13 Australian Heroes you haven't heard of: Sam Mostyn

Each week we will be running Q&As with Australian women doing vital humanitarian and aid work. Women you may not have heard of.

This week meet Sam Mostyn, President of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID).

1. What does your role entail on a day-to-day basis?

I am the President of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) – the peak body for Australian non-government organisations (NGOs) involved in international development and humanitarian action.

ACFID’s purpose is to lead and unite Australian NGOs in action for a just, equitable and sustainable world. We do this through engaging with the Australian Government on good aid and development policy; building public awareness and debate on issues of global poverty, inequality and sustainability; and supporting Australian NGOs to be effective and accountable in their work including through our Code of Conduct.

As President, my role is about steering ACFID in the achievement of our goal for an Australia that plays a strong and effective role in international development. I also represent the aid and development sector in international and national forms, and act as a public spokesperson for the sector.

Sam Mostyn, President of the Australian Council for International Development. Image: Supplied


2. How did you become involved in humanitarian/aid work?

I became President of ACFID in 2014, following a career spanning government, the private sector and the not-for-profit sector. I had the opportunity to work for both Justice Michael Kirby and Paul Keating early in my career, and learnt about the need to incorporate social justice and equity issues across all sectors – it’s why I'm able to play my role with ACFID, director roles with other organisations such as ClimateWorks Australia and Australian Volunteers International, as well as serve on a number of Australian corporate boards.

I was drawn to ACFID and to the international aid and development sector more broadly because of my strong interest in issues of social justice and environmental sustainability. It’s a fascinating and important time to be working in aid and development, with over 190 countries recently signing onto a groundbreaking new framework for achieving sustainable development – the Sustainable Development Goals.

Achieving these Goals requires collaboration and commitment across all sectors – government, private sector, academia and civil society. I believe we can do a better job in Australia of driving collaboration across sectors to ensure we play a strong global role in eliminating poverty and promoting sustainable development.

3. What are the most rewarding/challenging parts of your job?

One of the most rewarding parts of my role is representing 132 Australian aid and development NGOs that carry out vital work every day in over 90 developing countries to respond to humanitarian emergencies, create education opportunities, support healthy communities and build women’s empowerment. As well as their vital work, Australian aid and development NGOs build important links, networks and opportunities for Australia’s engagement in the world.

Another rewarding aspect of my role is getting to engage in policy discussion and debate on international aid and development at a national and global level. Last September, I was fortunate enough to accompany Julie Bishop, Australia’s Foreign Minister, and Australian diplomats to New York for the signing of the Sustainable Development Goals. I have also recently been appointed to the Global Commission on Business and Sustainable Development to investigate how businesses can join the effort to end extreme poverty and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

A key challenge of my role is building greater public support and political leadership in Australia for our role in aid and development. In recent years, the Australian Government has cut more than $11 billion from Australia’s aid program, with our spending on aid and development soon to reach its lowest level ever if Treasurer Scott Morrison’s does not stop the clock on scheduled cuts of $224 million in the Turnbull Government’s upcoming Budget. Our aid program has been seen as an easy area for politicians to target, rather than as a vital investment in regional and global prosperity and stability. We need to see greater bi-partisan leadership on aid and development in Australia, and greater public discussion and debate on the role Australia should play.


Sam Moystn and 2015 Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations, Shea Spierings. Image: Twitter

4. In general, do you think Australians are generous givers?

Australians are indeed generous givers to international aid and development. Each year, the Australian public donate around $840 million to support the work of ACFID member organisations, with this figure steadily rising over the past 15 years.

The Australian public are particularly generous at times of humanitarian emergencies. Last year, Australians donated over $65 million to support the work of Australian aid and development NGOs in responding to humanitarian emergencies including the Nepal Earthquake, the Syria crisis and the Ebola outbreak.

Australians don’t just donate money, they are also generous givers of time and effort. Each year, over 28,000 Australians volunteer their time with ACFID member organisations – both in Australia and overseas, to support the delivery of vital projects.

5. Do you think that the Australian government is currently meeting its global responsibilities in terms of aid?

In September, Australia signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals, which require wealthy, developed countries like Australia to expand efforts to reduce poverty and promote sustainable development around the world. As part of this agreement, Australia committed to increase its spending on aid and development to 0.7% of Gross National Income – or just 70 cents in every $100 dollars we spend. After large cuts to Australia’s aid budget in recent years, our current program is only spending 25 cents in every $100 dollars. We need to see bi-partisan political leadership on the rebuilding of the Australian aid budget.

However, it’s not all about money. Australia must also ensure it has strong policies in place to tackle global development issues such as climate change, refugee flows and corruption. I believe Australia can play a stronger role on this front, for instance through stronger action to curb Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, a greater humanitarian approach to people seeking asylum, and work on international taxation issues.


6. What are the most significant humanitarian crises we are facing, both at home and abroad?

Globally, we are witnessing a rise in the scale, frequency and impact of humanitarian crises on vulnerable people. More than 1 in 5 people around the world live in areas affected by fragility, conflict or large-scale violence, and the global community needs to get better at supporting political solutions, and to addressing the root causes of conflict such as poverty and inequality.

Climate change is also a significant threat, increasing the intensity of natural disasters. Australia’s region is particularly prone to natural disasters, with disaster-related economic losses in Pacific Island countries higher than almost anywhere else in the world. As well as supporting our region, action on climate change also makes sense for Australia. As a comparatively hot and dry country, Australia is also highly exposed to the impacts of climate change including droughts, floods and bushfires.

Unfortunately, the international humanitarian system is currently at overload with the growing level of need across the globe. This May, the international community will come together for the first ever World Humanitarian Summit in an effort to improve humanitarian response to meet the needs of millions of people affected by conflict and disasters. Australia will be participating in this Summit, with a particular focus on ensuring the needs of our Asia-Pacific region are reflected.

7. What do you see as the most significant challenges for women in the developed and developing world?

Every woman and girl has the right to live in dignity and with freedom from want and from fear. However, hundreds of millions of women and girls continue to be denied their rights due to persistent, profound, and widespread gender inequality, formal and informal discrimination, overlapping systemic barriers to women’s civil and political participation, and epidemic levels of violence against women. This not only has a direct impact on women and girls, but on the health and productivity of whole communities and nations.

The importance of achieving gender equality and empowerment for all women and girls has been recognised in the Sustainable Development Goals, with Goal 5 dedicated to this cause. Achieving this Goal requires profound action across all sectors of society to eliminate discrimination and violence against women and girls; ensure adequate access to education and economic resources; provide universal access to sexual and reproductive health rights; address the burden of unpaid care, and ensure women’s full participation in leadership and decision making at all levels of society. This is not just a challenge for women, it’s a challenge for everyone.


8. What can everyday Australians do each day to make a difference?

Sometimes it is easy to feel as though global issues of poverty, inequality and conflict are too large and out of our control. But I believe there are actions Australians can take to make a difference.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recently reminded us that “in 2016, nowhere is a long way from anywhere.” In other words, many of the issues facing the world are connected with our actions in Australia. Take climate change - Australians can support action at home to reduce carbon emissions, and thereby play a role in reducing the impacts of climate change to our Pacific neighbours and internationally.

Also, I think it’s important that Australians engage in discussion and debate about the role Australia can play in reducing global poverty and promoting sustainable development, whether with their local MP, friends or colleagues. Not enough of this goes on currently.

Lastly, Australians can support the work of Australian aid and development NGOs whether through donations, volunteering or supporting campaigns.

9. Do you have any advice for young women who want to do aid work?

Working in aid and development is a rewarding and challenging career. There is no single track to enter the sector; aid and development work requires a multitude of skill sets from community development, economics, engineering, communications, health and languages. You can also pursue aid and development work from various sectors – not-for-profit, government, international organisations and the private sector.

I recommend thinking about which aspects of the work interest you the most, and consider gaining a particular skill, as well as pursuing studies or educating yourself about international development more broadly.

Gaining volunteering experience for an aid and development organisation – whether in Australia or abroad – can also be a great stepping stone to employment. Further, young people can get active engaging in networks to build up their understanding and contacts. Two such initiatives are the Campaign for Australian Aid and Research for Development Impact Network.