Dr Kylie Heneker, the newest member of our Board of Governors, shares several traits in common with our founder Dr William Wyatt. Not only does she have a deep connection to South Australia and a wish to help those doing it tough, but her family history also stems back to the earliest days of the colony.
“I’ve been a life-long South Australian,” Kylie says. “And in fact, the Henekers were among the earliest South Australian families with one of my ancestors, James Heneker coming here in 1839 – just two years after Dr Wyatt.
“I’m not sure that they would’ve been in the same milieu,” she chuckles, “but we do have a long history and South Australia is my absolute heart place.
“One of the things I love most is the progressive aspects of South Australia’s history such as education reform and being the first to give women the vote in state elections,” Kylie continues. “We need to rebuild the momentum I think of South Australia being a thought leader in terms of social reform.”
In this recent chat, Kylie shares her thoughts about the challenges facing South Australia, the things she admires most about The Wyatt Trust and what she hopes to contribute during her time on the Board of Governors.
Can you tell us about your professional history and how you’ve ended up where you are?
KH: I’ve been very fortunate to have had quite a diverse career. I started in academia while undertaking my PhD and I was teaching Australian politics and political theory, which I loved.
I taught at Flinders University and Adelaide University for eight years, then ventured into politics where I worked for a minister on and off for 10 years, first as an adviser and then as chief of staff. The minister I worked for had a huge reform agenda and it was a valuable opportunity for me to learn how to make change happen and to work collaboratively with the public service.
Since then, I’ve had my own consultancy which works across the non-government and government sector, specifically doing values-driven work in human services and community services.
I’ve also had several board appointments including a government statutory board in skills and training, an industry board and a community sector board; but this is my first foray into philanthropy, and I’m really excited to be part of it.
What was it about Wyatt that attracted you to join the Board of Governors?
After working in government for a long time and seeing the restrictions and constraints there can be on providing assistance or delivering the kind of interventions that can really benefit people across multiple departments, I’m excited about the freedom and potential to create change in philanthropy. While governments come and go with the electoral cycle, philanthropy has the freedom to innovate and the potential to build long-term support for people.
I was also attracted to the history of the Trust. I find it really fascinating, that tension between honouring the intent of its founder but also making sure it’s meeting the needs of the current population.
Which of the issues that Wyatt works to address are most important to you?
Ensuring people have what’s needed to make the best life possible. For me, education is key in achieving that. Education is transformative and it’s the great equaliser.
I’m passionate about all aspects of education and equity and access. And that’s not only primary and secondary education, but training and skills and the various ways people can learn and develop – I really think it’s pivotal to breaking down inter-generational disadvantage and poverty.
Wyatt’s also been doing interesting work on autonomy and choice in grant-making, allowing people to decide what they need for themselves, and working to understand what that tells us about key points of intervention and the current structures that surround poverty.
What do you hope to contribute/achieve in your time on the Board?
What fascinates me is the question of how we elevate individual grants to try and create greater social impact and extend the impact of The Wyatt Trust. Structural change is always the holy grail and to achieve it we need to challenge that mistaken idea of poverty being an individual problem, rather than a systemic problem.
I’m also interested in what I see as the three elements of social impact: making sure any intervention and support is meaningful, trying to take that impact beyond individuals to families and communities, and to make it sustainable. Empowerment and enabling people to gain a sense of control over their own lives is very important to me.
I work with a lot of not-for-profits and I can see how Wyatt is already collaborating and partnering across the sector. I hope I can help with my connections in each area to integrate further across the government, not-for-profit, and academic sectors. There’s real power in collaboration and working out how we’re all co-contributors to creating change is essential.
I think that philanthropy has become an increasingly important part of that equation and I’m excited by the way Stacey and her team are pushing the boundaries there and trying to bring lived experience into that collaboration as a way of creating meaningful, sustainable change for people.
Over the last couple of years Covid has exacerbated the sense of disconnection and isolation many people feel. The work Wyatt has been doing to support the establishment of Foundation SA has huge potential to empower the average person to get involved in giving. There are a lot of people who want to give, and this vehicle can be something that’s inter-generational that you do with your children and choose causes you really believe in. In that way, I think philanthropy can be an important vehicle for more people to have greater connection and involvement in their community and in driving positive change.