Who are we?
We are Dawn O’Neil AM and Kerry Graham. If you are interested, more about us below.
Our Collective Impact story
Each of us has worked in social change for about twenty years. Our combined experience spans working with children and young people, women and violence, justice and human rights, mental health and wellbeing, and Indigenous people and their communities. The roles we have undertaken have been equally expansive, including advocacy, program design, operations, marketing, business development, governance and executive leadership. We met when each of us lead national mental health organisations.
Broadly, it can be said that each of us has enjoyed a somewhat similar pathway to become leaders in social change. However, what is more interesting is that we found leading national nonprofit organisations to be somewhat of a blunt instrument. For all the effort, resources, and passion, there just didn’t seem to be enough change.
Independently of each other, we became social change consultants at about the same time and sought to grow our impact through working with more than one organisation at a time. We both had clients who were looking to scale their impact through collaborating with others. Taking such briefs was challenging. Many leaders and organisations were weary and wary of collaboration – it sucked up a lot of time with very few tangible benefits. Plus, it was clear that clients were unsure about how to collaborate at scale – with many organisations and across more than one sector.
During one of our collegial conversations we looked at the Collective Impact Framework. We immediately saw it as a highly useable Framework that could focus the inevitably messy initial conversations and create momentum towards purposeful action and measurable outcomes. In addition, the elements of the Framework provided much needed clarity on process and roles. But most of all, the Collective Impact Framework made immediate sense – it had an ‘ah ha‘ moment about it. We agreed to introduce the Framework to our clients. Thankfully, they said yes.
As we applied the Framework, we started to see a difference in the way people approached the collaborative process – they became less weary and wary and more open and engaged. It seemed the Framework allowed people to feel a level of trust in the process – they could see where the process was up to and where they fitted into the larger picture being created.
Off the back of this early and limited success we decided we needed to learn more about Collective Impact. We approach the Centre for Social Impact (CSI) and proposed that we undertake a Collective Impact study tour to the USA – the country of origin for this model of social change. CSI could see the value in the Framework and we set off on our learning adventure in September 2012.
This website captures our learnings from that trip.
Dawn O’Neil AM
Dawn has sat on both Not for Profit, community and public sector advisory boards for over 20 years where she has contributed to social and health policy, senate inquiries and think tanks.
Dawns early professional experiences were in the business world which has given her a focus on ensuring wherever possible maximisation of social return on donor investment and a commitment to finding ways to measure and increase social impact. With a passion for ongoing learning and a genuine curiosity about life she is always looking for new ways to think about complex problems and how to contribute to innovative thinking or public understanding. It has been this curiosity that has led her to move from taking leadership roles in organisations to exploring how we can best as a society organise ourselves to increase our return on investment in our social spending and efforts. The promotion of Collective Impact in Australia is an important framework that will help achieve these goals.
Dawn takes a wide view and has highly developed strategic skills with strong governance, strategic and organisational development and change management background. As a CEO was known as a collaborative, visionary and strategic thinker not only within Lifeline and beyondblue but more broadly contributing to Not For Profit (NFP), mental health and suicide prevention reform in a rapidly changing world. Most recently Dawn has led the development of the first Strategic Plan for the new National Mental Health Commission and has recently undertaken a study tour for the Centre for Social Impact into how the Collective Impact Framework could be implemented in Australia to increase the social impact of the social sector and is Chair of the innovative social enterprise STREAT Ltd.
Kerry’s purpose is to evolve the way social change happens in Australia.She believes that citizen centred design – placing people at the centre of services – will unlock collaboration and innovation that will reshape the system to better serve those who experience the most marginalisation and exclusion.
A lawyer by training, Kerry spent seven years working for Aboriginal Legal Services – first, as a children’s specialist; and later, as founding solicitor for the NSW Youth Drug and Alcohol Court. It was here that she learnt that punitive systems could become therapeutic when re-orientated around the person. Inspired by this outcome, Kerry retrained as a social worker (Masters of Social Work, Monash University).
After leaving the law, Kerry committed herself to reform in service delivery and systems. She worked for a number of progressive youth services before undertaking leadership roles for the National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy (NASCA) and Good Beginnings Australia. Again, inspired by the possibility of systems change through scaling innovation, Kerry retrained in community management (Master of Management in Community Management, University of Technology Sydney).
In 2007 Kerry joined leading youth mental health innovator – Inspire Foundation – as their CEO. She led the scaling of Inspire’s impact through increasing the number of young people accessing the service, and positioning youth participation and innovation in service delivery as key to addressing Australia’s national youth mental health crisis.
In the spirit of whole systems engagement, Kerry currently consults to corporate, governments and nonprofits on systems reforms, collective impact and innovation in social change. She was an inaugural member of the Australian Social Inclusion Board, and is a founding member of Emerging Leaders for Social Change and the Justice Reinvestment for Aboriginal Young People Campaign.