From ComLink’s humble beginnings in a suburban Caloundra house, to a State-wide success story, the organisation has grown immensely over the last 10 years. We spoke with Feda Adra, ComLink’s CEO, to ask her about her decade long journey with the organisation and to find out what the secret formula is to growing a visionary not-for-profit (NFP).
You started as the manager of ComLink in 2004, when it was still called Caloundra HACC: What was ComLink like back then?
Our Office was in Caloundra; it was a little house. A grey little house, with grey walls, grey tables and chairs; everything was grey. It was a good group of people, predominantly volunteers who helped run the office.
What was the most difficult part of having a small organisation?
Wanting to help as many people as we could, but being limited by our size. We relied heavily on our volunteers who went above and beyond to help us, taking on so much more than volunteers should. We were fortunate to have met so many people that shared our passion.
How did you approach arriving at ComLink, having already experienced growing a NFP before?
‘My first and foremost goal was to earn everybody’s trust and respect and learn as much as I could about the organisation before making any changes’.
Once that was in place, how did ComLink begin to grow?
HACC grew to STAC when we realized we weren’t just Caloundra anymore. Incrementally we grew into the Sunshine Coast and then Queensland. I knew we had to diversify away from just the community transport and social support aspect of what we delivered. In 2016 we had our biggest diversification with care services branching into Personal Care and Domestic Assistance. And now we are a provider of Home Care Packages.
What was it like as the NFP sector became more professional? How did you plan for increased competition?
I believe when you run your business professionally, with a clear purpose and a great team, success will follow. At ComLink we run our own race. Concentrating on competition only blurs the vision and creates fear, which in turn makes us lose our focus.
Was there a moment during this growth when you realised ComLink was on to something bigger? A ‘lightbulb’ moment where the vision changed?
I never thought we would be the largest provider of Community Transport in Australia. However, I always knew we had a unique way of delivering our services and a team of people that love what they do. The vision for the organisation continues to be focused on our clients and staff. They are at the forefront of all our planning.
How did you ramp up our professional standards as the industry changed?
One thing we did was invest in was technology, but it’s not something that we market ourselves on. It increased our efficiencies and showed that we were up there for innovation.
Did expanding into regional QLD feel like starting another Caloundra, or was it an entirely different thing?
Definitely, a whole separate thing, because the regions are so different. They have different requests, issues in either transport or social support, and every region took us on in a different way.
What networks were the most important to you as ComLink grew?
Our key partners were the peak bodies we chose to work with and contributed to. They are the ones that created the great networks that we have. When I chaired the QCTIA and ACTA, the national body, the networks and people we connected with got our reputation out there to both government and its’ funding bodies.