From the Chair
I have enjoyed sharing another busy year of successes and lessons with SSI. We extended and deepened our work with our clients and communities. We invested in the organisation to ensure its strength as a well-governed, leading contributor to our sector and society.
Our merger with the Access Group was a significant focus for the Board in 2018-19. Like SSI, Access is a community based, not-for-profit organisation. It has been one of Australia’s leaders in multicultural issues for more than 30 years, with experience providing support to refugees, migrants and other Australian-born individuals.
Respectful of the great work Access had delivered over many years in Queensland, the Board wanted to ensure that our values were aligned, that we could truly enhance one another’s work, and that our joint vision could enable great things for the communities we serve.
The Board was mindful of the risks and the opportunities this merger might afford us. We undertook painstaking due diligence to ensure its fit and to safeguard both organisations’ capacity to continue to deliver quality services, while growing and extending in new ways. I acknowledge the work of Violet and her executive team, and that of Access CEO, Gail Ker, and her team, in respectfully and generously bringing their vision to fruition.
We kept our communities and our service promises front of mind at all times during this merger and in our subsequent integration. We have been delighted to successfully welcome Access into the fold, while also preserving services and jobs. This is a credit to all the staff involved, and I thank my fellow Board members for their care in overseeing this process.
During 2018-19, SSI’s strategic and business planning process continued to provide the organisation with a focused direction and targets. SSI experienced increased demand for employment services, out of home care and culturally responsive support. We don’t always receive funding commensurate with demand. Our efforts to seek untied funds and to fundraise to improve our reach to vulnerable people are ever present. We are most proud of our capacity to set aside funds for value-add initiatives, including educational scholarships for refugees, or support for emerging refugee entrepreneurs through Ignite® Small Business Start-ups.
This year, the Board has especially focused on improving risk management and good governance in the face of learnings from various public enquiries into institutional behaviour. We have established improved Board structures and reviewed our Board skills matrix, key competencies and Board membership in order to set ourselves up for success in the new financial year.
This is a very sizeable and fast growing organisation — the size of many listed companies. We are now working in three states and have exported our initiatives internationally. Ensuring we have the best possible leadership for a Board of SSI’s size, and clarity about the tasks and responsibilities of each Board member, is pivotal for good governance.
During 2018-19, the Board also undertook some work to ensure that the dialogue around the Board table maximises our contribution. All relationships take work, and being confident in our contribution and our focus is key. We have also been very pleased to support our CEO to develop her executive team and to ensure that SSI is a well-led, well-structured organisation that is fit for purpose and ready to grow and succeed.
We have celebrated the increasing dialogue between the executive and community leaders and government officials, and welcome the ongoing opportunities to share our skills and experience to further our partners’ aims. As a Board, we also welcome all opportunities to meet and collaborate with our members and partners to address community needs.
I would particularly like to acknowledge the importance of community voices in SSI’s work. This is not only through story-telling, rich though that is. It is evocatively brought to life through SSI’s arts and culture program, whereby poetry, song, painting and other arts communicate the refugee experience. We are proud to have various forums in which we can promote and present this work to the broader community, whether that is through arts festivals such as SSI’s New Beginnings Festival or through Access’s Brisbane Multicultural Arts Centre (BEMAC). We were also fortunate to be community partners for the second year running with TedXSydney. These are just a few of the ways in which we can bring stories to the wider community in service of creating shared understanding and opportunities for dialogue.
I would like to end by acknowledging Violet for her outstanding leadership throughout the year. She has been an ambassador for SSI’s work and earned some well-deserved accolades and appointments during the year, including being named one of the Australian Financial Review’s 2018 Woman of Influence — opportunities that Violet uses to amplify SSI’s work and vision. She and her amazing team set a creative vision and a high standard for service delivery, which continues to inspire.
SSI Chair Elisabeth Shaw