Leadership is one of those strange things. There are many books dedicated to trying to define it but its features are so diverse that it is nearly impossible for anyone to agree on a definition. Despite that, when you see it, you can’t help but to instantly recognise it.
Last year, we collected nominations for our 2018 Annual Provider Awards and we received a number of excellent nominations. Yet in the Leadership category, there was one nomination that stood out for challenging the central assumption underpinning the entire category. We set out looking for organisational leadership- what we found was something so much bigger.
Without further ado, the winner of the 2018 DSC Providers Award for Leadership is The Growing Space.
The Growing Space is an independent support coordination, training and consultancy social enterprise. Though we are sure their internal leadership and governance is excellent, that is not what we are giving them this award for. Because really, we feel, that the impact of their leadership goes far, far beyond that. They are changemakers on a national scale and exemplify the type of leadership that we could all hope to replicate.
The Growing Space is founded and directed by Sam Paior, who many of you will know for her fearless and active presence in online communities. Sam is greatly respected within government agencies as an influencer with an uncompromising vision. Through her role as a member of the NDIS Independent Advisory Council (IAC)’s reference group on Self Management, she was an influential force behind the Agency’s new Guide to Self Management. The Guide was noticeable for its huge emphasis on encouraging Participants to use Self Management to increase their choice and control.
Right from the beginning, Sam has been a powerful advocate for Self Management. Her son, Ben even appears as in the Guide in a short case study of using funds innovatively. Ben, a mate and his support worker hired an Airbnb in the city for a weekend away from the folks. With this experience, Ben increased his independence and everyone involved just had a damn good time. This is a fantastic example of how to turn a goal into a reality with NDIS funding. Moreover, through the advocacy of The Growing Space, this one success was able to educate thousands of people on what flexibility in the NDIS looks like.
All of The Growing Space’s staff have lived experience of disability, which gives the organisation a unique insight into the barriers and opportunities people with disability commonly come across.
We know that our sector includes many thousands of people who work long, often unpaid hours in order to get the best outcomes for Participants. What The Growing Space really shows us is how this can be done incredibly well.
Through their online activism and capacity building, they give Participants the tools to use the NDIS to achieve their goals. In a way, they are working hard today to not have a job tomorrow. They also travel across the whole country, training Participants, providers and families on how to make the NDIS work for them. Though they only offer Support Coordination in two states, they manage to spread their vision and knowledge to every corner of the country.
Another powerful way they create change is through the above-mentioned Internet presence. Online communities for can be terrifying but they are also one of the most effective ways to influence and educate a large audience of people you will probably never meet. Because the truth is: we all read the comments section. The Growing Space Facebook page also has a community of over 11,000 followers and there is little doubt as to why. The page provides a constant source of informative and entertaining content that goes right to the heart of what Participants need to know. The site speaks to Participants in a way that validates their frustrations and respects people’s ability to solve their own problems. Their “Sam Translates” posts, where Sam takes bureaucratic letters from the NDIS and translate them into something far more readable and 1000x more entertaining, are always huge hits. Moreover, on the Growing Space website, Participants can access tons of NDIS resources for an annual cost of $99- which most of them can claim from their Plan. These resources cost less than one support coordination session, but they enable Participants to work independently to get the most out of the NDIS.
Vision in the disability sector is not uncommon, but what is wonderful about The Growing Space is their ability to use NDIS know-how to transform vision into reality. The Growing Space is not afraid to say when something is not working in the NDIS, but they are also willing to work tirelessly to make the most out of what does exist within the Scheme. Through the subtle art of genuinely caring and getting things done, they set an example for the rest of us to follow. And that, for us, is how you define leadership.