Q&A With Bob Mulcahy, ACWA Chair

Bob Mulcahy was appointed ACWA Chair in December 2016. He shares his thoughts on his time in the role so far and about what lies ahead:

Q: Could you provide us an overview of your professional background.
My career started in Banking and Finance, during which time I studied Accounting and later completed an MBA at the Australian Graduate School of Management  (AGSM). I enjoyed 25 years in this area and particularly enjoyed working offshore in Asia and New Zealand. My first real exposure in the NFP sector was when I joined a Community Housing Board in 2001. This was a real education as I joined the board as their Treasurer and quickly found out about the services provided, particularly to women and families who had been or were subject to domestic violence and long-term social and financial disadvantage.

At first I thought my background and life experience was not particularly valuable to the organisation. What I did not know was - that was my greatest strength. The Community Housing sector was going through major structural change and refocus on delivery of services. The organisation’s need was the delivery of high quality services to their clients whilst preparing for a very competitive environment. It needed to grow like a business and maintain, grow and enhance its core social services. Through this period we undertook merger discussions and ultimately formed what is now Affordable Community Housing (known as Evolve Housing). It was a good example of social services and business services coming together to address critical community issues.

My first full time position in the NFP sector was in 2010, and I joined Uniting in 2014. Since day one I have enjoyed being able to use my unique background to address social issues.

Q: What appealed to you about taking on the role of ACWA Chair?
The role became available when Claerwen Little, the then Chair of ACWA, was appointed as National Director UnitingCare Australia. I had recently finished six years as ACWA’s Treasurer and was focused on my day job. When I was approached I was very surprised and thought how I could best assist in addressing critical social issues. With so much change occurring in the sector, I thought I might be able to make a small contribution. I had observed closely the period of significant change led by Jane Woodruff and then Maree Walk in 2009 – 2011, so I knew I had enormous shoes to fill.

Similar to what was happening during the time of Jane, the sector is experiencing fundamental changes to the way service delivery is to be undertaken. However once government, FACS and the sector are aligned, great outcomes for children and young people can be achieved.

What I particularly respect in ACWA and its members is the strong and dedicated focus on delivery of high quality services to children and young people.

Q: What are the key deliverables that you have set yourself to achieve in your time as ACWA Chair?
An ongoing priority is to build on ACWA’s excellent reputation as a considered, independent advisor to FACS and the Minister.

The Board has been on a journey over the last few years of improving the governance of the organisation. Changes in this area, such as ensuring the best legal status for the current policy climate, will continue to be driven by the Board.

ACWA remains on the lookout for new services that could be provided to our members. Ideally this would also produce income opportunities that generate future cash flow to ACWA. In addition, it is important to consider lateral opportunities that may arise as a result of ongoing change in the community sector.

One of the things that will not alter is the focus on advocacy. ACWA will continue to advocate for change in the way high quality services are delivered to ensure that children and young people remain at the centre of decision-making.

On a final note, preparations for ACWA’s 2018 Conference - where the next wave of new thinking will be delivered to the sector - are underway. ACWA will be hosting this event at Sydney’s new International Convention Centre.

Q: How do you see ACWA's role evolving over the next five years?
Many of ACWA’s members now operate on a national basis. ACWA’s traditional services of research, advocacy and training are as applicable in NSW as they are in other states and territories. Perhaps, some time in the future, ACWA might have a broader remit than presently agreed. However, any change along these lines would only be progressed after much deliberation by the Board and through deep consultation with members.

Q: What have been your observations on ACWA since assuming your role as Chair?
The sector has experienced a period of significant flux in a relatively short time. The focus on Permanency is a sound basis on which to build a new system. The need for organisations to adapt their service delivery significantly and quickly is very much evident. While the outcomes based funding model is fundamentally good, there need to be checks and balances in place to ensure no party in the process can make a decision that “any independent observer” would agree was anything other than in the absolute best interests of the child or young person.