“Never believe that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead
When it came to deciding what to study at university, I just wanted to do something I was interested in; having a clear career path at the end wasn’t a huge priority.
This was going against well-intentioned advice from friends and family who recommended sensible vocational pathways. My naïve view was that if you love what you do, you’ll do a good job, and someone will hire you in the end! Thankfully, my career has mostly followed this trajectory – I have been fortunate to have had held interesting positions.
I entered the workforce with a simple mantra: “Find an opportunity to add value.” In the early stages of my career, I wasn’t fussy about where I wanted to work. As I’ve developed, things have changed in that regard, but because of this approach in my youth, I’ve been fortunate to work across diverse sectors, including telecommunications, banking, government, and pharmaceuticals. Each time I entered a new industry, I started from the bottom, taking every opportunity, learning and absorbing as much as I could, and I hope, making contributions before I left. I loved each of the positions I held in the corporate world.
This world enabled me to collect skills and experiences from across these diverse sectors that can be transferred to almost any situation. I think this gives me unique insight and it has been hugely beneficial for the organisations I’ve worked for in every subsequent role and me.
“Each time I entered a new industry, I started from the bottom, taking every opportunity, learning and absorbing as much as I could, and I hope, making contributions before I left. I loved each of the positions I held in the corporate world.”
I’ve always been inherently passionate about wanting to make the world a better place but having kids really brought it to the fore. The stakes were much higher for me when I was a working mum with young children, and I felt an obligation to them to do something that was making a difference.
After meeting with former Cure Brain Cancer Foundation CEO, Cath Stace, I was inspired and moved to join the Foundation in the position of Head of Research. I was attracted by the potential to start up a new organisation that could really change outcomes for an underserved patient group.
I knew my experience would be beneficial and I thought I could make a difference. I had years of experience in global clinical research, and more recently, in digital health and patient communities. I believed ‘patient power’ was the next frontier in changing patient outcomes for the better, and not just in brain cancer.
“The stakes were much higher for me when I was a working mum with young children, and I felt an obligation to them to do something that was making a difference.”
My previous role had been high pressure, so I was convinced it was going to be relatively easy for me to exceed expectations, but I couldn’t have been more wrong! I have never worked so hard in my life! Start-ups are hard generally but couple this with a devastating disease, and it made for challenging work.
Aside from the pressures of performing professionally, there are enormous emotional pressures in this role. Brain cancer kills more children than any other disease and more adults under 40 than any other cancer. Survival has barely improved in over 30 years, so each day, our staff deal with Australians confronting those unacceptable statistics head on.
Michelle Stewart, Cure Brain Cancer Foundation CEO
It is our staff who work tirelessly alongside this community, helping them to have their voices heard finally. Five years ago brain cancer was a “forgotten cancer.” Now, thanks in part to Cure Brain Cancer Foundation this disease is now an Australian heath priority with a globally networked research focus. There is now a government-backed national plan in place to tackle brain cancer. When I joined the Foundation five years ago, that was unthinkable.
Looking back on the achievements of this Foundation, particularly in the past five years, I feel incredibly proud of the journey we have been on, but we are nowhere near done.
I am excited to lead this Foundation into the next stage of its journey. It has never been more important to be aware of and meet the needs of the brain cancer community. Now that the Australian Brain Cancer Mission is in place, I know we need to re-evaluate, refocus and not rest until there are more effective treatment options for people diagnosed with brain cancer.
NFP is not a sector for the faint-hearted. You have to work hard with constrained resources, to achieve a noble vision. The work is often politically complex, intellectually and emotionally challenging, and carried out under intense public scrutiny.
My advice for anyone considering a move into this sector is to be clear about the issues you care about and the value you can add. So many great causes can benefit significantly from bright minds. Many see NFP as a softer sector. The reality is, it’s as professional as the corporate sector, with huge rewards for people and communities who need them most.
If you think you can add value and have the opportunity to do so, take the plunge.
Michelle is a Premium member of Business Chicks, connect with her here.
Cure Brain Cancer Foundation’s Avant Garde Ball on 15 September will feature performances by Johnny Ruffo and ARIA Award Winning Megan Washington, unconventional couture by style-icon Bowie Wong, styling by Vogue Australia Editor-in-Chief Edwina McCann and a delightful menu designed by Christine Mansfield. Join these incredible Australians and raise vital funds and awareness to help find a cure for brain cancer.
In an exclusive offer for Business Chicks Members, enter promo code ‘BCHICKS’ at checkout and when you buy a table to this incredible event, you will receive a complimentary Veuve Reception for you and your guests. Book here.