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Actively engaging with young professionals and emerging leaders in Catholic social services

Engaging with young professionals and emerging leaders within Catholic social services has to become a key part of strategic thinking among CEOs and “not just a nice thought”, according to Mark Monahan, Executive Officer of Edmund Rice Services – Mount Atkinson.

“We need to be intentional and strategic about their formation and professional development because they will be leading our Catholic social services organisations into the future,” he says. “And it’s not something that CEOs and leaders should be considering in a few years’ time; it needs to be addressed now."

“There are a great number of young professionals and emerging leaders in their 20s, 30s and early 40s working within Catholic social services who are passionate about what they do and who have a lot of ideas and thoughts about how things could be done differently, or who just want to learn from their older peers, but they don’t have a voice or a seat around the table where decisions are made.

“When I talk to different young professionals, they value being at a Catholic social service organisation and they believe things can shift in the community and that change can happen around the injustices that exist; they have this amazing energy. So we need to get them into positions to get their voice heard, to feel more connected, and to participate in that space where they can impact decision-making.”  

Mark says we also need to be intentional about building relationships. “Our sector is very much based on relationships, which can’t be built overnight. So it's important to have young professionals, amongst others, in senior positions, in order to build those relationships, to learn about the industry, to learn about how to respond to different experiences and dilemmas, and to share insights and wisdom. For that to happen people need to spend time together, to get to know each other, to listen and respond.” 

Reflecting on his own journey as a young Catholic professional working within the Catholic social services sector, Mark says there were key moments and leaders who fostered his development.

“In my younger years, the Christian Brothers were very good at building and maintaining relationships and fostering my leadership. They took it upon themselves to make sure they built relationship and always invited me along to events. They were always very welcoming and were great mentors.” 

Later on, when he became Executive Officer of Edmund Rice Camps, he decided to attend the Catholic Social Services Victoria (CSSV) annual general meeting and commissioning Mass. While there, Mark says, “the former executive director of CSSV, Denis Fitzgerald, went out of his way to say g'day to me, which set me on another leadership journey.” 

He attended the 2011 national Catholic social services conference and was asked to respond to the keynote given by international guest speaker, Chris Lowney. “When I was asked, I thought, ‘Wow, you know me, and you value my thoughts’. So I stepped up and did that,” he said. “That was a massive thing for me.” In 2018, he was part of the Steering Committee for the national Catholic social services conference, Hearing Healing Hope, with the specific intention of helping younger professionals and emerging leaders in the sector to participate in the national conversation. Mark also played a key role in organising the pre-conference evening event, A Healthy Earth for a Flourishing Society: Implementing Laudato Si’.

“I had attended previous Catholic Social Services conferences and looked around the room noticing the very low participation rate of younger people. It was a stark reality hit,” he said.  “These experiences fuelled my conviction that we younger professionals need to be active and present. We want to learn and put forward our views, we want to contribute and be at the table where the leadership and power sits,” he said.

“It’s not a matter of young professionals and emerging leaders wanting to take over, or to discard the views and expertise of older colleagues,” he said. “It’s about our current leaders seriously thinking about what is required in order to form and train their younger cohort.” 

Mark challenges leaders to seriously consider, “what are we as a sector, doing to encourage and foster leadership formation for younger people from their teens, through to their 20s, 30s and 40s? Are we fostering pathways to ensure young Catholic professionals and emerging leaders can remain connected to their Catholic faith and spirituality, and to their values of social justice and caring for vulnerable members of the community?  This comes back to giving them a voice around the table, and providing opportunities within our organisations for formation and leadership roles.”

He says the upcoming conference, Serving Communities with Courage and Compassion, to be held in Melbourne from 26-28 February 2020, is a good case-in-point. “It’s usually the CEOs, general managers and people in senior positions that attend these conferences,” Mark said. “I’d encourage those in leadership to seriously consider sending a team of their younger professionals to attend as a way of intentionally fostering their professional development, and providing an opportunity for them to network, learn and contribute to the national conversation.

“This is an investment not only for the organisation,” said Mark, “but for the Catholic social services sector as a whole. These are our leaders and given our current climate, it’s important that young professionals learn the skills of co-working and networking on a national scale, because it’s very likely this is where the future is headed – a lot of organisations will be working together.” 

“There is a lot of complexity working within Catholic social service organisations due to the impact of the Royal Commission into Sexual Abuse, the overall reduction of resources and funding from government and philanthropy, and the many other Royal Commissions occurring within various sectors of our community,” he said. 

“There is a lot of work ahead of us. This provides an opportunity for leadership to shift the paradigm a bit, in terms of how things have been operating. But that can only happen if our emerging leaders and young professionals are brought into the conversation to learn, to express their thoughts, opinions and ideas. It’s about ‘what can we do together?’ We need to encourage that critical enquiry that will enable new forms of leadership to come forward over the next decade.” 

Catholic Social Services Emerging Leaders Network

The Emerging Leaders Network was established 12 months ago to foster professional development, networking opportunities and relationship building among emerging leaders and young professionals working within Catholic Social Services in Victoria. Regular events are held throughout the year, providing an opportunity for young professionals to gather. Click here to see info about its latest breakfast gathering held on 12 November 2019.

For more information about the Emerging Leaders Network, email Mark Monahan

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