Straight Up: interviews with backbone leaders: Matthew Cox

Matthew Cox is a backbone leader for Logan Together, one of Opportunity Child’s partner communities situated in Queensland.

After chairing the working party that established the Logan Together initiative during 2014/2015, Matthew was appointed its Director in July 2015. Matthew previously spent a decade at the Australian Red Cross, heading the organisation’s human services and community and economic development program in Queensland.

Matthew has particular experience in applying collective impact methodologies in the local context, and is our latest backbone leader to be interviewed for this series.

What drew you to be a backbone leader in Opportunity Child’s collective impact movement?

It seemed to me that much of social investment and much of the work we did in the social services industry was really just aimed at making poverty and social exclusion less unpleasant.  There was not nearly enough focus on ending it.  At base, Opportunity Child’s work is about making lasting social change.  Who wouldn’t want to be involved?

What are the challenges you face as a collective impact backbone leader?

There are too many awesome opportunities and inspiring people to engage with.  Choosing where to focus and having to leave some things for another day is agonizing. Just awful.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I spend much of the day bringing people together around shared work, making agreements about how to move forward and describing to people where we are on our journey and how A connects to B.  Most days I’d talk to dozens of different people – parents, kids, health workers, teachers, social workers, Elders … and also very senior government officials and politicians.  No two days are the same.

What’s most rewarding about what you do?

Working in a planned way to understand community aspirations and do things at scale to make those aspirations come true.  I really think we can make a lasting difference on the things that matter to people and make for a good life and that is pretty exciting.  I love ideas and possibilities and every day is just filled with those two things.

If you had to start over again, what would you do differently?

I’d get a standing desk.  I’ve put on about 10kg since I started this job and it’s really annoying me. Oh, and I think we probably tried to do too much too fast, so a bit more focus from the start next time round.  Having said that, having a pretty broad canvas was important as a way for a great range of people to see their priorities reflected there, so maybe craziness just comes with the job.

How do you exert influence in your role?

I talk to people about the big picture and how change is possible and also how to take the first few steps.  With that perspective barriers drop away.  Collective impact projects focus on achieving things that unite people and they offer a tangible, realistic pathway towards achieving common goals.  That is a powerful motivator for change.

Where have you seen early wins that have potential for long term systems change?

We are doing some great work across the early life course.  We’ve had a big win with a new community based model for maternity and child health services just recently.  We’ve done some great work with our partners around Indigenous early childhood engagement and kindy attendance and also in the early childhood and transition to school space.  I’m really excited about our community mobilisation work and social marketing campaign which I think will get thousands of people involved. At a more systemic level we are mapping all social investment flowing into our community from the three levels of government so we will soon have an unrivalled insight into how resources are used in our community and how they might be better aligned.

How has your partnership with Opportunity Child (OC) supported your work – what is the value for Logan Together in your partnership with a national initiative?

There are some things it really is hard to do as a single, isolated community project.  So having a national umbrella initiative to work with us to influence, link research, develop shared resources and connect us with terrific learning and networking opportunities is irreplaceable.  It would be a much lonelier more precarious existence without OC.

What inspires you?

People who have had none of the privileges and life opportunities that I have had and who nevertheless are so full of humour, hope and a determination to make a great life for themselves and their families.   Logan is one of the most diverse communities in Australia and there is a big migrant and refugee community here.  It’s also at the centre of one of the largest populations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia.  I’ve only latterly realised that most Australians don’t get to meet folks from these backgrounds or hear their stories.  I feel so lucky to have this extraordinary life opportunity.

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