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Outgoing CEO looks back at his 13 years at the helm

“New leadership brings new energy.”

This article was originally published in the November Third Sector magazine.

Outgoing CEO of the Fred Hollows Foundation, Brian Doolan has spent 13 years on a mission to end avoidable blindness, his passion stemming from his grounding in social justice as a child. As a result, he has helped make a significantly positive impact for some of the world’s poorest individuals.

He first started working with homeless people in the inner-Sydney suburb of Redfern and then worked with a range of Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal organisations around Australia.

“Over the past 20 years or so I have been working in international development,” says Doolan. “What I found is that I am Incredibly excited to be a part of a global community that does not accept inequality – that is what has really encouraged me in my career in the NFP sector. My strong foundation in social justice has led me to so many wonderful organisations.”

While incredibly proud of his 13 years at Fred Hollows, he announced earlier this year that he will step down as CEO on the 31st December. “It is the right time,” he says.

“The organisation is in a wonderful place with good strategy. There is a fantastic management team in place, good global skills and a great board. I think it is exactly the right time to leave. I am choosing to go out at the top.

“It is time for renewal. It is all because it is going so well and because it has been so successful that it is the right time to leave.”

Doolan believes that new leadership brings new energy. While it is a mistake to leave too early, it is also a mistake to hang on too long.

Considering options

Reflecting on his time at the organisation, he says he was drawn to Fred Hollows’ mission of ending avoidable blindness. Doolan is not sure what he wants to do next, but will be looking for opportunities, even if only part time.

“I am not jumping into anything quickly. The best advice I have been given is not to make a decision too quickly but to have some time to myself to re-evaluate. There are still many things I want to accomplish in the NFP area, such as investigating alternative finance as well as shared value in the private sector. I am considering all my options and am not going to rush into anything.”

Meanwhile, he will be doing some work with the Fred Hollows board, which has asked him to help it with international development for the next couple of years.

During his career in the NFP sector, Doolan has noticed that government relations are not strong. “The government strives to enter into dialogue and strategise with the for-profit sector. There is not the same level of effort going into the NFP sector,” he says.

“The voice of the NFP sector has not been heard. The government has failed to realise the potential of tapping into the millions of people who volunteer. The government has failed to see the potential of people who want better circumstances and who want to do good. Somehow we need to fix that.”

Doolan believes the problem can be solved. “I’ve had the privilege of working with powerful people to achieve incredible goals. Our organisation has reached and helped up to 70 million people. It is an incredible privilege to be part of an organisation that enjoys such enormous support from the Australian public, and in many ways has become one of the most well-known and loved Australian charities.”

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