We hear a lot of statistics about poverty. We hear that more than 767 million people live on less than US$1.90 a day. We hear that over half of the world’s extreme poor are under 18, that more than 800 million don’t have enough food.
But there’s a different statistic World Vision Australia’s new CEO Claire Rogers wants people to hear: In the last two decades, the number of children aged under five dying around the world each and every day has halved from 30,000.
That’s the statistic, the Melbourne mother of two argues, that should make people realise they are not impotent, not insignificant in the fight against global poverty.
“It’s still absolutely terrible that there are 15,000 dying daily, but it demonstrates that in relatively short periods of time you can make real change happen,” she told Mamamia.
Contributing to this change is part of the reason that, in November 2016, Rogers agreed to head up Australia’s largest not-for-profit and in the process become the first female CEO in the organisation’s history.
“I always felt I had a good, well-paid job, I got to go to uni,” she said, “but I had concern that I wasn't really engaging with the population that lives in or near poverty.”
Yet when Rogers was first approached by World Vision Australia, she baulked.
As the head of digital banking at ANZ, she’d made a name for herself as an industry innovator, she’d seen how she could help shape the future. Once she realised she could apply those skills in a truly meaningful way, that she could help impact communities all over the world, those hesitations ultimately became the role’s selling point.
“Everyone around me knew way before I did that I was going to do this job. They were like, 'This is a great role for you, Claire. Just go talk to them.' So I did and I started to hear about the work that we do, and I caught the heart for it,” she said.
In working out how to best implement her wealth of skills, Rogers is planning on personally visiting as many of World Vision’s programmes as her schedule allows. In 2016 it was Myanmar, earlier this year it was Sri Lanka, then just last month, Mamamia joined her to see the work the organisation is doing in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.
In tiny, red-earth Aboriginal communities along the remote Gibb River Road, Rogers witnessed the impact of early childhood playgroups founded and funded by the organisation and operated by local women.
“That's been the most exciting thing to see as I've gone around the world to visit our programming, to see how community oriented it is,” she said. “It's not us coming in and imposing, it's us sharing our ideas that they can pick up and run with."
And she’s witnessing more and more how integral women are in that process. From small business owners in Thanlyin, to mental health support workers in Kilinochchi and playgroup facilitators in Kupungarri.
"It's a whole new part of my life really, to help these women have a voice and be heard and be powerful leaders,” she said. “For me, it's really broadened my definition of women in leadership.”
Nikki McWatters discusses the shame that accompanies poverty. Post continues below...
There are challenges, undoubtedly, to ensuring those voices cut through the public’s already tragedy laden newsfeeds, to ensuring the public realise their monthly donation genuinely effects positive change.
But that’s where Rogers hopes her legacy as one of the most influential women in Australia lies.
"At World Vision, we’re using this analogy of a window,” she said. “How can we be that window for people to see into the work, unfiltered, see how it's transforming lives and get excited.
“Because when you get out to field you get transformed, you start to understand how to create a space to help people lift out of poverty. And I wish everyone could see that, because it is life changing."
Claire’s advice to future leaders.
“The most common question I ask women is, 'Why not?' And it's interesting to watch them think about that, and suddenly opportunities that might have been out of reach before become something serious to think about."
"You don't accidentally fall into roles. [For] many of my roles I've spent time actually acquiring the skills I've needed and, in a disciplined way, actually collecting experiences.”
“I've taken some gambles, I've taken some short-term roles that didn't have permanent or guaranteed outcomes, but generally it works out if you're adding value and doing something that's really important."
"Most of my jobs, I would say, I have found myself. Found through talking to people, hearing what's going on or observing something in the market.”
"Don't try to do a job that your heart's not in. I've followed my heart and what I'm interested in,” she said. “So when I've gone for roles, people have actually created roles for me because they know that I've got that heart and that passion.”