On the 29th of June the Board of SeeBeyondBorders Australia appointed Colm Byrne as the CEO International Operations in succession to our co-founder and CEO Ed Shuttleworth. Below, Colm reflects on the exciting opportunities ahead for the organisation.
It is said that change is a constant and that is certainly true at SeeBeyondBorders. Following on from the work of our co-founder and first CEO Ed is an honour. To live up to the legacy he and Kate created is both challenging and inspiring.
Change is rarely one-dimensional and never sustainable if driven by just one person in isolation. Our focus has always been on the collective over the individual. My leadership of SeeBeyondBorders comes at a time of great change and turmoil in the world economy and social order. Cambodia is still feeling the effects of the Covid Pandemic where schools were closed for much of the period. Since 2020 we responded to Covid with a necessary consolidation of our base to ensure we could build back as the pandemic recedes. I am satisfied we have achieved the first part, but the greater challenge now is to emerge stronger and more sustainable than ever. The reality is that while our funding decreased over the period the need for our work has never been more important.
These isssues are the context and backdrop to what we are setting out to achieve in SeeBeyondBorders, as part of our Strategic Plan. We have three strategic priorities:
- to improve children’s learning outcomes
- to become a recognised centre of excellence, for education; and
- to strengthen our organisation to secure both the staff and funding we need to make a meaningful impact.
While these priorities are new, our foundation is firmly rooted in the ethos of the entire Cambodian Team – a focus on quality and substance over cosmetic change and a targeted investment in people, partnerships and technology to drive success. Going forward we will continue to draw on international and local expertise to drive an evidence based approach to what works. We will continue to fundraise for what is needed to achieve our objectives and resist designing programs to merely fit funding opportunities.
The Strategic Plan also signals an evolution towards what is often called ‘localisation’ and the ‘de-colonisation of aid’. I am optimistic about the potential of shifting the centre of control within the SeeBeyondBorders family more firmly to Cambodia. This for us is a practical opportunity and challenge – namely how to develop and enlist the critical mass of talent we already have in Cambodia over the next two years.
We are in the process of establishing a local NGO – Vithei Obrum – as part of this evolution. My appointment as CEO of International Operations demonstrates a commitment to an altered but essentially strengthened international configuration working in close partnership between Vithei Obrum and the independent supporting entities in Australia, Ireland and the UK that are absolutely essential to any success here in Cambodia.
All of this will evolve over the next period as part of a Cambodia-driven change process. With it will come positive changes and the strengthening of accountabilities. We will work across countries to ensure a unified vision and to communicate coherently and responsibly.
SeeBeyondBorders, like many other international NGOs, is facing heightened challenges in fundraising and making our case for support in an increasingly competitive funding environment. All our efforts described here are in the pursuit of the viability that comes from strong funding partnerships both with the international aid community, such as ANCP, Irish Aid and FCDO, and also strong partnerships with private funders and supporters.
As our existing supporters, I, SeeBeyondBorders and the children of Cambodia need your continued support so we can evolve to the next stage. Together we can do something meaningful for the betterment of Cambodian children and the communities we work with. Together we can create real and lasting change through education. Together we can do something special. What a gift, opportunity and honour that is.
CEO International Operations