Updated: May 10, 2019
This morning I woke up and did the usual. What's on the to-do list? I looked out the window and it's clear blue skies. Finally! This wet season has gone on forever. I allowed myself to drift and think about the wet seasons of years gone by, and then I found myself acutely aware of time.
Time has been a theme for me this year. Time is the one commodity in our lives that we can't get back. My 18 year old daughter was telling me yesterday about her future work options. She told me she still has plenty of time, and that, time is the one thing she has on her side. I remember feeling that way; when I did have a lot of time. I don't any more. Time is precious.
It was around this time of year in 2011 that we started GSL. I knew GSL would be reasonably big (I didn't realize how big the concept really was!) so I planned a five year roll-out that took us to 2016 - well that didn't work! I know the reason it didn't. It was market finances. The big flaw in the business plan was that families didn't have the finances to purchase what we wanted to offer. I applied for 'approved provider status' with government departments, wrote grant applications and did anything I could to attract finances. It worked to an extent, obviously or we wouldn't be here, the result just isn't cohesive. What I mean by that is, GSL could only grow according to the money we could attract.
At the end of 2011 we were lucky enough to secure three government grants. Two were written around the needs of school leavers with a disability, and the other was for a holiday program for kids in middle-school. These kicked off in 2012, but they were only one year grants. I turned a blind eye to the 'one-year' bit, and felt like we were taking off. It was happening! I was excited!!
We spent the second half of that year setting up therapy services - the true passion of my life and, what I thought to be, the foundation of the GSL concept. In 2013-14 we operated therapy services for children under 7 years of age, under the then Better Start and Helping Children with Autism initiatives. We had OT's, speechies, physio and psych's and we built a caseload of over 80 families. We should have been booming but we weren't.
We couldn't make margin. Every month more went out in wages than came in in fees - forget about covering overheads. We tried many different strategies to get more children through the door, but our pricing structure wasn't right. Each therapist had to bill at least 6 hours of every day to cover direct expenses. There was no room in this margin for all the cancellations we experienced every week. We couldn't bill if the child didn't show. I didn't think families would accept a fee increase, and the options of all the different group sessions we came up with just didn't make enough difference. Eventually we had to cease therapy. This was such a hard time for everyone involved; most of all the therapists themselves.
When this happened, it fractured the GSL model in my mind; it felt like we were trying to navigate a rudderless boat. We were just drifting. During this year we also lost a fighting battle to secure funding for our holiday program. What had been a success on all accounts could not be funded. It was such a year of hard knocks, or maybe it was just a year of initiation into the realities of being a social enterprise.
Even though there were these losses, we did see a pattern of more school leavers wanting to join our 'Hub' program. We had young people with School Leavers grants, funded by the then Disability Services, who were keen to socialise and learn all the life skills topics we were presenting in our sessions, together. Unbeknown to us, we had accidentally used the two one-year grants to seed a school leavers life skill program. Look at us - we'd done something right!
This has been our journey. Many losses and some wins. The challenge is making clear headed decisions. When money gets tight and what you desperately want to offer families in need just can't be viably done, head and heart go into battle. While this is all going on, it's a challenge to keep an eye on other, broader, targets. Note to self: align head, heart and eye - I'm learning.
So I think back to my initial target of a five year roll-out. We haven't achieved even 20% of that plan, but then that plan didn't include some of the stuff we are doing now. Those times were incredibly difficult and I'm sure we have many more to come. They may be hard, but they are invaluable lessons, so I don't take the knocks and failures so personally now. The very clever people at Spotify say we should fail fast so we can learn fast. As my daughter would say: 'Yeah boi; have we been on that ride!'.
So here we are. GSL is 8 years old and we are only 20% rolled out. I have never worked so hard or learned so much since starting GSL, but now it's time to get serious. I can see retirement off in the distance - way, way, way off. None the less, I am incredibly conscious that my time is finite and it makes me sad. I truly believe this is my legacy and I want to see our baby in her full glory before it's the end of our time together.