An organisation with the energy to change the world

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Image: Moreland Energy Foundation Ltd CEO, Alison Rowe
 

Apart from it being the perfect Melbourne Spring day (sunny, windy, and with a chance of rain), I thought it appropriate to ride my bike to Moreland Energy Foundation Ltd (MEFL) for my conversation with CEO, Alison Rowe.

After having being swept down Sydney Road on a fearsome northerly wind, it was a relief to be welcomed into the MEFL offices by a different energy: friendly, calm and focussed. But rest assured, MEFL is a no less powerful force of nature.

That’s because the organisation has a visionforan equitable zero carbon society. And their rolein achieving that vision is to accelerate the energy transition by empowering communities to take action. It’s an ambitious pursuit that requires creative thinking plus determination. MEFL is ready to create that change.

A bright future

MEFL CEO, Alison Rowe, describes a visionary future where everyone has equal access to, and control of, energy, financing and health. Alison says, “We see the connection between energy and health.” She says that MEFL’s aim is to create a, “society that is actually a healthier one through energy efficiency and using renewable sources. (A future where) people have a thermally comfortable, healthy home. We know that if we have that type of home Australians won’t get as sick as often. We are likely to see improvements in chronic health conditions.”

It’s possible now to see that future. Alison says, “The energy system is changing. It’s moving from being a very centralised system to being a very distributed system. I don’t think we   know exactly what it’s going to look like in 2050, but it certainly will be an energy system that is far more digitised.” Alison also envisages a different energy ownership model that includes community-owned, and perhaps even local governments as retailers, and where there will be a different mix and scale of energy systems, including rooftop solar, utility solar and batteries, and hydro.

With their experience, knowledge and networks, MEFL are acting as a trusted educator, partner, advisor and service provider. Their job is to build partnerships that demonstrate what’s possible, to give the right advice, and make sure people have access to the information and technology they need to take action. As Alison says, “Everyone has a part to play in this transition and we must make sure no one gets left behind.”

But where do you start? And how do you know if you’re on the right path? MEFL have three new, clear Strategic Goals to help them navigate towards their vision:

  1. We create, demonstrate and share clear transition pathways to a zero carbon society.
  2. We increase energy efficiency and investment in renewable energy in Australia.
  3. We are a sustainable organisation.

Building on a legacy

MEFL was established in 2000 by the Moreland City Council, in response to the privatisation of the electricity sector. With the interest of the sale of the assets the Moreland City Council created an independent organisation to focus on tackling climate change and increasing renewable energy. Alison explains, “We still have a very strong relationship with the Moreland City Council, albeit it is quite different today. Now we’re a national organisation, back then we were working only in Moreland. We’ve just had the privilege of honouring Mike Hill’s legacy (The Mayor of Moreland in 2000) at our Spark Conference last week.”

The organisation has evolved over the last 18 years. Since Alison came on board as CEO in 2016, the team has more than doubled from 16 to 42 people, bringing with them diverse skills and valuable experience. Alison has a corporate background, and she combines her commercial experience with a strong desire to have a positive impact on society. Perhaps the most significant change in the last few years has been MEFL developing new partnerships in NSW and SA.

 

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Image: The Spark Conference 2018

The power of a plan to limit and to liberate

It seems like MEFL is doing exactly what it has set out in its Strategic Plan. Looks effortless doesn’t it?

But this time last year, things weren’t so aligned. The organisation’s Strategic Plan was due to expire and MEFL’s ambition had outgrown its current plan and vision. In order to succeed, MEFL needed a Strategic Plan that was broader and clearer. There were three limitations that the organisation needed to challenge:

  1. Being active only in Moreland.
  2. Having a focus on renewable energy without energy efficiency.
  3. Not having enough creative space to innovate.

The organisation formed a Strategic Planning Group, which engaged Midnightsky to work with the Executive and the Board, including a Strategic Planning Day in November 2017.

The planning day needed to articulate a succinct Vision and Role, and find agreement on the three limitations. Alison says, “If we didn’t get there on the day, we were probably going to lose three of four months in our timeline. And we definitely wanted our Strategic Plan to be ready for the new financial year.”

Alison describes the pivotal moment in the Planning Day saying, “There was this point of clarity, which was fantastic. It was when we all agreed on being a National organisation with influence internationally. To see the Board having that ambition for MEFL to scale up, it was absolutely pleasing and overwhelming. It was great!”

The excitement continued to build. Alison explains, “We don’t have a time limit on our new Strategic Plan. It looks so good that we’ve put in place a rolling review. We felt that our new Strategic Plan was so ambitious and everything in the market was changing so rapidly, that we wouldn’t put a three-year time limit on it.”

Whilst developing the full Strategic Plan, Alison used the organisation’s consultative approach to seek the input of the staff. She also met with key stakeholders, including the Moreland City Council Mayor and CEO. With MEFL changing its strategic position from working mostly in the Moreland region to becoming a national organisation Alison says, “That was an important conversation and a really fantastic one. Because the whole premise around goal number one is that we demonstrate and trial things in Moreland. So, whilst the name isn’t there (in the strategic goals), the connection to our heartland is.”

Measuring and managing success

At MEFL, each goal tracks its progress against objectives and KPIs. There is a Business Plan underneath the Strategic Plan that outlines the organisation’s projects and activities in relation to the goals, objectives and KPIs. A quarterly Business Plan review ensures that it continues to connect with the Strategic Plan. And an annual off-site staff planning day is another moment for the team to connect back to the Strategic Plan. MEFL is currently developing a three-year market outlook as another tangible outcome of the Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan directly influences which markets MEFL chooses to work with, where, and how; right down to the solutions and services the organisation provides.

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Image: The MEFL team. 

All hearts and hands on deck

At the heart of any Strategic Plan, Business Plan, market outlook or goal dashboard, there is a team of dedicated people creating the success.

MEFL’s third goal is to be a sustainable organisation. As Alison says, “A sustainable organisation has to be first of all our people, along with our financial  and environmental sustainability.” As well as measures of staff satisfaction and wellbeing, the new Strategic Plan defines measures around diversity, inclusion and flexible work practices.

Alison explains, “We have to look after our people so that we don’t get burn out. It’s a pretty open, highly altruistic workplace but really focused on delivery outcomes, changing people’s lives and making the world a better place.” “Everyone is connected to our new Vision because it’s really clear. And they might take that down to a level for themselves personally, whether that’s around renewables or working with the vulnerable members of our community, everyone has a different connection.” “Whilst we have probably changed a little bit about how we work, we now have a bit more commercial acumen, but without sacrificing our connection to purpose.”

The Strategic Plan was created collaboratively, and so too is the implementation of that plan. MEFL relies on its trusting and productive relationships with communities, governments and businesses to achieve its goals. MEFL’s partnership with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Department of Health and Human Services and Sustainability Victoria is such an example, and demonstrates the organisation’s commitment to link health with energy. One of MEFL’s roles is to retrofit 1,000 low income social housing around Victoria with energy efficient solutions.

Alison has big plans for MEFL. She wants to establish another MEFL office interstate in addition to Sydney. She wants MEFL to be at the heart of solutions, proving that they work and scaling them up. And she wants to build the leaders of tomorrow; people who can take the organisation forward.

As Alison says, “We don’t see barriers. We have all the same challenges as other organisations, but we don’t let them get in the road. We thrive on them. We get excited. We know when to fail and that’s part of our learning. We think that it’s a good thing. MEFL does so much, so we bring it back into focus and we celebrate saying ‘no’ to some things. We are all clear around the direction, the ambition, the level of excitement, the size of the problem, the fact that we’ve got a role to play, and that our role is really important. We’re not just thinking about the end of the project, we’re actually thinking about how achieve that vision.”

By Cressida Bradley

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