From the Chair
The greatest test for any organisation is how it functions during times of stress and crisis. While adversity can fracture some organisations, more robust ones tend to come together, adapt and collaboratively address the challenge at hand, identifying opportunities. Watching and being involved in SSI’s response to the COVID-19 crisis in the final months of the 2020 financial year has reaffirmed my long-held belief that we have robustness at our core.
For its part, the Board has been acutely aware of the need to balance risk during the global health crisis that COVID-19 represents. SSI needed to find ways to continue delivering its services to the vulnerable communities it represents, while simultaneously ensuring the safety of its staff in a continually evolving situation. The Board has tried to balance practical and effective governance oversight while ensuring management has room to focus on the day-to-day challenges.
Violet and her team have responded in an admirable and considered manner. Well before Australia closed its borders to all but citizens and residents at the end of March, the Board and executive were working together to proactively address the situation. By the end of March, some 900 SSI and Access staff across the eastern states of Australia were working from home, with a remote service model being used to reduce face-to-face contacts.
The indefinite pausing of the Humanitarian Settlement Program, a significant source of funding for SSI, has meant there has been a need to balance our ongoing financial position with the salaries and retention of staff. While JobKeeper payments have helped, the executive has been forced to make difficult decisions around the use of SSI’s cash reserves. The decision to preserve these funds for the time being means SSI remains able to support a diverse range of programs, including those which help clients develop financial independence.
But the story of FY2020 is not limited to the impacts of COVID-19. All credit is due to the executive, as they have delivered very strongly on their business plan, providing a concrete example that it is possible to do two things at once.
I have taken particular pleasure in seeing SSI continue to diversify and evolve its offering. In April, it was announced that we had been selected to deliver Local Area Coordination (LAC) services to NDIS participants on behalf of the National Disability Insurance Agency. Under the agreement, SSI will assist some 16,000 people living with a disability in the South West Sydney and Sydney areas, helping them to build and pursue their goals, exercise choice and control, and engage with the NDIS.
This type of evolution of our services is crucial to our ongoing sustainability. We have incredible specialist expertise in terms of diverse communities, and we need to be looking at different types of contracts where we can put this into play.
The LAC win is a positive reflection on the diversity of our own staff. Walking through the office, I’m always struck by the fabulous rainbow of cultures, ethnicities, sexualities and ages our staff represent. I frequently meet staff who were former clients of the organisation and who just needed a bit of help to get started.
SSI Chair Elisabeth Shaw
The focus of the Board and executive team to ensure our financial stability while protecting the health and wellbeing of staff and clients spoke volumes about our cohesiveness. So too, did the resolve and understanding of our loyal and dedicated staff, many of whom were asked to redeploy or make do on reduced working hours. Their patience and agility during these difficult times has been nothing short of inspiring.