"Leading with both head and heart": Q&A with Christian Super's new CEO February 2018

Ross+piper

In a Q&A brimming with hope, optimism and faith, we hear from Christian Super's new CEO, Ross Piper, who shares his plans for the role and his impetus for joining the fund. Having previously worked at World Vision, in various roles and locations around the world, Ross also recalls some highlights and lessons learnt, including his belief that "economic opportunity sits at the heart of broader community wellbeing" and that there is innate resilience in the human spirit.

What was the impetus to join Christian Super?

I’ve been a fan of Christian Super for some time, and my own values and faith are closely aligned with the values and impact focus of Christian Super. As someone who has worked across the commercial/not-for-profit divide throughout my career, I believe there is a compelling opportunity to more effectively leverage capital markets for positive social and developmental impact around the world, and Christian Super’s focus on impact investing space was a strong motivating factor for me. It’s also great to come on board and lead an organisation with a track record of strong performance and impact, but with significant scope for growth.

What are your long and short-term plans for this role?

In the short term, the immediate focus is getting to know the team, the organisation and the sector. Reviewing strategy, operational performance, team capabilities, culture and current focus areas/initiatives are obviously all important elements of starting in a new role. Likewise, to commence engaging with key partners, sponsors and external stakeholders will be an initial focus.

I look forward to engaging with peers across the sector over coming months at various industry gatherings. In the longer term the primary question is how we can continue to grow well and serve our existing members with excellence. It’s critical that we are building the right organisational capabilities, culture, systems and processes to enable scaleable growth. Digital will be an important focus for us, and there is a significant opportunity to grow our work and influence in the impact investing space. I’m excited by the opportunity to lead Christian Super for the coming season.

Can you tell us about a highlight of working as World Vision Australia’s COO?

World Vision is a great organisation, and I’ve been privileged to work with WV at various points in my career, both in Australia and in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. As a large NGO, World Vision’s work spans the full continuum of activity from emergency relief in places like Syria, Iraq, Somalia and South Sudan, through to long term development programming across more than 100 countries around the world.

For me the highlight of this work was always in the area of economic development, where we were involved in partnering with communities to develop sustainable businesses and livelihoods opportunities. There is something profound and powerful about the dignity of economic development, where communities themselves are driving their own destinies, rather than being passive recipients of aid. I firmly believe that the best entrepreneurs are located in the developing world, and often it is only a lack of access to capital or related infrastructure that impede sustainable economic growth. Economic opportunity sits at the heart of broader community wellbeing, and is linked to all the other areas of health, education, and social function.

"There is something profound and powerful about the dignity of economic development, where communities themselves are driving their own destinies, rather than being passive recipients of aid."

During your time at World Vision you also worked as a Senior Director of Operations for the Middle East and Eastern Europe, based in Cyprus. What did you gain from this experience?

The years spent in Cyprus were a very rich time of learning and growth, both professionally for me and personally for us as a family. My role involved strategic and operational leadership of World Vision’s programs across 13 countries in the region, with operating contexts ranging from Afghanistan and Pakistan in Central Asia, the Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia), the Balkans (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Serbia, Romania) and the Middle East (Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Israel/Palestine).

Across these countries we had over 2500 staff, working in sectors ranging from emergency relief, health, education, advocacy, economic development and microfinance. The biggest lesson I learned in this role is that every community or organisation has assets, even if at face value these may not be evident. I was privileged and humbled to work with communities and staff doing remarkable things in very challenging situations of poverty or insecurity. There is an innate resilience in the human spirit, often informed by faith and hope. It’s a powerful lesson in leadership to see this expressed in places where conditions are so challenging.

In your opinion, what are the qualities that make for an effective leader?

An ability to listen well, humility, a good sense of humour, and an ability to set a compelling vision and strategy, leading with both head and heart.

What’s the best piece of advice that you have received?

Someone once said to me that in any challenging situation you have two choices: you can kick into the darkness, or try and bring some light. It has taught me the power of hope and optimism.

What was your very first job?

Delivering medicines on my pushbike for the local chemist!

Who has had the biggest influence on your life or career so far?

I would say my father, for what he taught me and modelled in terms of faith and a strong work ethic, caring for his family.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I’m married to Sarah and we have four kids. Life is full at home outside of work, and this is a great leveller when you get home. It’s not easy to do work e-mails or phone calls after hours when you have four kids climbing all over you! I’ve also always had a strong belief in the importance of maintaining interests and balance in the ‘other’ outside of work, whether it’s sport, community or church. Running has always been an important outlet for me, although my knees are now starting to feel the years of all those pavement or beach kilometres!

What advice would you offer to your 21-year-old self?

Don’t be afraid to take risks, and look for ways that you can live beyond yourself.

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