As Sash goes forth
“Can we take some photos outside?”
When I ask for a photo to accompany this blog, Sashenka (or “Sash” as we call her) is adamant that I don’t recycle the photo of her “behind a microphone with a blazer on”. Since commencing her role as Oaktree’s CEO in January 2017, Sash has spoken about owning that we are young and portraying a more ‘youthful’ image for Oaktree’s external communications. Today, that means posing in the park and jumping on some playground equipment.
Sash is about to leave Oaktree for good. At 26 years old, she’s almost too old for the job. There’s no lingering at Oaktree, our structure requires all staff and volunteers to be under 27: it’s leave while you can before you’re asked to go.
“I grappled with [the age limit] when I first stepped into Oaktree. [But] I now know we’re stronger for it. It forces us to practice what we preach and holds us accountable to having young people leading this organisation. As a truly youth-run organisation we can do things others can’t - we think different, we are solutions focussed, we know the challenges young people face and we aren’t afraid of a challenge.”
After over 2 years in the role, Sash is reflecting on how she initially got the position. Oaktree’s previous CEO, Chris Wallace, reached out to her after hearing about her work leading young people at World Vision.
“I remember that day so clearly. I asked him what the opportunities were, what strengths I needed. I remember thinking, this organisation sounds amazing and the point it’s at is an exciting time where I know I can contribute.
“I told Chris if he saw my application it was because I was 100% committed, not because I wanted to see what would happen. This wasn’t just going to be a job for me, but an extension of who I am and how I choose to live my life.”
It’s not everyday a CEO reaches out and asks you to take over an organisation. But Sash’s breadth of experience in youth organisation leadership made her the perfect fit.
“I was a school mentor for World Vision and then I went to the UN climate talks with AYCC, and then eventually I became National Director for World Vision’s Youth Movement [VGen]. I then travelled through East Africa with Campaign for Australian Aid, collecting content, which prepared me well for Oaktree.
“I volunteered all the way through uni, for 6 years I did up to 30 hours a week, not because I had to but because I wanted to. I think that’s why I appreciate the work we do at Oaktree so much and know the value it can add to both the individual and society.”
Sash has seen Oaktree through some colossal changes. Under her leadership, Oaktree has undergone a Theory of Change that re-defined our long-term goals and gave clarity to our mission and vision. The revamp defined our niche in the wider international development sector and introduced a vital, stronger focus on youth empowerment, leadership and participation for more effective development outcomes.
She also led the organisation in introducing its revenue diversification strategy, advocating for a youth strategy in international development and implementing two new youth focussed projects internationally, all while seeing Oaktree through its highest employee and volunteer engagement scores!
It’s all part of her contribution to Oaktree’s legacy.
“We challenged ourselves to answer the question “what would be lost if Oaktree didn’t exist” and we now deeply understand our unique value proposition… we can articulate our impact and our role better than ever before. As a result, we’ve got new projects, new campaigns. We’ve got new grassroots strategies. We need to continue to own why we exist and challenge ourselves and our peers to create a more just world.”
Steering Oaktree’s growth has also taught her a lot about her individual leadership style.
“I always wanted to be more confident, but I understand now that confidence isn’t just about how you behave but about your conviction. To me, conviction is deeply believing in what you do. My conviction in the work I do has naturally led to my confidence - it isn’t coming from a place of ego, but from a place of truth.
“I know I love working with and through people, I know strategy is an area that energizes me and an area I have added value. But mostly, I know that a great leader is someone who builds up other leaders.
“Hard skills are important, because it is a complex role - you need someone who understands the NFP space, and knows what makes a successful organisation, who can manage high performing teams, and set a positive team culture. You need to be willing to come in and learn, to ask for help, but most importantly, be someone who is deeply passionate and a leader of conviction, who believes in the work that Oaktree does”.
Her unique blend of conviction and passion has seen her through four fundraising campaigns raising 1.2 million dollars, the introduction of a new Theory of Change, becoming the youngest ever member on the ACFID board (the peak development body in Australia), and countless keynote speaker events on behalf of Oaktree.
As she goes forth, does she have any parting advice for Oaktree’s continued growth?
“We need to keep listening. Listening to our [International] partners who we collaborate with, and listening to young people who come through the door, to make sure we continue to stay on the right path to achieving our mission of young people leading, demanding and creating a more just world.”