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No time like the present
Jacinta's work with a mental health charity is a great example of seizing the moment.
Time is a precious commodity, especially when you have a busy job and a young, energetic family.
Jacinta Munro, a Risk Assurance partner the Australian firm's Melbourne office, was accustomed to juggling such responsibilities. But could her heavy schedule cope with the additional demands of volunteering?
A few years ago she had to address this question after being approached by Lifeline, one of Australia's leading charities, which offers crisis support and suicide prevention services, primarily via 24/7 helplines.
“Lifeline had done its research and felt that my financial and risk management skills could be an asset to the organization,” she says. “As it happens, I had been thinking about the kind of world my kids would grow up in, and whether I could give something back to the community. But I also questioned whether this was the right time for such a move. On top of these concerns, I had no obvious expertise in mental health and had never served on a board before.”
At this point, Jacinta had a moment of clarity and remembered the guidance she often gave to others: to seize the moment.
“I realized that I needed to listen to my own advice and take the plunge. So I accepted the position.”
Her early days on the board presented a steep learning curve, as she recalls: “I had to bring myself up to speed on contemporary mental health issues, while also getting used to the organization and the specific role - all of which proved harder than anticipated. Even small tasks like learning new acronyms takes time. I had previously completed a course on how to be a company director, but theory and practice are quite different. I come from a consulting background where action is imperative. In contrast, when you sit on a board, you have to be more contemplative.”
As Deputy Chair, and Chair of Lifeline's Audit and Risk Committee, Jacinta attends a full-day board meeting every 6 weeks, plus several committee meetings.
“On top of this, there are various events, like attending Parliament House in Canberra to discuss public funding, meeting major sponsors, and attending fundraising evenings. These kinds of activities don't come naturally to me, so I was pleasantly surprised at my ability to stretch myself and face up to some of my fears. Getting out of your comfort zone can be invigorating.”
Jacinta feels that her charitable work has definitely helped her professionally. “I have a greater awareness and understanding of what it's like to be on a board; for instance, in the way that information is presented to keep directors fully informed. I now often put myself in clients' shoes and think: `How would I perceive this communication or that report?', which has made me a better consultant.”
Serving on a board has also had a surprisingly positive impact upon her family. “Prior to this, my sons knew me as either a worker or a parent. Now they watch me ploughing through financial statements in the evenings, and they see another side of me. It's opened up a completely different dialogue of meaningful conversations at home; the kids have become curious about Lifeline and ask me what I do there and why I do it. I'm hoping that my example will inspire them to volunteer at some point.”
Jacinta is appreciative of KPMG's supportive culture and practices. “The Australian firm has been very flexible in allowing me to work around my volunteering. So long as I meet my clients' demands and continue to give them the necessary attention and service, then I can take time away from the office and devote it to Lifeline. I typically return to work refreshed, having been absorbed in a completely different set of challenges.”
Reflecting on the time she's spent on a charitable board, Jacinta would highly recommend it to others. “Life's always going to be busy, so frankly there's no perfect time to become a volunteer. And you'll never have all the skills required, so be prepared to learn as you go along. It happened for me sooner than I had expected, but I'm really glad I took the decision to work with Lifeline. Our ambition is to make Australia free of suicide and it's tremendously rewarding to know that I'm helping us work towards this goal.”