Dara Read studied the Graduate Certificate in Social Impact at CSI UNSW and received the GCSI Board Scholarship in 2019.
At heart, Dara Read is a problem solver, interested in ensuring systems – and in turn the lives of the people impacted by those systems – are more efficient, equal and fair. She is currently in an executive project officer role at Legal Aid NSW, an organisation she has continued to come back to in between stints at the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), and as a policy advisor to the NSW Government.
“I see Legal Aid as a place that does a lot of justice-doing work and that coalface social impact work,” she explains.
“Helping people to solve legal problems connected to the most essential parts of their lives: their housing, liberty, livelihood, safety and family.”
Over the years, Dara’s shifts between client facing roles and project-based positions , has allowed her to tackle the issues she sees in the justice system, in different ways. And at different angles.
“For example, I don’t think the challenges that young people in out of home care face when they’re trying to get bail are fair,” says Dara.
“So, I went to work on the bail review of the NSW Law Reform Commission to try and do something to change the bail laws, and then it was back to Legal Aid.”
Enrolling in the Graduate Certificate of Social Impact at CSI UNSW in 2019 was about expanding her toolkit for addressing these issues, and she was thrilled to receive a CSI GCSI Board Scholarship for her studies.
“Having studied law and social inquiry undergrad, going into that first core subject on social enterprise was definitely different for me,” says Dara, referring to the elements of the course that are more business focused.
“But I got a lot out of and it pushed me to think in different ways. It’s really good in a rigorous academic environment to pierce your bubble, learn from other people and see things from other perspectives.”
The collaborative nature of the course was a highlight for Dara, though for her final project she took on an autonomous, self-directed project in her area of expertise – working with Just Reinvest NSW on the impact of school suspension on Aboriginal young people.
“We’ve got over-representation of Aboriginal kids in custody, and then you look at the rates of suspension of Aboriginal kids, and what kids and young people say about the impact of suspension on their lives, what community, what families say about that; there’s a lot of opportunity to do some work that really makes a difference.”
Having completed her official project with Just Reinvest NSW last year, along with her Graduate Certificate, Dara is still in touch with the organisation and hoping to remain involved in the working group, believing this is an area where they could “really move the needle and create change.”
Dara’s passion for social impact and change has been a consistent presence throughout her life.
“I think that a lot of it came from my upbringing,” she says. “My mum has done really hands-on work where she’s turned up to support refugees in detention. And my dad also brought me up to be excited about being able to create change. Then, my undergrad education taught me to develop a level of critical consciousness about the world.”
Dara reflects that when she was younger, she was more concerned with ‘helping people,’ but that she now sees her work as being about ‘justice-doing’, about collective impact and a personal responsibility to address the injustice you see in the world.
“I studied collective impact in the Grad Cert and that was amazing because it brought a lot of things together and provided a framework that talks about cross-sector, community-led, grassroots solutions to problems.”
“I think the ‘headline’ things I learned were about systems thinking and the value of systems leadership. I have a new understanding of leadership being less about innate qualities that you might have, and more about values and capabilities that you can learn and build upon in your life.”