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ANZSOG’s Executive Master of Public Administration helps Wendy Ah Chin build community trust

4 August 2020

News and media


Wendy Ah Chin headshot


A decision to take a year off after school before starting a teaching degree led Wendy Ah Chin to a stimulating, diverse and rewarding career in the public service.

At the age of 19, Wendy–who is now the Branch Manager, Business Operations, at the National Indigenous Australians Agency and Co-Chair of the Australian Public Service Commission Indigenous SES Network–took a job as a “pinkie” (now known as a nurse’s aide) at Katherine Hospital, in the Northern Territory.

“I loved it. I loved the camaraderie you developed with the nurses and the doctors but also the patients, so I ended up staying for a few years,” Wendy said.

The matron of the day encouraged Wendy to become a nurse but working in the hospital gave her a unique perspective.

“It got me thinking that, while public hospitals are always going to be an essential part of our public health system, why do we wait until the people are sick or dying? Why not try to intervene much earlier. It triggered an interest in wanting to improve the health of people much, much earlier, intervening much earlier.”

As a young Aboriginal woman, Wendy was struck by the disproportionate number of Indigenous people in the health system, so she enrolled in a health science degree majoring in health promotion and embarked on a career in preventative health in the Northern Territory to try to address the inequity she saw.

Twenty-five years later and she has now worked across health and Indigenous affairs in the Northern Territory and Commonwealth public services.

“We are just so over-represented in the public health and hospital system, and I have a professional and personal interest in that,” she said. “I always wanted to be part of the change that I wanted to see, and government is the place to do it.”

In 2017, Wendy completed an Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA) at ANZSOG, about the same time as she moved to Canberra to join the Commonwealth public service.

She believes the two-year part-time program gave her a range of tools to improve her performance and crystallise her thinking about the way she works, her leadership and the importance of building trust with stakeholders and colleagues. It also brought the authorising environment front of mind.

As an Aboriginal woman and a public service leader, Wendy said she must navigate two worlds.

“I have to develop credibility as an Aboriginal person with other Aboriginal leaders, but I’ve also got to represent government and that comes with both challenges and opportunities,” she said.

“The EMPA has helped me see the importance of building trust. Nothing we do from a policy or program perspective in government will work if we don’t invest in relationships – developing trust with community and with other critical stakeholders.”

It was equally important to invest in the relationships with her team and learnings from the EMPA informed her leadership style, summed up in one sentence: “There is no I in leadership, it’s all about we.”

“One of the EMPA assignments was around this notion of trust and how trust is pretty much fundamental to everything we do,” she said.

“This has spurred me on to focus on how I can develop trust with my team. It’s been really critical for my own development – the importance of trust and the importance of investing in relationships because without relationships it’s all for nought.”

While Wendy was already doing some of what she learnt, the EMPA helped her to better understand and articulate it. It also gave her a better understanding of the concept of public value.

“I probably loosely knew I was doing it, but it built upon my narrative and allowed me to have a much greater appreciation as a public servant about how we can best influence and have a greater impact for our clients,” she said. “What is it we are doing? Is this the best value for money? How can we add value?”

Studying among a cohort of senior peers from across Australia and New Zealand helped participants see their place within the broader framework of government and introduced her to the breadth and reach of what government can do.

As an Aboriginal woman in the public sector Wendy said she has often had to make sacrifices, but she is proud of her achievements, including:

co-designing the new Commonwealth’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Workforce Strategy 2020-24 (in partnership with the APSC (Australian Public Sector Commission)
the NT (Northern Territory) Department of Health’s inaugural Stakeholder Engagement Framework as the executive director of the Office of Aboriginal Health and Stakeholder Engagement
leading the development and implementation of the Northern Territory Public Service Indigenous Employment and Career Development Strategy
and developing an undergraduate unit focusing on Indigenous employment and economic development for Charles Darwin University, for which she also was the inaugural lecturer.

“I am happy and proud to work for the public service,” Wendy said.

“After school, I thought I had to have my whole career planned. If I could give any advice to my 19-year-old self, I’d say to that young girl – stop overthinking it. Most of what comes your way is through hard work and opportunity. As long as you’ve got good credibility that brings opportunity, so work hard and make the most of every opportunity.

“Also invest regularly into the bank of goodwill. If you make regular deposits, you’ve got enough there whenever you need to draw on it.”

Find out more about ANZSOG’s Foundation Programs

Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA)

A part-time postgraduate qualification developed and delivered by ANZSOG exclusively for high-performing public sector managers.

Executive Fellows Program (EFP)

A three-week program challenging senior public service executives working in the public domain to develop new leadership perspectives in a contemporary and highly interactive setting.

Towards Strategic Leadership (TSL)

A unique two-week program that helps public service leaders develop the qualities needed to thrive in a senior executive role: a strategic outlook, political astuteness, personal resilience and the ability to reflect and learn continuously.