designed it with 250 people like Marcus DeGiglio who helped us launch it. He told us – “Having a plan and support while you’re well can maintain good mental health and make the hard times that much easier.”

Despite the challenges, Red Cross people did their best with limited resources to be innovative, to experiment and to find new ways forward.

The experiences and advice of people like Marcus, Robert and the women of Galiwin’ku are not just relevant to those we support, they are relevant to our entire organisation. We also need to understand what is really important to us, to go back and try again and to have a plan in place because this year has shown us, there are challenging times ahead.

Disasters are more intense and frequent. The number of people experiencing extreme disadvantage is growing and at the same time, how people give and support is changing too.

Many people give directly to projects and causes and, increasingly, volunteer in informal ways. Those who donate want to be much closer to the cause they are giving to and to have a say in how their donation is spent.

These trends have made it a challenging year. We would have liked to have made a bigger impact for people experiencing vulnerability with increased investment and focus.

Despite the challenges, Red Cross people did their best with limited resources to be innovative, to experiment and to find new ways forward. Humanitech, looked to the future at what will drive vulnerability and how emerging technology will help us address it; we helped Australians connect with drought-affected farmers and contributed $11.5million in a single month; our Climate-Ready Communities guides supported communities to respond to changing climate conditions; the Go-Without challenge engaged schools with online fundraising tools; and we worked collaboratively across sectors through ventures like the Constellation Project, working to end homelessness in a generation.

We also worked to make our organisation more streamlined and efficient, rolling out Skype for business to reduce the need for travel and improving communication for remote teams. We also shifted more teams to ‘Agile’ ways of working allowing us to move faster and adapt to change more easily.

But still, we know we need to have more impact. So as the financial year came to a close, with these challenges and achievements in mind, we started a journey to make changes to our organisation. Changes that will allow us to adjust more easily and be resilient in a changing world. Most importantly they will allow us to do our very best for people experiencing vulnerability.

One thing we know won’t change is how much we rely on and cherish our incredible Red Cross people – our members, volunteers and staff.

I thank them for their continued efforts, their amazing contributions and their own resilience.

Judy Slatyer
Chief Executive Officer