How Nicole Yade’s AGSM learning experience pathway is helping to shape Sydney’s only women’s daytime refuge

As the General Manager of Lou’s Place, Nicole Yade wanted to improve her leadership skills to better help vulnerable women in need. Nicole is now using the frameworks from her AGSM @ UNSW Business School Certificate in Executive Management & Development (CEMD) to help the organisation prepare for a brighter future.

Nicole’s sense of social justice blossomed at a young age in the Western Sydney suburb of Blacktown.

“A lot of people in my community didn’t have the same opportunities as others in Sydney, even though we lived in the same city,” she says. “I always knew people from Blacktown had just as much to offer, but because of poverty or lack of education, they didn’t seem to get the same chances as others.” 

Nicole started in not-for-profit trauma services more than 20 years ago. She has worked extensively with a range of people in need, including refugees and asylum seekers – including those in immigration detention – and survivors of childhood sexual abuse and domestic violence.

In 2017, she saw an opening for the General Manager position at Lou’s Place, Sydney’s only daytime women’s refuge. Nicole says the all-women’s service aligned with her values.

“If you can improve the lives of women, women will then improve the lives of children and families,” she says. “The impact we make becomes amplified.”

Since then she’s used her vast NFP experience – and what she learned through AGSM Certificate in Executive Management and Development (CEMD) program – to guide Lou’s into its next chapter.

Getting women back on their feet

Based in a Kings Cross terrace since 1999, Lou’s is what Nicole calls “an old-school drop-in centre” open to all women. It’s a place where women dealing with poverty, homelessness, abuse, addiction and mental illness can get help. 

In addition to a free daily breakfast and lunch, visitors can meet with case managers to set and work toward goals or receive counselling. Daily activities span everything from art and music to resume writing, massages and physiotherapy.

Lou’s seven permanent staff members and approximately 100 volunteers help as many as 60 women a day – all without regular government funding. 

“We’re grassroots, so we can be really independent and driven by the needs of the people we serve,” Nicole says. “We can meet them at their point of need and work with them for as long as they’d like. It’s very person-centred.”

Sharpening her skillset 

Nicole hit the ground running after joining Lou’s in 2017, getting her head around the organisation and identifying service gaps. 

But to really improve Lou’s, Nicole knew she had to continue developing her own leadership skills. One area she identified that needed improvement was her negotiating skills to advocate for better agreements around food, supplies, service provision and donations. 

“I felt like I could push a little bit more – represent the organisation in a fair way while making sure we got the balance right and were doing what’s best for Lou’s,” she says.

So Nicole enrolled in the two-week virtual learning Negotiation Essentials Short Course at AGSM led by Noa Sheer, AGSM Adjunct Faculty. Here, Nicole learned practical ways to offer more value not only for Lou’s, but also the other parties with whom she is working. 

“It was such an inspirational experience, and Noa is such an incredible teacher,” Nicole says. “She teaches you to think outside the nuts and bolts and consider what extra value you can add to every negotiation.”

Continuing to learn outside the classroom

After completing Negotiation Essentials, Nicole “jumped at the opportunity” to accept a partial scholarship for the intensive, five-day AGSM General Manager Program (GMP) led by Matthew Byrne Program Manager and AGSM Adjunct Faculty.

It provided her with the practical tools for developing leadership strategies and enabled Nicole to network with other General Managers – something she had been missing.

“Lou’s is the smallest organisation I’ve worked in, and there are so many great things about it,” she says. “But part of what I miss is having other senior leaders to exchange ideas with.” 

The GMP let Nicole network and trade ideas with other senior leaders from different sectors and walks of life and hear about the challenges they were facing within their own organisations. 

“Discussing the importance of being authentic – being vulnerable, listening to others and acknowledging we don’t have all the answers – really helped ease those feelings of self-doubt and impostor syndrome that can creep in.”

But the General Manager Program’s impact on Lou’s has lasted much longer than five days. Nicole reached out to Patrick Sharry, a facilitator on GMP and AGSM Faculty, after finishing the course for some advice about the future of her organisation. 

“Patrick told us he was happy to chat about anything we might need in the future,” she says. “I took him up on that because at Lou’s we’re working on the future of our organisation and he’s a strategy expert.”

Patrick met with Nicole a few times to discuss her goals. He also brought two current AGSM MBA students to one of the meetings. They continue to work with Nicole, helping her create a new long-term strategy for Lou’s.

“I can’t just apply the strategy I used at one of the larger NGOs here,” she says. “You can use some of the same principals, but the ownership has to sit with the community the work belongs to.”

After raising nearly $5 million in its latest campaign – most of which Nicole says came from the organisation’s generous community of donors – Lou’s is preparing to move to a new, larger headquarters in Redfern. 

Nicole says the ongoing, pro bono strategic support from Patrick and AGSM MBA students is helping to shape Lou’s future for the better.

“It’s a great time to think about how we can maximise our opportunities while staying true to our mission,” she says. 

“We’re going to have a bigger home that can service more women, but what do the practical aspects of that move look like? And how can we approach and partner with some of the amazing businesses in Redfern to help us achieve our mission?”

Giving women in need the support they deserve

Just one course short of earning her CEMD, Nicole enrolled in the two-week virtual Accelerating Innovation in your Organisation Short Course. She says learning from Shanie Atkinson and Saul Brown, AGSM Adjunct Faculty helped her approach innovation from a different angle.

“So much energy goes into the frontline service delivery aspect, but the course got me thinking about innovation in how we work with donors, how we track information – all those systems and processes that sit behind the service delivery.

“It’s helped me to see that challenges aren’t difficulties, but opportunities – like starting our Always Mum program to help mothers work on their relationships with their children. When it’s safe to do so, we help them navigate the child protection and legal system to bring their children home.”

Nicole says she’s not done at AGSM. She’s going to apply for the AGSM Alumni Community Leader Scholarship and is considering enrolling in the AGSM MBAX program, specialising in Social Impact.

“AGSM’s online content is so user friendly and so well organised, and their support is so valuable and efficient, it’s just been so inspirational,” she says. “I’ve had such a great learning experience.”

Nicole says continuing her study is only fair considering the situations of the women who come to Lou’s. 

“These women deserve our best,” she says. “And it’s our responsibility to keep learning and keep in touch with research and other areas of development to make sure we’re delivering the very best.

“Anything we can do to be better – staying driven by that purpose and meaning in our work – is essential.”

To learn more about the AGSM Certificate in Executive Management and Development (CEMD), click here.

To find out more about AGSM @ UNSW Business School’s globally ranked Executive Education programs, click here

To find out how you can support Lou’s Place, click here.