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Community, Families, Leadership and women

From Psychologist to CEO

As the eldest of five, Mandy Burns is quite possibly a ‘natural born’ leader, used to responsibility, authority and taking charge of groups.  

At just 37, Mandy was promoted to the position of Chief Executive Officer with the Ardoch Youth Foundation, to lead this not-for-profit committed to changing the odds for disadvantaged children by removing barriers to education that poverty and disadvantage create. 

 She reckons she naturally does better and prefers working in groups – and she should   know: Mandy’s first career was as a psychologist, counselling people injured at work.

“In broad terms I was interested in working as a psychologist to help people and really liked understanding the link between people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours,” she says of her first career.

But it was volunteering in the community sector while at university – working first with young people, then later on the not for profit boards that ran the programs – that really inspired Mandy’s vision for her future.

So after three years as a psychologist she quit to seek work with children and young people that aligned with her strong social justice values. 

Engage in a conversation with Mandy about working with schools to support all of their children, especially those experiencing disadvantage, and you’ll be left in no doubt whatsoever about these values.

In 1997 she took on her first role with the Ardoch Foundation as a volunteer, steadily progressing her way through the organisation to the role of CEO in 2008.  

“Becoming CEO was exhilarating, inspiring and terrifying. I was proud to be the CEO of Ardoch and to be leading our work in removing the barriers to education for vulnerable children- I also never felt so much weight and desire make a difference.”

Like most of us who work for not for profits, Mandy wants to “change the world”.  And the world she is hoping to create is one in which “poverty is not a determinant in Australian children’s educational opportunities and outcomes”.

It’s a role that’s both hugely rewarding and hugely challenging in a public climate where there is really no such thing, Mandy points out, as “free education”.

Raising a daughter, Maddy, seven, in a community with a huge disparity between those well off and those struggling, heightens her awareness need for organisations like Ardoch to be part of the “village that helps to raise a child”.

“I love seeing the great generosity and compassion that exists in our community when people commit to helping kids, volunteering to help them to read, caring and being a role model, donating food or toiletries, excursions and books to lessen the impact of poverty,“ she says, adding that it’s a pleasure to work with people who share her passion and the challenge of inspiring more people to make a difference.

Mandy’s advice to anyone looking to a career-change is to “make choices based on what makes you happy and be true to your values”.

“If you do this you will find alignment between where you work and what you believe is important.

“Hold this vision even if you do not know how you are going to get there or what the job is because over time you will find yourself doing more of what is important to you.”

  • Find out more about Ardoch’s work in the community at www.ardoch.asn.au and support Ardoch’s current Literacy Campaign to improve children’s reading and writing in disadvantaged communities – in the National Year of Reading 2012, there has never been a more relevant time to support this important work. You can help to remove the barriers to education that poverty and disadvantage create to learning and literacy, by donating to Ardoch Youth Foundation today Contact 9537 2414 for further details on donating or volunteering.

About Di from the Y

Dianne McDonald is Executive Manager of Communications with YMCA Australia, and a parent of two primary school aged children, one with additional needs (Asperger Syndrome). She has a strong interest in sharing life's learnings with others.


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