Libby Davies : CEO of White Ribbon Australia
Libby Davies : CEO, White Ribbon Australia
I first met Libby Davies when we were both finalists for the Telstra Business Women's Awards. Her poise, dignity, and passion for the cause she works for humbles me completely. She devotes her time to campaigning against one of society's biggest travesties, and yet she never loses her warmth, her sense of humour, or her lust for life. I have the utmost respect for Libby, and sitting down with her to talk about what brought her to where she is was an enriching experience.
Discover more about Libby, and what drives her to campaign for social change.
In your own words, what is it that you do?
“I am the CEO of White Ribbon Australia, which is one of Australia’s leading social change movements engaging men, working together with women, to stop men’s violence against women.”
Favourite movie as a child?
“101 Dalmatians, or Mary Poppins”
“Oh gosh, yes! (laughs). My brother calls me the 'white tornado', which is something to do with the fact that I’m a clean freak- I love a very ordered, clean and organised home. I can’t stand untidiness, so I’m forever putting stuff away- so much so that my husband is continually asking me “where is it gone?!””
Morning person, or night owl?
“Definitely a morning person. I love the early morning, I exercise in the early morning, I love the fact that between now and the start of daylight saving you can still get up at 5 o’clock and it’s not pitch black. It’s my more creative, thinking time as well.”
Ultimate sin food?
“New York cheesecake. Only that which is made in New York! (laughs)"
Something most people don't know about you?
"I think a lot of people didn’t/don’t know that I had my own experience with domestic and family violence when I took on this position. Not in my own family, but 27 years ago one of my daughter’s very best friends was murdered by her father, who also murdered his wife (her mother)and her sister. This horrific event put the issue firmly on my radar. So growing up in a very secure and happy family myself, I think people didn’t understand or resonate with why I was so committed to this campaign. Also, most people don’t know that I was riding a horse at age three - most people think I’m a city slicker, yet I grew up on a farm!"
The nitty gritty.
What did you dream of being when you were little, and how has it stuck, or strayed, from where you are today?
“I was encouraged to very much be a person who considers and questions social justice and equality for all people. My mother was very focused on equality of opportunity, the right of all human beings to be treated with respect, and encouraged hard work. So, for me, making a difference was an extension of that. I have worked in fields to make a real difference to our social fabric. I started my life as a secondary school teacher, but during my latter years of high school, when I was trying to decide what I wanted to do, people were encouraging me to do social work. In those days women had fairly ’gender’ defined career pathways. I steered away from social work and went into my biggest love, which is geography. So I studied social sciences, geography and education at university and went on to teach. I particularly loved teaching adolescents, and this was my first step into where I felt I could make a difference. From teaching, I moved into social policy work at national level, particularly in education, and from there morphed into social policy and social change. The theory of social change always interested me, particularly the capacity of individuals to be drivers of social change.”
What motivates you to keep going every day?
“A couple of things. Firstly - an absolute belief in White Ribbon and what I’m doing. And I think I say this with a sense of humility that I feel I’m a strong leader working with an amazing team. Any effective leadership outcome is the sum of many parts, bringing people together, utilising the skills and talents of a whole variety of people to realise a defined vision and goals. Secondly, to see the results of our work, ensuring that based on independent evaluation, our work is making a positive difference. So alongside implementation of prevention programs that drive prevention and change, we are also embedding evaluation to ensure that what we are doing is actually working. I’ve been in this role for 7 years and White Ribbon has been a social change movement in Australia now for 14 years. This means enough time has elapsed to enable us to measure the impact of our work, and we are seeing very positive change which is brilliant.”
Do you have a support circle around you? Who do you turn to for guidance and support?
“Key is my partner of 42 years. We’ve always had a very strong, supportive professional relationship as much as we have our own private relationship. He’s an amazing sounding board for me. Plus, I have some lovely friends- trouble is some are in other states! I’ve had some amazing mentors, both men and women, with whom I’ve worked and who have taught and inspired me. For example, the current Chair of our Board is a very inspirational and delightful person. I feel very respected and have someone with whom I can sound out ideas and work through issues or problems which is great.”
What are the qualities you feel are needed, being a leader? Or, what have you learnt being a leader?
“Firstly a strong connection to the vision, you absolutely have to believe in and deliver against the vision. A good leader is very clear on vision, understands the pathways to achieve it, and motivates and drives the talents needed. A good leader is very tenacious, gathers the wisdom of many to help define their own wisdom and to ensure that the vision is well placed, well framed, and realisable. I also think a good leader is an effective motivator, we’re only as good as the sum of all the parts working together. Having drive and enthusiasm for what you’re doing and being able to convey that to others around you is important. You need to be a very good listener, understanding and hearing what other people are saying, taking critique well, and using critique to develop, monitor and evaluate. Humility is also very important. Some leaders allow ego to take over and a notion of power drives their leadership. That approach is fraught with problems. Leadership comes also from a passion born out of commitment, supported by sound knowledge and skills.”
If you went back to the beginning (when you left school), what would you tell yourself?
"You can do it! Telling yourself that you can be anything you want to be. You have to believe in yourself, develop yourself, utilise the talents and skills of others to assist you realise your goals, become who you want to be, and be true to yourself. Also I feel as a woman, you’re often made to feel guilty about balancing work and children when you have children, all part of trying to balance ‘5,000’ things. Don’t. Know that you can get good assistance, for example, call in a house cleaner, organize help to mind your children knowing that the right childcare enriches their lives and allows you to be your own person too."
What’s next for you?
“Well! I’ve got one child living in Arizona, USA, and the other child and my grandchildren about to be posted to Thailand for three years. So my husband and I will be spending a lot of time travelling between continents and spending more time with our family! When I eventually retire from White Ribbon, I’ll sea change to the wonderful bed and breakfast we have developed and open that up more. At the moment it’s being managed by my husband, also a sea changer. But I’m not going to step out of this work and just ‘retire’, I’ll always be actively involved in social change. I think I’ll be busy but it will be wonderful, as I move into the next phase and, not have to travel as is demanded by my current position. The travelling is constant which gets very tiring. So next for me is a sea change but with an ‘ongoing foot’ in social change.”
Libby and I had a traditional high tea at The Tearoom, QVB.
Libby's tea of choice: 'Fancy Sencha'