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Beyond Blue CEO Georgie Harman on the meeting that changed her life

She learned a valuable lesson she’ll never forget, and it’s something you can learn from too.

Between 2017 and 2018 an estimated 4.8 million Australians had a mental or behavioural condition, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. One in six Australians currently experience depression or anxiety (or both) and one in seven will experience depression during their lifetime.

Since 2000, not-for-profit organisation Beyond Blue has been working to reduce the impact of depression, anxiety and suicide in Australia through its range of services.

In 2014, Georgie Harman was appointed CEO. She previously served as Deputy CEO of the National Mental Health Commission and prior to that, was a senior executive in the federal Department of Health.

It was during her time within the Department of Health that Georgie experienced a life-changing meeting. She had just been given national responsibility for, among other things, mental health and suicide prevention policy, and had to meet with consumer and carer advocates. There she learned a valuable lesson on implementing future policy.

“As an enthusiastic public servant with a brand-new portfolio and a lot of well-intentioned views, I met with some nationally recognised advocates,” Georgie says. “Within 10 minutes they wiped the floor with me.

“There is a saying in my industry – ‘nothing about us without us’ – which means that from policy to practice, co-design and proper engagement with people with lived experience of mental health conditions has to be at the centre of everything. You cannot design good services, programs and policies without talking to the experts. And the best experts are those who have that personal experience.”

From that point on, Georgie realised how little she knew and how much there was to learn from those who have been profoundly affected by mental health and suicide.

Along with her leadership role at Beyond Blue, Georgie is one of the judges for The CEO Magazine’s 2019 Executive of the Year Awards. The ceremony recognises the achievements of Australia’s leading businesspeople, with last year’s winners including Talent International’s Mark Nielsen for CEO of the Year and Australia Post’s Janelle Hopkins for CFO of the year.

“In the judging process, I’ll be looking for individuals who are driving better outcomes that are not just about the bottom line,” Georgie says. “They should also impact on people and communities, whether that’s the big complex deals on CSR or how leaders connect with their people on a day-to-day basis.”

Find out more about The CEO Magazine’s Executive of the Year Awards here.

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