Inspiring individual effort enables the growth of leaders
Mr Tom Ristoski, Executive Director Strategic Partnerships and Exective Education, ACU; and George Tapo, Deputy Commissioner of Inland Revenue Division
On 17 April, 27 students from the island nation of Solomon Islands were recognised for an outstanding achievement that many believed was not possible. Their unique journey was one of extreme dedication, self-sacrifice, and pure drive, made possible by ACU’s Executive Education.
After an intense 18 months, these new leaders from the Solomon Islands Inland Revenue Division (IRD) will attend their formal graduation in Australia and receive their Graduate Certificate in Business Administration.
It’s clear that the course has not only provided significant learnings to each student, it has actually altered the students’ self-identity and perception of what is possible.
- Tom Ristoski, Executive Director Strategic Partnerships and Executive Education, ACU.
Some years after ‘The Tensions’ ceased, government services were slowly being restored and businesses were getting back on track. The Solomon Islands, and specifically, the IRD assessed what their next strategic stage of rebuild needed to be. Team capacity building was identified as a critical area of improvement for the department.
A formal training needs analysis identified a striking necessity for leadership development. Although good at their day jobs, leadership skill-sets and other capacity building needed to be addressed. The IRD needed a team of people who were better leaders and managers.
Ticking all the boxes
Sending a few individuals off to study in another country was not the answer – IRD found when individuals returned, they as a singular person found it difficult to influence change. IRD wanted a solution that addressed their needs most effectively, a solution that came to them, and provided all their line managers with an opportunity to study.
“We didn’t want to send people to another county. We wanted a solution specific to country, very tailored for IRD, and we wanted our entire managerial level to do the study – to achieve a bigger and more significant impact.” George Tapo, Deputy Commissioner of Inland Revenue Division, said.
Importantly, IRD wanted both a robust academic program without losing the practicality needed.
We didn’t want people to come out with a head full of theory that they weren’t able to apply back at their desks, and that objective was achieved nicely.
- Penny Cole, Project Manager
ACU Executive Education created a solution that ticked all the boxes. A postgraduate qualification with the right mix of units that was delivered in the Solomon Islands, face-to-face. Lecturers were carefully selected, teaching approaches were reviewed to best match the cohort, and assessment pieces within each of the units were developed to be relevant to participants’ day-to-day work life, while still achieving academic integrity and rigor.
And based on student feedback, it was a huge success, and a division first. IRD had not seen any training of that magnitude, at that academic level, before.
Success was also demonstrated in professional advancement with student Eric Saelea being promoted to the role of Acting Deputy Commissioner of Inland Revenue since taking the course.
Success meant overcoming significant issues
“Many people in our community simply couldn’t comprehend the difficulties these students had to overcome,” Mr Ristoski said.
Students were absolutely terrified at the thought of formal study, at a postgraduate level, and with a university. Most had no tertiary study experience and learning in English was a major barrier.
“IRD staff use English as a second language, so mentally they are first translating, and then absorbing the message being conveyed.
“With the help of their program manager students started a reading group where they attempted to figure out what some of the terms meant,” said Alyton Jamieson, past Commissioner of Inland Revenue.
Technology was also a major issue. Internet access was poor at best, and students needed to learn how to use things like an online university library. Not to mention access to at-home electricity which is an optional extra for many.
There were cultural issues to overcome also – students needed support and permission from their partners and families to undertake such a challenge.
A super-human effort, and much self-sacrifice, went into raising the money needed to attend their Graduation. For more than a year, students held fundraising events and activities every week to raise as much money as they could. For many, it will be the first time they have left the Solomon Islands.
And finally, their day of celebration is upon us. 27 amazing leaders and their support crew will shortly arrive in Australia, and achieve another first – walking across the stage to accept their university postgraduate qualification.
“It was a significant journey not to be underestimated. It has been a humbling and truly inspiring undertaking,” said Mr Ristoski.