How an executive from East Pilbara is rising to COVID-19 challenges

3 September 2020
From the red dirt of the Pilbara to Sydney’s spiral staircase
In the first few months working for the Shire of East Pilbara in WA, Lisa Clack learnt that the average life expectancy of local Indigenous women is just 38 years. It was then she realised the challenges that lay ahead.
Lisa Clack

Lisa Clack, UN Women Australia MBA Scholarship recipient

Despite her wealth of experience leading public policy development and community programs, Lisa was shocked to learn the life expectancy of Martu women, on average, was just 38 years.

“I very clearly remember that moment. That’s when I realised how much I had to learn. I knew I would need to be careful and thoughtful about my approach to business decisions about the community services we provide, given how much inequality still exists,” Lisa said.

As Executive Manager of Customer and Community Services for the Shire of East Pilbara, Lisa is responsible for overseeing the delivery of community services in the area.

With a population of 10,500 , the shire is the largest Local Government area in Australia, delivering services to the three towns of Newman, Nullagine and Marble Bar. In the last financial year, approximately $48 billion of resource commodity sales were mined out of the East Pilbara region.

“The issues facing East Pilbara in community services are complex, and I would be naïve to think after only 18 months I am in a position to make a big difference,” Lisa reflected.

“However, I am in a position to make constant incremental improvements, and that’s a great start,” she said.

Building business skills

Wanting to develop her general business skills, Lisa applied for the UN Women Australia MBA scholarship to study the part-time MBA at the University of Sydney Business School.

“Being based in the Pilbara, a program like this would usually be out of reach. However, the program schedule of intensive learning blocks meant that – once state borders reopen – I can realise the full value of the experience, and attend in person,” Lisa said.

“Participating in this program wouldn’t have been possible for me, without the scholarship opportunity from UN Women Australia.”

The UN Women Australia MBA Scholarship recognises outstanding leadership, with a commitment to enhancing women’s rights and opportunities.

Director of the MBA, Professor Guy Ford, said: “Lisa exemplifies the type of future leader who we are wanting to support with the UN Women scholarship: resilient, creative, forward-thinking and with the potential to have significant social and economic impact within the networks in which she operates.”

Lisa hopes the MBA will expose her to a wider breadth of business skills and thinking than she might find closer to home.

“Up here [in the Pilbara], we are more isolated, issues are complex, and there is less support than would be available in a city. Individuals need to push themselves to be better in almost every aspect of work.

“The MBA is part of that journey for me, and I hope it will make a real difference to what I can achieve in my work on the ground in the Pilbara,” Lisa said.

Diversity key to success

This semester, the MBA cohort at the Business School will again have a 50:50 gender split.

“For me the program diversity, the way gender balance is built into the cohort, and the experiential learning style at the University of Sydney were big attractions,” Lisa said.

I think it takes diversity of thought – including gender diversity – to really be able to comprehend the impact of an emergency to a community and respond appropriately.

Having worked in a range of emergency situations in roles within state and local governments in Western Australia, Lisa said UN Women’s focus on having women in positions of leadership and emergency management resonated with her.

The Shire of East Pilbara’s executive team is also balanced in terms of gender equality, which Lisa said “makes for a more robust and well-rounded decision-making process.”

How COVID-19 changed everything

Lisa had initially planned to travel to Sydney for the intensive teaching blocks before the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent border closures.

“Working in a remote Western Australian community in the largest local government in Australia (with a land area the size of Victoria, ACT and Tasmania combined), means I need to think outside the box and not be constrained by distance. This is one of the reasons I chose to apply to study at the University of Sydney,” Lisa said.

“I am grateful we have the opportunity to study remotely for now with COVID-19 still active in some parts of Australia. The town I live in is a gateway to some remote Aboriginal communities, and as they would be a high-risk population, there has been a large focus on protecting these communities by government, industry and service groups. Studying remotely during these times is one more way I can play a personal part in this effort.”

“In a world where technology can connect us so well, it means those seeking an education will have more freedom and control over how they can learn, and for me – this means I can have the best of both worlds.”

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