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Delivering on audacious goals such as halving avoidable hospitalisations for asthma by 2030 is no mean feat, it is however the goal of Asthma Australia. We spoke to James Wright, Chair of Asthma Australia about how the organisation is driving systemic change in healthcare and working towards their vision of a community free of asthma. This article is a summary of that interview.

Asthma Australia is a for-purpose, consumer organisation with a history of improving the lives of people with asthma, and the peak body for people living with asthma. They work with health professionals, researchers and governments to deliver evidence-based prevention and health strategies to more than half a million people each year. Their purpose is helping people to breathe so they can live freely.

In 2017 a national organisation was formed, after all state-based foundations voted to merge into one, officially setting Asthma Australia up for their journey to the present day and beyond. The 3 years since then have been focussed on bedding down this national organisation, whilst respecting the heritage the of the past. This is demonstrated by maintaining a presence in all jurisdictions across Australia, including having senior leaders based in these locations under a distributed business structure. This internal focus phase was all about ensuring they hired the right people that aligned to the cause, a rebrand, strategic planning and goal setting and ensuring that technology, systems and processes were in place to support teams to prepare for the long and exciting road ahead. During this time the board recognised it too needed to transition, and mapped a thorough skills matrix to identify the criteria for the board members they needed, including diversity of perspective, gender, location and skills.

When Asthma Australia were searching for their new Non-Executive Directors (NED) they engaged People for Purpose to support them with a specific mandate to fill the gaps found in the matrix analysis. The Chair, James Wright, was clear that there needed to be a balance of cultural alignment, with lived experience, a passion for the cause, strong health and/ or business skills, among other key requirements. James states

“We couldn’t have approached the calibre of candidates that People for Purpose did, with our own networks. We recognised, from our skills matrix analysis, we needed to strengthen the board for the next phase of growth in the organisation. The process was seamless, with everything from the background briefing to the shortlist delivery and interviews was excellent, with the candidates presenting just as they had been described in the report. The team were very responsive, and it truly was a challenge to choose our final two Directors as the shortlist was of such high calibre and quality. I have already recommended the PfP team to others as I couldn’t speak more highly of them.”

It is the role of the board to support the leadership in attaining these plans and harnessing the amazing range of skills present on the board now. The members include health bureaucrats, medical practitioners, health data technologists, and business leaders who will leverage their knowledge of the health landscape, government and stakeholder relations, along with strong business and governance skills to deliver that support. The board need to strike the balance between alignment to their cause, effective operations, getting the customer experience right, and delivering the strategy to ensure the needs of their beneficiaries are met, whilst understanding the complex health ecosystem in which they exist. The organisation has taken steps to ensure they really get to know their beneficiary including forming two advisory boards consisting of both professional and consumer advisors, to offer a direct voice to the leadership team and board.

The organisation aims to support all people with asthma as they drive towards their goal of halving avoidable asthma hospitalisations and deaths. To achieve this, they are conducting research to better understand the factors contributing to hospitalisations and to identify how best to prevent recurrences. The team recognise that not everyone’s asthma is the same, but 80% of the 400+ cases are considered to be preventable, and by working on pilot programs with patients, families, healthcare professionals, government departments and the community to capture and analyse large amounts of data, and to innovate and test new approaches, they hope to deliver personalised, more effective solutions and to advocate for requisite changes at a systems level..

The next steps of the journey involve leveraging information and insights to drive future strategy so that the organisation can further focus its efforts on those areas where the potential for impact is greatest, with a view to ‘shifting the dial’ and reducing the burden of disease asthma currently places on so many Australians.

More information on Asthma Australia.

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