Striving for reform in the social sector
Julia Keady has worked as a consultant and then the founding CEO of Women’s Donor Network, and has seen first-hand the challenges and stresses facing social sector leaders - particularly in finding trusted support and advice. It's for these reasons that she has since focused on ensuring social changemakers can achieve their mission without burning themselves out.
Julia’s passion for the social sector began 20 years ago during a sabbatical working on super yachts in the Caribbean and Mediterranean. There she saw obscene levels of wealth and became inspired by those who were quietly using it for social good through venture philanthropy. On returning to Australia, she studied a Masters of Philanthropy and Social Impact through Swinburne University and ignited a passion for the social sector. Julia is now Executive Director and founder of the Benefolk Foundation. Alongside striving for social sector reform, she is also a mum and champion of rural and regional Australia, as well as women social entrepreneurs and small businesses. Read on for this weeks change maker interview with Julia!
Describe your career trajectory and how you got to your current position.
I started life as a country newspaper journalist 30 years ago, pursuing a curiosity about humans and a love of writing, and have never stopped being curious. After a sabbatical working on super yachts and meeting inspiring philanthropists, I pursued a Masters in Philanthropy and Social Investment when it first started in Australia. That led me into the social purpose sector about 15 years ago, where I found my tribe: inspired and hard-working humans that I wanted to work alongside. Since then, I have primarily worked in consulting, advisory and intermediary leadership roles, such as the inaugural CEO of Australians Investing in Women (formerly Australian Women Donors Network). Benefolk has percolated for many years in my head and heart, as I wondered how we could make it easier for organisations to find expertise and advice from all the brilliant solo and small business providers in our sector, and in doing so, how could we also be a voice for the most critical issue facing our sector – changemaker burnout. It’s something that I’ve experienced myself but also seen in supporting hundreds of leaders over the years. It’s this focus that drives me every day.
What does this role mean to you?
My role as CEO and Founder of Benefolk means a great deal to me. It is a very privileged and humbling experience to hold a vision and build out an intermediary in the sector – one that is trying to improve the way we work. It is also not without its challenges, as our sector doesn’t have a strong history of investing in its intermediaries. My role is to lead our organisation that is both in practice and advocacy trying to shift the dial on changemaker wellbeing. The role is very rewarding, especially when I see what an impact we can make. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Take us through a typical day of work for you.
I am blessed to work and live in nature on Bundjalong Country in Northern Rivers NSW. I get a couple of hours of work done before dropping my 10 year old to school. Then do a 45 minute beach walk with my Labrador and social justice warrior husband. We mostly talk about work/our missions, and back each other on our entrepreneurial journeys. Then it’s into the office to lead an organisation with around 300+ stakeholders in any given week, working across our services, resources, partnerships and advocacy campaigns. My day could involve working in our Concierge service,
meeting with organisation CEOs about their capability gaps and needs, through to judging the sector’s inaugural Wellbeing Governance Leadership Award, or speaking with government and philanthropy leaders about our work. By 6pm, I’m hearing about the 10 year old’s victories on the handball court at school that day, then wine o’clock with my husband, and then usually another two hours on my laptop while watching something fabulous like Yellowstone. Typically, like any start-up, founder or organisation leader (and anyone in menopause!), I am awake from 2am-4am thinking about our financial sustainability, and ensuring that we can retain and adequately reward our brilliant staff and contractors.
What has working with Benefolk taught you?
So many things about myself and others. Of late, it has taught me that it’s okay to be completely vulnerable. We hear a lot about vulnerability, but in practice, it’s much harder to let the guard down and let others see your belly, and to ask for help. I’ve also learned over five years running Benefolk (formerly The Xfactor Collective) that collaboration is much harder than it looks or sounds. I have some thoughts around how we need to invest in upskilling around this, as it has incredible potential in our sector, but also very untapped. I have also learned overall that you don’t need everyone to share your vision, or even believe in it. Just a handful. Margaret Mead’s quote travels with me in life, and I have learned to trust her words implicity: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, its the only thing that ever has.”
How can readers learn more about your work at Benefolk?
Attend one of these events!
On the 31st of August – we have an online webinar on titled: Take Action on your Organisation’s Wellbeing
In October, we also have the Reimagining Resilience – Inaugural Changemaker Wellbeing Breakfast.
What is the biggest challenge you've encountered in your career, and how did you overcome it?
Being bullied by people that others would have least suspected and not being able to get the support I needed because of their positions of power. The hard part was not realising until years later quite how much that impacted my confidence. So overcoming that was about finding a new confidence in me, and coming back to a place of purpose and contribution. Many of us are here because we want to contribute to the greater good, and that reminder helped me come back from that challenge. That and surrounding myself with good people.
If you could go back in time, what piece of advice would you give yourself as you first
embarked on your career?
Hey 17 year old Julia, it’s 47 year old Julia … This idea you have of following and trusting your heart, works out. Don’t doubt it. Trust it with all your might. And PS, your gut instincts are the most intelligent part of your being – you can trust them.
How do you stay motivated to work in this field?
The people. Our sector has the very best of humanity’s people here. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be. My late grandmother used to say to me “Are you off to do God’s work again today darling?” and I’ve long felt that speaks to the heart of why we are all here. It’s a vocation not a job. That said, I strongly believe that our sector needs to start valuing its people better, advocating stronger and louder than ever before.
How do you unwind after work?
Listening to frogs in the nearby state forest with a gin is a favourite. And an episode of Yellowstone or two! Plus I find it strangely rewarding to finish a few work tasks. Is that sad?
What was the last thing you:
Watched: The movie about Nike signing Michael Jordan. Brilliant. If it’s a true account, it is a very inspiring story, especially the way Jordan’s mother negotiated the contract with Nike.
Read: ‘Change your thoughts, Change your life’ by Dr Wayne Dyer
Listened to: Other than the bleating frogs at night, I secretly enjoy the kids meditations on the Calm app that my son goes off to sleep to. This generation has such great tools available to them to learn the art of mindfulness and meditation.
Written by Ed Krutsch