From private sector to Executive Director

From private sector to Executive Director

Being called to the role of Executive Director UnitingCare NSW.ACT in the second half of 2013 seemed like a logical destination for Peter Worland given his career journey and his passion for lay preaching in the Uniting Church.

As a secondary school teacher in the late 1970s, Peter understood the life-changing power of education for all. Personally it has continued to be a high priority, at regular intervals completing international post graduate studies and in some cases retraining. Continual professional learning has prepared Peter to contribute with insight and passion to the rich, well rounded working roles he has sought.

As Director of Care Services at Wesley Mission Melbourne, Peter pioneered Wolf Wolfensberger’s staff training and evaluation tool, which transformed programs for vulnerable people, and introduced it across all the Mission’s children, aged and disability services. As the Mission’s representative on the Victorian and Australian Councils of Social Service he chaired the original “social wage” project, the precursor to the “The Accord”, which became the backbone of the harmonious work place relations policy of the first Hawke Government.

Peter’s social policy skills were seriously put to the test when he left the ‘Not-for-Profit Sector’ to become advisor to the Victorian Minister for Health and later the Victorian Premier. He is credited by the Cancer Council with creating the world’s first health promotion foundation (Vic Health) funded from tobacco taxes. But it was in separating Intellectual Disability from Psychiatric Services, closing old institutions such as Willsmere and opening the first Community Residential Units that Peter Worland is best known for in the health sector.

A shift to Sydney and the private sector in the early 1990s saw Peter become General Manager, Marketing and External Relations at NRMA.Internal promotions and intensive business training led to “change agent” opportunities including leading projects such as the ‘Strategic Use of IT’ and NRMA’s desire to list itself on the Australian Stock Exchange.

After almost a decade in corporate life Peter established his own consulting business and he has provided strategic marketing advice to corporations such as Transurban Limited, The Australian Stock Exchange and Westpac. Most recently Peter worked with Melbourne University on a series of projects including assisting former Australian of the Year, Professor Pat McGorry plan a new National Centre for Youth Mental Health.

“Being appointed as Executive Director by the Synod Standing Committee was humbling. There are many challenges in front of us but the road ahead is exciting and I’ve never felt more passionate about undertaking a journey.”

On a recent trip to Berlin, Peter was reminded again of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s notion that in the face of those who are disadvantaged and marginalised, we see the face of Christ. He and his wife Robyn have worked as volunteers supporting local schools in Mandalay, Myanmar over the past few years. Working alongside these very poor people Peter has been reconverted to Christianity’s defining principle – the imperative and rewards of personal service to others.

Peter believes these experiences have had a profound effect on him. “Volunteering changes lives. Not just the lives of the recipient of the help but also the volunteer. I have seen people living in incredibly harsh conditions all over the world – from the Kimberley in Australia, to Soweto in South Africa and Myanmar in Burma– and have always been inspired by the optimism, strength and resilience in the face of adversity. I believe a key challenge we face now is to find new and interesting ways to engage more people in volunteering.”

Peter has already applied this hands-on approach to his new role, getting on the road and visiting UnitingCare services as well as Uniting Churches and Presbyteries across the Synod. He explains: “I enjoy talking to people and will continue visiting as many of our services and congregations across NSW and the ACT as I can. I want to hear from people first hand, soak up their vision and enthusiasm and drive that passion into our organisation’s actions.”

It is no small task. Overseeing $630 million a year in turnover and more than 7,000 staff is a significant job, which carries a sizeable responsibility.

“I take the duty of that incredibly seriously, and it has to drive every decision”, says Peter.“Being appointed as Executive Director by the Synod Standing Committee was humbling. There are many challenges in front of us but the road ahead is exciting and I’ve never felt more passionate about undertaking a journey.”

Regarding the clarity of vision on that forward path, Peter is quick to point out that, as UnitingCare’s new leader, he is standing on the shoulders of giants.

“The formidable leadership of Harry Herbert, Libby Davies and the board has created a vibrant, sustainable and courageous organisation. Their gift to us is a wonderfully strong foundation and we owe it to their legacy to continue building on it. I feel very fortunate to be able to undertake that challenge alongside such a skilled team with a strong track record.”

The early years

Peter Worland grew up in Warrnambool as one of four children. His family was heavily involved in the Congregational Church and from a young age, Peter loved the community spirit. When Peter was aged just 26, both his parents died within a few weeks of one another. It was a deeply traumatic time in Peter’s life and yet in many ways it has been the driving factor behind him launching successful careers in four different sectors of the economy.

“My parents were strong, committed and engaged Christian people who were heavily involved in making the community a better place. Their selflessness and dedication to their family was such that they underwent massive personal sacrifice to provide me with an education – forfeiting holidays and opportunities of their own. When they died I made myself a personal promise that I’d work tirelessly to deliver on that sacrifice. To be the best I could be, in their memory, and to maximise the career potential that they saw in me and sacrificed for themselves.

“I also made a commitment to serving the Church and my community and to seek to change the world in some way. I know it would have been their hope for me.”

Uniting with the Church…

“Between the Uniting Church and UnitingCare we have a significant foot print across NSW and the ACT.UnitingCare is at the very heart of the Uniting Church and its values must continue to be the basis for every decision we make. With increased collaboration and the sharing of resources, the Uniting Church and UnitingCare can be greater than the sum of its parts.”

Peter on our voice…

“In a country where many of our Indigenous people and refugees – the first and last to arrive on our shores are not permitted the dignity of work, where increasing numbers of our citizens are homeless or under housing stress, and where voters are asking governments for more services but want to pay less tax, our voice has never been as vital to support those who are disadvantaged.”

…our travel…

Peter’s most treasured travel memory is a trip with his three adult children to South Africa.

“Robyn and I were visiting South Africa for three weeks. We wanted the kids to come with us but they were all in their twenties and we didn’t think they would go for it, but they surprised us. It was an amazing adventure experiencing all the wonders of South Africa together as a family.

“It was inspiring because we lived in home stays and met local people. There is famine, disease, tragedy and suffering and yet there is an optimism which is just so infectious.”

Another fabulous holiday was a trip to New York, which combined two of Peter’s great passions: travel and classical music.

“We would go out to the theatre every night and listen to some of the best orchestras in the world. We saw the Berlin and Vienna Philhamonic Orchestras in one week. The Big Apple is the only place in the world where such things are possible.”

…his priorities…

1. UnitingCare and the Uniting Church will work together and share resources.
2. Our voice will be strong and credible.
3. We will find new and different ways to engage volunteers.

Photography by Siobhan Marren.

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