Next week when I step aside as CEO, it will be almost 30 years since I wrote my very first letter to my federal MP – a garbled stream of consciousness fuelled by the fact that at that time, 40,000 children around the world were dying every single day from easily preventable and poverty-related causes.

My poor MP was the first person to feel my social conscience finally expose itself. Despite this young 20-something physiotherapist being someone who prided herself as being a global traveller for almost 2 years and mixing it with people in the poorest communities in the world, on my return to Australia I quickly settled back into a few years of my comfortable life and comfortable job with not a second thought for the different lives lived. Then, after months of fending off my housemate’s invitations, I went to my first meeting of a local RESULTS group.

It was in this middle-class lounge room filled with students and young professional types I was not only awakened to the scale and impact of poverty and inequity in the world, but I also discovered my voice and how to raise concerns with my MP – the person who before was just a name next to a blank box on a ballot paper at election time.

In the ensuing years, I wrote probably hundreds of letters, met with scores of MPs and Senators and saw my letters published in local and national newspapers. I spoke with friends, acquaintances and strangers about the global issues and the solutions at hand and how we, ordinary citizens, could help educate parliamentarians and influence decisions that could ultimately save lives and ensure that others had more of the opportunities like access to health care, education and a roof over our head that we usually take for granted.

After many years volunteering like this I became RESULTS volunteer CEO, running the organisation from my back room with small children (and their Lego) underfoot.  The organisation remained small but focused and sometimes (almost surprisingly to me) achieved cut through on issues like microfinance, child immunisation and tuberculosis. I became almost obsessed with the issue of TB. Our work on microfinance had shown that in the unlikely event that a women borrower defaulted on her loan, the most common reason was that either she or her husband had contracted TB. I then learned that because of our location in the Asia Pacific region, Australia was essentially surrounded by 60% of the global burden of TB.  

The low political awareness of TB became evident to me when a parliamentarian who then went on to become Prime Minister, described it (TB and particularly TB in Papua New Guinea) as a ‘boutique issue’. Not much about TB is ‘boutique’ especially given it continues to rate as the world’s leading infectious killer, with 10 million cases and 1.8 million deaths annually.

It was largely through RESULTS work on TB and the important and potential role Australia plays in the region as well as our slow but steady building of the organisation that attracted some grant funds from our sister organisation in the US.  This allowed me for the first time, after 20 years of volunteering, to draw a part-time salary and employ part-time researchers, marking the beginning of a new phase for the organisation.

We can all be incredibly proud of the achievements of RESULTS Australia in the ensuing years. RESULTS is without question the leading advocacy organisation on tuberculosis in Australia with a great reputation in the development sector and up and down the halls of parliament for focused, well informed, credible, balanced, professional and persistent advocacy. RESULTS has also made significant contributions to ensuring that key global health funding initiatives such as the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, Gavi the Vaccine Alliance and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative have had their funding maintained and even increased during a period when the Australian aid program has been cut in real terms by 30%.

And the number of child deaths? This has now dropped to 15,000 per day. Still, too many children and their potential being lost, but huge progress has been made in the world and RESULTS globally has played a role in that.

It has been a huge honour and privilege for me to work with so many talented and committed staff, volunteers, Board members, parliamentarians, international partners and stakeholders. After 13 years as CEO, I am ready to move to the ‘next phase’ of my engagement with RESULTS. I will still continue to be a regular donor, I will still be looking for an opportunity to pen a letter to the editor and I will still write to and meet with my Federal MP (lucky him!).  

The ‘next phase’ of RESULTS has also begun and I’m confident it will go from strength to strength led by our new CEO Amelia Christie. May the words of 20th-century anthropologist, Margaret Mead continue to inspire us all in this important work:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Yours in partnership.