21 February 2024

Meet the Illawarra Women's Health Centre's new general manager – Ali Anderson

| Zoe Cartwright
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two women in a park

Ali Anderson (left) is the new general manager of the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre and will be taking on the executive director role when Sally Stevenson steps down later this year. Photo: Zoe Cartwright.

Sally Stevenson will leave her role as executive director of the Illawarra Women’s Health Centre later this year, after a decade in the role.

The timing felt right – much of her tenure as executive director was spent pushing for a world-first women’s trauma recovery centre to be established in the Illawarra.

The Illawarra Women’s Trauma Recovery Centre will spring into being, at least as an independent legal entity, on 1 July this year, and that’s when Sally will step down.

“I think my job regarding the trauma recovery centre is done,” she said.

“I’ve had a fantastic 10 years. It’s been a real privilege and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated working with women in our community and more broadly with the Illawarra community to bring greater attention to domestic, family and sexual violence and women’s health, but it’s time.

“We wanted to bring our community together and get the investment for this project and we did.

“We put together the establishment team and they’re preparing to open the doors this year, and that was my job and we’ve reached a real milestone.

“Now it’s time for me to hand over. And it’s important and healthy for an organisation to have a turnover of leadership, new ideas, fresh energy and fresh perspectives.”

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Sally will hand the reins to Ali Anderson, who has already stepped into the general manager role at the health centre, and will become the organisation’s CEO.

Ali’s background is in education and training, particularly around STEM, with a focus on women and marginalised groups.

In 2019, she was awarded Best Industry STEM Initiative at the EIDA Electronics Industry Excellence Awards for the Strong Women in Future Technologies (SWIFT) Program.

She’s also spent several years in general operations and management roles.

“This is really exciting, it feels like a natural next step,” she said.

“Sally is a tough act to follow, and the role is really multifaceted. Women’s health isn’t just about the clinical, it incorporates mental health and psychosocial determinants of health.

“The centre is really well recognised and trusted in the Illawarra and across NSW, and it’s because the centre doesn’t Bandaid women’s health issues, they address them at a systemic level and do a really good job of that.

“It’s really important for me to understand the history of the centre and its place in the community before I implement any change.”

Ali’s not short of ideas, though – she’s keen to see women’s health services expand across the region, including dedicated areas such as maternity, at the new Shellharbour Hospital.

She wants to extend the centre’s geographic reach and is keen to engage the broader community in the fight to prevent violence against women.

“It’s a whole-of-community problem, so we need a whole-of-community solution,” she said.

“We push into areas like wellbeing, advocacy, all different dimensions and areas that are uncomfortable for women to venture into. We want to make change at a local, state, federal and global level.

“I’d love us to be in a position in 10 years’ time where our services aren’t needed at all.”

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As for Sally, she’s not sure what she’ll be doing in 10 years – or 10 months – but she knows it will be in the social justice space.

And she’s proud of what the centre has achieved in the past decade, including securing a long-overdue funding boost.

“I’m so proud we’ve continued to provide a service that’s respected and trusted,” she said.

“It’s a constant grind in this sector, going up against our culture of acceptance of violence towards women and children that permeates our culture.

“We put together a business case for what we do: we reduce hospitalisation, we help ease the burden on GPs, we provide personal and cultural support, and we’ve got something like an 80-85 per cent return on investment.

“We were delivering the KPIs we were contracted to do with government funding on 50 per cent of what it should normally cost. [NSW Health Minister] Ryan Park read the business case and, as a pre-election commitment that’s now been honoured, doubled the funding to women’s health centres.

“It’s the first significant increase in 35 years.

“We were advocates for the criminalisation of coercive control and the decriminalisation of abortion.

“Looking ahead, I was on the ‘Yes 23’ Wollongong committee, and there’s a lot of work to be done there. I’m absolutely committed to raising awareness about Palestine, trying to prevent, however we can, the genocide that’s going on,

“I don’t have a plan for what comes next, but social justice is what I care about, nothing else drives me like that.”

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