Canadian-born Julie Babineau flew halfway around the world to work at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Now 20 years later, she still can’t part with this beautiful country Down Under.

“I never dreamed I was going to become a citizen of this wonderful country,” she shares. “Fortunately, Canada allows its citizens to hold dual citizenship with Australia, which permits me to visit my family in Quebec and Ontario.”

And fortunately for Australia, Julie made the move from a long career in numerous and diverse public systems, both in Canada and Australia, to a not-for-profit organisation that makes profound changes in the lives of those battling addictions and mental illness.

As CEO of Odyssey House NSW, Julie uses her wealth of experience in policy, planning and strategy as well as her extensive knowledge of the health requirements of populations in need to help make life better for others.

“I have always had a strong commitment to and appreciation of the social economic, health and wellbeing of populations,” she says. “It’s my aim to improve the quality of life in the community, particularly for its most vulnerable members.”

Odyssey House NSW is a not-for-profit, multi-site organisation in Campbelltown that offers a diverse range of comprehensive residential and community-based outreach treatment programs to help those impacted by the complexities of alcohol and other drug dependencies and mental illness. It was founded in 1977 by Walter McGrath, a Sydney businessman, following the death of his son from a heroin overdose.

The centre’s Parent’s and Children’s Program is one of only a few residential programs where parents can undergo rehabilitation treatment while their children live with them in a safe and supportive environment. And, it’s being featured in an innovative, stop-motion animated film about a drug-addicted single mum that ultimately turns her life around.

Created by US–Australia Fulbright scholar Ariana Kam as part of the series A Less Lonely Road, the film is described by Julie as “innovative, distinctive and beautiful, and a very different way of communicating about and destigmatising drug problems”.

“I truly believe it is important to acknowledge the work of leaders, and that is what the Executive of the Year Awards does.”

Julie is a passionate leader and continues to be involved in various volunteer activities and boards. She says it opens her mind to new perspectives and keeps her innovating – much like her daily fitness ritual.

“Having always been involved in sports with a physical education degree, I often compare business decisions to some of my running decisions,” Julie says. “The best advice I have received is to never quit when you are on your way up or when you are on your way down. The best decisions are often made when you have been running on flat for a while.

“I would never decide to run a marathon when I am going uphill, but rather when the pace is steady,” she continues. “This is when I am able to breathe and when my lungs – and brain – are clear. It is then that I can make decisions about how realistic, achievable or sustainable it may be.”

In a year already full of twists, turns, ups and downs, leaders across the world have been put to the test. Because of this, Julie says The CEO Magazine’s Executive of the Year Awards couldn’t have come at a better time.

“I truly believe it is important to acknowledge the work of leaders, and that is what the Executive of the Year Awards does,” she says. “This year especially, good executives and true leaders have had to face extraordinary challenges thrown at Australia’s businesses and organisations while also managing the impact on their personal lives.

“The last 12 months have been filled with drought, bushfires, floods and now a pandemic,” she reflects. “Leaders who were decisive but sensitive, and resilient but empathetic are what got us to where we are today – doing well in the fight against COVID-19.”