Queensland Kids: Harnessing the power of hope through networks

Using for-profit business thinking to stand out in a crowded not-for-profit sector, Queensland Kids CEO Paul Quilliam leads the inspirational vision for Queensland’s only children’s respite and hospice facility.

In Queensland, over 3,700 children are affected by life-limiting conditions. Sadly, the state does not have a place for these children and their families to be together when home or hospital care can no longer meet their needs.

With a population of 63 million, the UK boasts 49 children’s hospices. In stark contrast, Australia, with over 23 million people, has just two facilities. The closest hospice is more than 12 hours’ drive from Brisbane, Queensland’s capital.

Paul Quilliam recognised a critical gap after struggling to find adequate care for the complex medical needs of the children he and his wife fostered. With a motto of helping families and kids who need hope, he believes in 'enhancing the quality of whatever time a child may have left by empowering them to live joyfully and fully'.

In 2011, after completing a QUT Executive MBA (EMBA), Quilliam established Queensland Kids to raise funds to build Hummingbird House - a dedicated children’s hospice where families can receive world class medical and emotional care within a comfortable, home-like environment.

While simultaneously working on making Hummingbird House a reality, they are closing the gap now by subsidising families’ travel costs to an interstate hospice.

Leveraging networks

With the first two years self-funded, there has been plenty to do with limited resources. Needing expertise in everything from finance and human resources to strategy and design, Quilliam successfully drew on the talents of his MBA peers.

More than a dozen EMBA students and four lecturers have contributed to growing this from an idea to a sustainable and potentially scalable paediatric hospice model. Two fellow students from Quilliam’s own cohort helped form the inaugural board, with a team from the following year writing the business plan. Quilliam has maintained his MBA links, continuing to seek business advice and expertise from the cohorts that have since followed.

The MBA network has also provided a strong competitive advantage with a number of innovative micro-transactional giving programs already established with MBA connected corporations.

Applying commercial thinking

Quilliam believes Queensland Kids difference is in translating for-profit business processes to the not-for-profit sector. With over 20 years of industry experience Quilliam says, “ I have seen many organisations with a strong mission and community feel that lack the corporate sophistication required for scalability and effective use of resources on the critical growth path.”

An innovative hybrid business model was developed after examining the structures of other care facilities. Queensland Kids seeks peppercorn (no- or low-cost) leasehold opportunities and operational services provided on a commercial basis from nationally recognised care providers. The vision is that Queensland Kids will maintain strategic, operational and management control over the facility, including development of business strategy and plans, governance structures and comprehensive stakeholder engagement strategies.

With this model, Queensland Kids has been well placed to secure both government and corporate contributions. In an exciting development, the Queensland government recently announced a $5.5 million commitment, with the Federal Coalition matching this if successful at the upcoming election. This will be added to an additional $11.6 million from corporate and private donors working with Queensland Kids and St Vincent’s private hospital.

Leading with authenticity and integrity

The implicit power of unconditional acts of kindness and compassion underpin Quilliam’s decision-making and actions. His leadership is driven from a strongly held desire to serve others with integrity, authenticity and professionalism. Quilliam has learnt it’s about getting to the decision-maker quickly but having the patience to allow large organisations and government time to build confidence in the people and the plan.

Persevering through challenges

From the beginning, it has been enormously challenging, especially with the failure of another group’s venture just 18 months earlier still fresh in the memory of many stakeholders. With the right mix of courage, perseverance and patience, Queensland Kids went about the lengthy process of rebuilding stakeholder confidence. Quilliam believes the skills he acquired during his MBA played a significant role in developing a credible concept for a hospice which will be managed and operated with the required business acumen.

The model offers uncapped potential for inflows against a fairly fixed annual operating cost of $3 million. Inflows above the funds required for Hummingbird House will contribute to the development of future projects where the model can be translated to wherever the need for children’s palliative care exists.

Ultimately, the need is not unique to Queensland or even Australia but rather a global challenge. In the last six months, stakeholder relationships have been developed in India and China which would allow the Hummingbird House vision to be quickly and cost-efficiently extended to these markets.

Davina McCormick is Customer Engagement Manager at Energex and an MBA from Queensland University of Technology. She is also an AMBA Global AMBAssador. Davina won the Global AMBAssadors Challenge with this article, examining a successful social business story

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