At the age of nine, Anne Bryce was living in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales when her sister was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Seeing her sibling in a large institution, staying in mixed wards and feeling isolated had a profound influence on her. It ultimately led to a career in the disability, human services, and health sectors, and today she works as the CEO of Achieve Australia — a role that enables her to make an important difference to the lives of people with disability.
“Sharing the journey of my sister’s illness, seeing the sacrifices made by my parents, and experiencing the stresses on everyone involved helped to set the direction I would take with my career,” she says. “I have spent thirty years working in this space.”
In 2003, Anne was appointed as CEO of Hornsby Challenge — prior to it being renamed Achieve Foundation. She had already been with the organisation for six years and in this role she was able to lead it through a period of significant evolution. This included a merger with The Crowle Foundation in 2009 to form Achieve Australia, as well as growing the company into a $33 million-plus not-for-profit service provider.
Building extraordinary lives
Achieve’s overarching vision is to ensure all Australians with a disability have social inclusion in every aspect of their lives. And with the tagline, ‘building extraordinary lives’, the organisation is delivering on that aim in more ways than one.
“Achieve’s mission is to deliver on the right of people with disability to achieve a meaningful and valued life,” Anne says. “In terms of key values, we’ve had a long-term focus on: inclusiveness — involving people in decisions, being open, listening and encouraging respectful behaviours; stewardship — leading by example and thinking beyond yourself; being extraordinary — not accepting what is, but constantly exploring what could be; and being ethical — setting and following policies, delivering on promises, respecting confidentiality and standing up for what is right. We live these values every day, and use them to find the best way forward to support people with disability to make their own choices and lead active, happy, and fulfilled lives.”
Anne notes that the scale of the not-for-profit sector in Australia is often overlooked; however, it makes a significant contribution to the country’s economy. In 2012–13 it accounted for $54,796 million, or 3.8% of GDP (not including the contribution of volunteers) — more than twice as large as the entire economic contribution of the state
of Tasmania. Furthermore, according to The Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies at the Queensland University of Technology, its contribution was larger than the agricultural, forestry, and fishing industries (2.4%), and the information, media and telecommunications industries (3%).
How the NDIS is changing the disability sector
Looking specifically at the disability space, Anne explains that it’s going through a once-in-a-generation shift due to the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). As part of this, the New South Wales government has begun the tender process to transfer all disability services from the public to the non-government sector. This presents a challenge, as well as a great opportunity, for Anne and her team at Achieve Australia.
“The NDIS is offering people with disability greater choice and control over outcomes through individual funding,” Anne explains. “It is enabling mobility in terms of selecting and changing service providers in order to find the combination which best meets their needs and aspirations. This is not some dry fine-tuning of policy; it is a profound change that has a direct impact on the quality of life of people with disability.
Achieve’s mission is to deliver on the right of people with disability to achieve a meaningful and valued life
Instead of one-size-fits-all packages, people will be able to pick and choose the kinds of support they need, and make changes as their requirements evolve. This will enable them to live the life they want and to strive for their dreams, just like everyone else in the community.
“This new era of consumer choice will attract many new providers into the market, create a more competitive environment, and stimulate demand for disability support. Retaining and strengthening an effective and diverse not-for-profit provider sector will be fundamental to a successful transition.
“The most ambitious phase of the NDIS rollout began in July this year when 93% of people eligible for individual support packages began to enter the scheme. People with disability will be supported by organisations like Achieve Australia and funding will be to individuals, enabling them choice and mobility in terms of selecting or changing service providers. Achieve is well positioned in terms of leadership, processes, and technology to meet the challenges associated with the NDIS. We have a strong strategic plan in place.”
Taking culture to the next level
In addition to ensuring Achieve is ready for the impacts of the NDIS, Anne has several other areas of focus. For example, the organisation is currently undertaking a complete restructure of management to meet the changing environment and to further strengthen the senior leadership team. It is also taking its culture to the next level to prepare it for this new era of consumer choice, individual funding, and client mobility.
“A reinvigoration of our culture has been underway since January this year,” Anne notes. “The program began with senior leadership workshops and was rolled out simultaneously across all sites in May. The results of our first culture survey — which benchmarks both individual and group adoption of key behaviours — have been distributed to all employees and further surveys will chart our progress.”
Reflecting on achievements
Throughout her time with Achieve, Anne has had many proud moments, but she shares that her biggest achievement was the devolution of the large residential centre called the Crowle Home — a huge and complex project involving multiple stakeholders. There was initial resistance to the idea, a lot of doubt, and complex risks involved; however, Achieve is now delivering on its promises. The strategy was to support the residents to move out, sell the asset, and then buy back units in a medium-density development to be built on the same site. The former residents of the Crowle Home are now set to move back in later this year.
For the future, Anne says Achieve will focus on innovating to improve and advance the sector, building partnerships with other like-minded organisations in the private and not for-profit sectors, and seeking opportunities for further geographic expansion.
“Availability of appropriate, affordable, community-centred housing for people with disability remains a major issue,” Anne notes. “We will be seeking new partnerships, new methods of funding, and improved management of community housing assets in response to this unmet need. What will not change is our continuing focus on supporting people with disability to achieve social inclusion. Everything else we do is a means to that end.”