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As Bob Douglas (81) and Emmelin Teng (28) drove separately through the early morning traffic of Canberra they were about to meet in person for the first time. Both were heading to the final Australia21 Board meeting of 2017, a rare face-to-face gathering. Here, participant observer, Director Lyn Stephens, records that important occasion.

Emmi Teng has a PhD in Psychology and works as a senior psychologist in the South Australian justice system. She has recently joined science communicator and social entrepreneur Andy Barley, who has honours degrees in engineering and physics, for a three year term as an Honorary Youth Adviser to the Australia21 Board. As Emmi walked into the large open space of the community hall where the gathering was to take place she was not quite sure what to expect.

Emeritus Professor, Bob Douglas AO, an eminent retired epidemiologist, the founding Chair of Australia21 and a self-confessed ‘pot stirrer’, had been a key player since Australia21’s beginning in 2001. He had attended a lot of meetings like this, but when the diverse and deep experience of the older Australia21 Board members combines with the fresh thinking of the YoungA21 cohort, something new and stimulating can emerge, and I expect he was hoping it might.

Australia21 is a national organisation, and its Directors are scattered from Adelaide to Cairns. Generally, our communication is by teleconference and email, so the opportunity to meet face-to-face once or twice a year for a whole day is highly valued. It is the opportunity to strengthen relationships, to examine and renew the values that guide our work and to commit at least in principle to projects for the coming year — even if the funding is yet to be found, which is often the case.

A strong foundation for the work to come in 2018

For our supporters and visitors, here is a taste of what went on at the face-to-face meeting:

After formalities and checking in, Emmi and Andy led us in a visioning exercise on hopes and expectations for YoungA21. The outcomes and details will be canvassed with the membership of YoungA21 before being finalised, but the high position on the agenda indicates the importance that the Board gives to input from our younger associates.

Then our resident futurist and Chair of the Australia21 Research Committee, Dr Steve Cork, took us through an environmental scan using ‘rich pictures’ and ‘conversation mapping’, to get us out of our heads and into a creative and collaborative style of thinking. Emerging from this were some new issues we aim to keep on our agenda for ‘developing new frameworks of understanding on complex issues facing Australia’, our core purpose.

They include:

  • The changing nature of Australian identity and how this frames our future.

  • Better understanding the impact of gender inequity in Australian and encouraging greater equity.

  • Nudging the growing understanding of environmental issues and our psychological reactions to them towards a tipping point for positive action, to safeguard our future.

  • Understanding the far-reaching implications of artificial intelligence and developing an ethical framework to support it.

  • The strategic importance of early childhood education in addressing inequality and how to encourage appropriate investment in it.

Returning to our current work, we acknowledged:

  • The highly skilled and overarching contribution of Director, Deb Rice, in her role as our Communications Manager, where she has magnified the impact of our work exponentially and given new heart to our endeavours.

  • Strong progress on our project on trauma-related stress in first responders, led by eminent and widely experienced senior executive, Australia21 Chair Paul Barratt, with a report to be launched in early 2018.

  • Preparatory work on Australia21’s fourth drug law reform Roundtable planned for the first quarter of 2018, which will look at the social impacts of prohibition, led by Bob Douglas and drug law reform pioneer and warrior, Dr Alex Wodak.

  • Impressive local developments and international recognition in the first year of the Mindful Futures Network, founded by mindfulness, empathy and compassion advocate Dr Lynne Reeder.

  • The successful launch by YoungA21 of the teaching resource Smarter About Drugs: A conversation pack, managed by the highly competent Rebecca Bunn, supported by project initiator and experienced businesswoman, Deb Lavis.

  • The successful Making our Future Work pilot, giving young people a voice on issues related to work and their futures, sensitively managed by social researcher Jen Malbon.

  • The valuable contribution of our growing number of volunteers, and of our Community Engagement Manager, Rebecca Bunn noting that volunteers do not manage themselves and there is considerable effort required to ensure a mutually rewarding relationship.

  • The productive collaboration with the ANU on developing a national approach to the mitigation of existential risk, initiated by Bob Douglas and supported by Steve Cork, including a developmental project with a group of young students, and a report Pathways Past the Precipice: Flourishing in a mega-threatened world.

  • The significant preparatory work for a Roundtable on developing a new economic narrative, undertaken by Bob Douglas, which would frame policy initiatives to address inequality.

Turning inwards:

  • The Chair of our Risk and Compliance Committee, Geoff Gorrie, who is also Deputy Chair of Australia 21 and regarded as ‘a very steady pair of hands’, gained support for a review of risk, strengthening evaluation processes, and reviewing HR policies in the light of expanded volunteer capacity and the need to ensure that our part-time salaried staff can manage their workloads and keep appropriate boundaries around any volunteer contribution.

  • Fundraising was confirmed as a priority — both for projects and organisational support.

  • Finally (and once again), the clever, understated and effective leadership of our Executive Officer, Anne Quinnwas highly commended by both staff and the Board.

For those who attended it was a great day. From what I could see Emmi left feeling part of the team and Bob looked pretty satisfied!

As our Chair Paul Barratt said:

“I think our investment of time together was highly worthwhile. It sowed the seeds for new approaches and will allow new themes to emerge. It revealed new sources of energy and will provide a strong foundation for the work to come in 2018.”
Australia21 needs your help to continue our work in 2018, promoting fair, sustainable and inclusive public policy through evidence-based research.

So please give generously to our End of Year Appeal.


Or send a direct debit to BNB: 313 140, Account No: 2319 3882

or a cheque to Australia21 Limited, PO Box 3244, Weston ACT 2611.

Thank you from all of us at Australia21!

Board face-to-face meeting attendees (L to R): Ms Deb Lavis, Director; Ms Jen Malbon, Project Officer; Mr Andy Barley, Honorary Youth Adviser; Mr Paul Barratt AO, Chair; Dr Alex Wodak AM, Director; Dr Steve Cork, Director; Dr Lynne Reeder, Director; Ms Lyn Stephens, Director; Ms Anne Quinn, Executive Officer; Ms Deb Rice, Director and Communications Manager; Ms Rebecca Bunn, Community Engagement Manager; Ms Emmi Teng, Honorary Youth Adviser; Em Professor Bob Douglas AO, Director; Mr Geoff Gorrie PSM, Deputy Chair.
Directors unable to attend: Mr Ian Dunlop, Dr David Morawetz, Mr Patrick O’Leary, Ms Molly Harriss Olsen, Mr Terry Weber, and Mr Peter Yuile (who is on leave from the Board).

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