Ability Centre

Jacquie Thomson (Syndicate 82) grew up in country Western Australia, in a small country town where she developed her first sense of importance of community. Her parents were heavily involved in, and committed to, the local community.

After completing her primary school education, she went off to boarding school for her secondary studies. From there she progressed to University where, quite naturally, her first degree was in social sciences. Jacquie describes the benefits of that first degree as being numerous though highlights the development of critical thinking abilities, how to think strategically about society's component parts and how then to consider them all together.

Jacquie started her career in the not-for-profit sector, working across areas such as youth support, community development, domestic violence, accommodation and mental health.

During this time, she and her husband subsequently started a family... Jacquie gave birth to twin girls. Of course, as is with so many other parents, she then had the challenge of endeavouring to balance family and work life, along with continuing study and development.

Jacquie worked with Lotterywest for over 20 years in various roles. Lotterywest is a government enterprise operating the State's lottery games. Uniquely in Australia, all profits from lotteries are returned to the community making Lotterywest one of Australia's largest grant makers, directly supporting the not-for-profit sector. For 15 years, Jacquie led the grant making and community development functions. Jacquie describes a personally and professionally fulfilling time, furthering her love for community through direct involvement with organisations working across the rich spectrum of community endeavour and working closely with many of the State's leading businesses and philanthropists.

Apart from the usual challenge of trying to balance the demands of family and working life, Jacquie has learnt to master the challenges of being able to see the bigger picture, and to harness the power of working with others.

"I've had the opportunity to work with fabulous teams of committed people throughout my career. If there's a strength that I bring it's my ability to bring a diversity of people together around central ideas. I've always enjoyed looking at the big picture, at what could be possible and then, like jigsaw, working with all the odd shapes that can be put together to create something better."

"I'm very proud of the work undertaken over the last few years to address food relief and insecurity in Western Australia. Having individual conversations with not-for-profits delivering critical emergency relief  services, all needing increased funding, led me to explore if indeed there was an opportunity to bring people and services together to think and work differently, to look at a big picture around supply chains, coordinated approaches and data driven systems. Not-for-profits, government and business all had a part to play in this. This work continued and in the past months has come to fruition with the WA Food Relief Framework being launched."

Jacquie is now the CEO of an organisation called Ability Centre, which is a not-for-profit disability service provider that has been supporting Western Australian families for almost 70 years. At Ability Centre, their vision is that "people of all abilities will thrive in their communities throughout their lives".

In more detail, the people at Ability Centre are "committed to providing customers and their families the services and support they need. Ability Centre supports people living with cerebral palsy, autism and other physical and intellectual disabilities". Their innovative and responsive services are provided from early infancy through to adulthood. The staff at Ability Centre believe that building a strong relationship with their customers and their families is the key to their customers reaching their potential. "Ability Centre has built its reputation as a leading disability services provider by providing excellent service, allowing our customers to thrive."

Last year, Ability Centre had a turnover of approximately 76 million AUD.

Jacquie admires the diversity of the organisation.

Ability Centre has about 1,000 staff and 2,500 customers, with a breadth of services - accommodation and in-home support, respite, therapy, positive behaviour support, support coordination, employment services to secure jobs in the open market as well as supported employment through Goodwill Engineering - Ability Centre's engineering and manufacturing business. Approximately half of their customers are under 12.

The Centre is, of course, enmeshed with NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) which Jacquie describes as the biggest social reform since the introduction of Medicare in the 1970s. Western Australia is the last of the States to join this ambitious Scheme, which whilst being exciting and based on sound principles of individual choice and control, has turned upside down the business' policy and operating context, and requires challenging fundamental organisation change.

Jacquie is very proud of the work Ability Centre does with its community - Starkick being a wonderful example.

"Starkick was founded and launched by the Coolbinia Bombers Junior Football Club in 2015, and since then has grown to include other metropolitan clubs with programming through the WA Football League. The Starkick program welcomes boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 12 years of all physical and cognitive abilities. The program runs as an integral part of each club's Auskick Centre, promotes inclusion, equality and opportunity. Starkick caters for children who by circumstance or choice are unable to join in the clubs’ existing football programs.”

A 2017 study showed that children enrolled in Starkick tended to have "high levels of self-esteem and enjoyment of physical activities... many children achieved the goals that parents identified for them from participating in the program, including inclusion, improvements in physical condition, interpersonal and social skills, and engagement in sport".

Starkick enabled children with disabilities to engage more with their family and community.

"Supporting children with disabilities to participate in sports is important because of the health-related benefits. The Starkick program gives children with disabilities suitable support allowing them to derive the physical and important psychosocial benefits from participating and belonging to a team."

A program under rapid development is Containers for Change, a new container deposit scheme launched by the Western Australian Government. From 2 June 2020, people will receive a 10 cent refund for each eligible container returned for recycling at an approved Refund Point. There will be at least 173 Refund Points across the State.

"Ability Centre has been successful in joining the scheme as both a Refund Point operator at three sites and a manufacturer of metal infrastructure that will be used to sort and collect the recycled containers."

This "save the planet" program will create 30 jobs for people with disabilities at the Ability Centre operated sites, as well as through Goodwill.

It is estimated that 44% of litter in Western Australia consists of recyclable containers.

Jacquie's passion has always been people and community, and its diversity and richness. She describes the community in which she works as "gloriously messy".

And whilst she may have mastered the challenge of public speaking and communicating with others, she says that she is still never comfortable talking about herself.

As far as The CEO Institute is concerned, Jacquie is a relative newbie having only joined about six months ago. She joined because she was looking for an external source of input, reflection and support. She values immensely the wisdom of the collective. And she revels in the diversity of members coming from many different backgrounds.

The CEO Institute, established over 25 years ago, helps business leaders like you connect with your peers to share skills, insight, and experience. The CEO Institute's leadership programs are available globally. Click here to read more member success stories.