Twelve months is simply a period in time and the end of the calendar year and beginning of the new year it is always a good time to be reflective of the past twelve months. Reflection provides a great base to review what was good; what was not so good; what you could do differently and most importantly what you celebrate. These four reflective questions have their roots in education reforms, and I have utilised them in both my research and practical implementation practice for over three decades. As I reflect 2018 and start 2019 it feels quite fitting to combine my personal and professional reflections which may be more of a sign of the times than anything else.

 What was good about 2018

Spending much of my time in the Not-For-Profit; Charity; For Social Purpose sector the biggest achievement over 2018 would have to be #handsoffourcharities. This action from collective minded individuals and organisations alike took a united stand to prevent what seemed to be a political attack on free speech and public participation. As usual with any such movement there was a combination of dynamism from individuals and support from organisations alike Karen Mahlab, Pro Bono Australia; Sarah Davies Philantropy Australia and David Crosbie Community Council of Australia who championed such charges. In this case the legislation was fortunately not amended in a way that would silence Australians and avoid accountability.

What was not so good

As my reflective thoughts wonder I begin to realise that the reason I find it difficult to separate the personal and professional is that much of the world’s, nation’s and local challenges encourage me to think global and act local (GLocal). I often refer to the phrase not being ‘fit for purpose’ as everywhere I look there are situations of systemic blockages and I argued for much of 2018 that this is a reoccurring negative. It is a negative because many measures as shown in the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (SDG) for Australia identify areas are lagging. Australia’s ranking in the SDG Index and Dashboards Report fell from 26th in 2017 in 2017 to 37th in 2018. According to the index, Australia is performing worse than most other advanced economies, and we are especially lagging on indicators around overseas development assistance and action on climate change. These findings must not be ignored. and action must be taken.

What could be done differently

In reflecting what hasn’t gone well and what could be done differently my thoughts further consider the phrase of not being ‘fit for purpose’.  In this phrase I argue there is no personal or professional divide as what we each do individually impacts on the collective. This is not just on the area we live, or the nation we live but how it impacts on the world around us. In extending my reflection on what could be done differently the word transformation continues to come to my mind and I enjoy being a part of the Australian Transformation and Turnaround Association and Royal Society of Arts being world leading thought leaders on such disruption. To be fit for purpose and 21st century ready the best conclusion I could make was reducing ADWAG! Meaning Always Doing What Always Got is no longer acceptable. The flip side to this sentiment is that there has never been a point in time with so much OPPORTUNITY to make change and long-lasting change for the better. To summarise doing things differently at a time in history where many of the negative trajectory tipping points have been surpassed, we are well equipped to be able to do something about it. To successfully do this requires collaborative transformation (at a pace) like never before as highlighted in Tim Costello’s first tweet for 2019:

“2019 dawns. My hope is that the world’s leaders might see that narcissism and turning inwards is a death wish. We can accept differences, and give hope to next generations but it means working together with a higher vision of the more we have in common” @TimCostello

 What to celebrate

 This brings the reflection of 2018 to a place where collaborative or #R2C (collaboration in the 21st century i.e. joint alliances or less silo working) can be strengthened through focusing on ‘engagement’. In particular 2018 was a year where the International Year of Engagement promoted a systemic, quality engagement of stakeholders to help anyone who leads and designs engagement processes to develop structured, well-planned and meaningful engagement. Underlying this promotion was a commitment to the SDG’s recognising that to achieve inclusive and sustainable development engagement, cooperation and collaboration were the only ways forward. As I reflect and celebrate this wonderful opportunity that 2018 has offered, I can’t help but feel some disappointment that the tension between collaboration and competition still seems to be out of balance, maybe a ‘competition detox’ is in order! Putting it simply, celebration becomes most evident when we choose to collaborate on common issues that affect all and choose to compete on the common issues that are less impactful. Nonetheless, to be three years into the aspirational timing of the SDGs and having a world-wide focus on engagement is at least a start in the right direction and that is something to celebrate.

Following on from my 2018 reflection I conclude with the word OPPORTUNITY. In considering what opportunity lies ahead for 2019 I reflect on my personal 2018 journey. At the beginning of the 2018 year having been diagnosed as having an irregular pap smear report I spent much of the first part of 2018 undergoing scans, tests and an operation to identify the underlying cause. Mid-year I was diagnosed with uterine cancer, one of the silent cancers, especially in my case as I had had no symptoms. The decision to have the necessary treatment of major surgery (hysterectomy) was clouded by not knowing whether to remove my ovaries or to keep them. I cannot fault the service of the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse in Sydney and with the later part of my year involving the surgery with rest and recuperation I was reminded how opportunities even in the most vulnerable and darkest hours can be found and continue to thrive. (I have fortunately had the all clear!)

This is not the first time I have faced a life-threatening experience and just over thirty years ago I was involved in a tragic car accident leaving me with many physical injuries including a 12-month rehabilitation experience. My cancer experiences of 2018 were different as unlike the car accident it was not visibly evident to those around me that I had decisions to make that held long term impacts. My purpose for sharing my personal experiences and the learnings I have drawn from their comparison is how OPPORTUNITY is always there. By making this point I mean OPPORTUNITY can even be found in the darkest of moments and is always there for the taking. I obviously have more to do in life which offers me more opportunities to continue to expand my passion of building more cultures of engagement, most importantly those that benefit society. Although 2019 may not be the official year of engagement it can be the trigger for OPPORTUNITY.

Opportunity my friends is always there for the taking so let’s make 2019 the year we take it.

Note for all females reading this blog please make your first 2019 opportunity action to  include ensuring  your pap smear is up to date!


 Tim Costello – Chief Advocate of World Vision Australia

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