There were many moments in Mark Henley’s early career that could have directed him away from the community sector, but each time a strong sense of social justice stayed his path.
An accountant by profession, Mark spent time in Papua New Guinea working in the energy space before taking his first steps into the not-for-profit sector as Chief Financial Officer for the Spinal Injuries Association in 1989.
Within 10 years Mark was made Chief Executive of the organisation, driven by a passion harking back to his sister’s association with the Cerebral Palsy Alliance (the then Spastic Centre) when he was growing up.
“My sister worked there and I remember her asking our parents if a student staying at the school could spend a weekend with us because his family lived so far away in Rockhampton,” Mark said.
“So he came home one weekend and then my parents used to take him out every two or three weeks and he became part of the family for a while.
“So I had an interest there and I think it was sparked again when I worked as CFO then CEO at the Spinal Injuries Association, where I saw enormous change – it helped me get a better understanding of the impacts of spinal injury can have on a person and what it means more broadly.”
That same outlook has helped Mark in his work since joining Queensland Council of Social Service (QCOSS) as CEO in 2011, where he has helped foster a strong sense of purpose and direction.
“I believe we are clearer about what our role is as an organisation in terms of supporting people experiencing poverty or disadvantage, and putting in place the foundational pieces to ensure those people get the ongoing support they need,” Mark said.
“The challenge is about trying to achieve some of the changes, these foundational pieces, and ensuring they are a long-term shift – this takes perseverance.
“One of the biggest challenges is that the model that QCOSS follows – wanting to put power into the community – challenges the traditional ways that government would develop policy and the short term nature of the political cycle.
“QCOSS is best placed to help facilitate these changes, which really should sit outside the political space.”