Lizzie Brown: A Woman Without Borders

To bridge this gap she tapped into support from numerous mentors and people to provide guidance along the way with HR, project management, systems development and innovation.

One of her biggest projects as CEO was the development of a new mission and vision along with culture and value statements. Being a member-based organisation with multiple stakeholders, it was an enormous undertaking to allow everyone to have a voice as part of the process. Lizzie engaged an external facilitator so she was free to contribute. A working group with members from the Board, staff, team, and field alumni designed and implemented the process. This led to a refresh of the brand, logo and image for EWB. Lizzie then worked towards achieving AusAID accreditation.

A number of new staff were brought on board recently and a common statement during their inductions was “Wow! EWB has so many different stakeholders!” They are a true community organisation and leading EWB effectively involves understanding how to engage well with all of those different groups. Lizzie obviously has an enormous amount of skill in this area!

I asked if she could name her biggest achievement as CEO.

“In terms of community development work, success for us is when our partner organisations are able to turn around and say they no longer need any support.”

Paradoxically, success for EWB is when they’re told their assistance is no longer needed!

She loves hearing organisations they have worked with are self-sufficient and able to continue without ongoing assistance. Recently this was the case for the School for Prosthetics and Orthotics in Cambodia and Jyoti, an educational institution for disadvantaged youth in Nepal. Both organisations had received support from EWB in improving their curriculum. The students who attend the School for Prosthetics and Orthotics are now able to receive international recognition for their training in Cambodia.

Domestically, EWB have worked with Aboriginal communities for many years and are directly contributing to Australia’s reconciliation agenda. Most of EWB’s work with Aboriginal communities involves supporting them to design and build simple infrastructure, building confidence and skills, enabling them to engage with traditional practices, and to reconnect with the land.

“The really rich outcome from this work is the relationships that are built over a long period of time. We have volunteers that have been working with the partner organisations for five or six years. For me that is what reconciliation is about – understanding each other’s perspectives and forming friendships that last.” EWB have also recently completed their “Stretch” Reconciliation Action Plan, which is another major milestone for the organisation.

I asked Lizzie how she balances the many demands of being CEO of such a complex organisation as EWB and having a life.

“Practice! It’s a constant practice of rebalancing to make sure you regain it. Some weeks I feel great, manage to run several times a week, fit in social activities, cook every night and then at other times it’s all take-away dinners and I haven’t seen my husband for two weeks. I’d like to think I’m more conscious of when that balance has been lost! There’s a whole complex area of managing a career and life that we almost need a degree before we are let loose on the world to try it out.”

We both agreed being passionate about your work makes this balance even harder. Lizzie observed “You need to balance your energy levels during the day. It’s not time – it’s your energy that is your real resource.”

Lizzie’s interests outside work include getting outdoors, mountain bike riding and reading. She recently travelled to Canada and read some books by Canadian authors telling the stories of traditional land owners which were both traumatising and inspiring.

“An incredible sense of resilience came through. Something I feel quite passionate about in Australia is the opportunity we have to learn from Aboriginal Australians about land management and sustainable development. Most people have no idea how big that opportunity is and how much we need it. The same principle of untapped knowledge applies to the traditional land owners all around the world.”

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Jane Pemberton

  • A very inspiring story well told

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