September 04

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Hook Turns

Nearly all interstate and international visitors driving in Melbourne central business district (CBD) are completely bewildered by and utterly fearful of performing a hook turn, which is a right hand turn taken from the left hand lane.  Just to clarify, Australians drive on the left hand side of the road, so a right hand turn crosses against oncoming traffic ie. similar to left hand turns in the United States or Europe.  In Melbourne CBD, vehicles turning right and waiting in the middle of the street would blocking the path of the trams.  Thus, for specifically marked intersections, rather than waiting in the right hand lane to turn right, the vehicles move to the farthest left hand lane with their right indicators showing.  They move forward into the intersection, in the left hand lane, then stop.  They complete the turn when the traffic lights turn green for the road they are turning into.  At first glance, this seems counter-intuitive however hook turns allow trams and other vehicles going straight to continue without blocking the intersection.

When I first started my PULSE assignment at Save the Children Australia (SCA), it felt like I was taking a hook turn.  In my initial briefing about my PULSE assignment prior to arriving at SCA, I thought I was going to be working on strategy research for healthcare programs within Australia.  Save the Children have 3 global pillars – Health, Education and Protection.  Since I have a healthcare background, I was extremely interested in the global health area.  However, I questioned why there was a need for healthcare programs as Australia has a very good universal healthcare system.  With some preliminary research, I came to understand that the Australian healthcare system does not provide adequate services to specific individuals/communities with multiple risk factors eg. living in geographically remote regions, with disabilities, multi-generational disadvantaged, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations, new migrants & refugees.  I became very excited and was looking forward to working to improve healthcare access to those disadvantaged individuals and communities.  I was hoping to travel to some remote areas of Australia and meeting some of the individuals and families in the communities where SCA provides programs and services.

However, upon arrival at SCA, I learned that Learning / Education was the primary goal, with Health and Protection as supporting goals. I also realized that I would be working at the organizational level instead of individual/community levels for my PULSE assignment.  So, what am I doing at SCA?  I’m working in the Strategy and Growth team within the Australian Programs (AP) department.  The AP department provides programs and services to disadvantaged children, families and communities in urban and remote locations of Australia.  Examples of AP programs* include: early childhood development, transition to school, youth development, youth mentoring, parental/family support, domestic violence support, juvenile detection support, refugee and new migrant support.   I am leading a strategic work stream entitled “Operational Excellence”.  The key objectives are to improve ways of working within AP department (>600 staff members) and between AP and other SCA departments, and to improve AP business processes, systems and tools.  A high level overview of AP business processes include: identification of new program opportunities, identification of new funding opportunities, tender / grant submissions, new program design/development (eg. pilots), program delivery, program measurements & reporting and policy / advocacy.   During my PULSE assignment, I will be interviewing staff members to gather their ideas (eg. what currently works well, what could be improved and any recommendations for improvements), process mapping and providing recommendations for improvements.

Initially, I was disappointed by the change in focus but realized that I didn’t have the necessary skills / experience to work at the individual / family level and that work performed at the organization level can also have a significant impact.  Process improvements which enable AP staff members to become more effective and efficient have knock-on benefits to the individuals/families in the communities across Australia where SCA works.  My role at SCA is aided by my recent experiences at GlaxoSmithKline eg. project leadership / management, risk assessments, root cause analysis investigations and process improvements.  Even though my PULSE assignment is not as I had initially expected, it is actually turns out to be an excellent fit.  I have been provided with a fantastic opportunity to develop new skills, gain new experiences and strengthening existing skills.  I am extremely grateful to have this opportunity to volunteer at SCA and to help the AP team deliver their programs and services to the most vulnerable children, families and communities in Australia.  I am learning so much every day.  Turning right from the left-hand lane isn’t as crazy as it seems.

* See videos of SCA AP programs:

https://youtu.be/AuBpNy4lZ4c

https://youtu.be/_G_9E4klSNo