Not-for-Profit Executive of the Year award winner Louise Baxter isn’t inspired by celebrities or high-profile CEOs. Rather, she draws her inspiration and strength from the children she meets in her role as CEO and Executive Director of Starlight Children’s Foundation.
“When people ask me who inspires me, they usually expect me to talk about someone famous,” she says.
“In fact, I’m inspired every day by the seriously ill children and young people we support. Mackenzie, a triplet with cerebral palsy who could not walk, is an absolute inspiration. Recently, she walked for the first time into her high school graduation. She is now studying marketing and pursuing a career in communications.”
Dedication and Innovation
At the outset of Louise Baxter’s tenure, Starlight Children’s Foundation was crafting 120,000 positive experiences for children facing adversity. Today, under her visionary guidance, that number has ballooned to more than 1.3 million – an awe-inspiring tenfold growth that mirrors her relentless commitment to catalyzing change.
Yet, Baxter’s leadership is not merely about statistics; it encapsulates the essence of innovation, creativity, positivity and inclusivity.
Her belief in the transformative potential of positive psychology has propelled Starlight Children’s Foundation to become Australia’s most reputable children’s charity.
She also steered the organization through the tumultuous waters of the global financial crisis and charted a steady course through the COVID-19 pandemic – when Starlight Children’s Foundation didn’t just endure, it thrived.
“I’m inspired every day by the seriously ill children and young people we support.”
A remarkable initiative that emerged during this period is Planet Starlight, a virtual, interactive Starlight Express Room that serves as a fun digital oasis for children wherever they are.
“Planet Starlight is being rolled out into all the hospitals across Australia,” Baxter tells The CEO Magazine. “We also have an online peer support program for adolescents who are seriously ill and disabled called Livewire.”
Baxter’s dedication to innovation extends to the digital landscape, with a particular focus on optimizing web experiences and launching digitally enabled fundraising campaigns. “From a fundraising perspective, a number of years ago we raised limited funds through our digital campaigns,” she explains. “This year, we’ll raise about A$8 million [US$5.24 million] just through our digital campaigns, so there’s significant growth there.”
Baxter also made it a priority for the Starlight Children’s Foundation to be as environmentally conscious as possible. The organization has actively reduced its environmental footprint, from decreasing single-use plastics to implementing sustainable practices in its operations.
“We work in healthcare and, unfortunately, hospitals are one of the biggest in terms of waste. They’re not being sustainable because there’s a lot of single-use plastics,” she says.
“We’ve tried to work against this and now we do things as simple as using tablecloths in our Starlight Express Rooms that are made of recyclable paper and have cartoons that kids can color in. We don’t give out any bottled water – everyone brings their own. But in many instances, we can’t control it because we’re in a hospital environment.”
Beyond Baxter’s remarkable tenure at the foundation, she has been a fervent advocate for the growth of philanthropy in Australia and the pivotal role of civil society in creating an inclusive, equitable and flourishing nation.
“A number of years ago we raised limited funds through our digital campaigns. This year, we’ll raise about A$8 million [US$5.24 million].”
Her passion for creating exceptional experiences and relationships has resulted in improved outcomes for children and their families.
As we celebrate Baxter’s recognition as this year’s Not-for-Profit Executive of the Year recipient, we honor a leader whose commitment has illuminated the lives of countless seriously ill children and their families.
Her journey exemplifies the kind of leadership that combines vision, innovation and a profound sense of purpose.