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Susan Brennan - President World YWCA article

Susan Brennan, President World YWCA
published: 06 Aug 2007 — 16:11 World YWCA

Susan Brennan, newly elected World YWCA President in July 2007

Susan began her life in the YWCA as a young woman leader on the board of her local association in Melbourne, Australia. During her time on her local board, the YWCA completed the renovation of its hotel, established and resourced a dedicated program for young women run by young women and witnessed a significant period of change in the culture, programmes and advocacy of her association.

She was recruited to the National Executive Committee at age 24 and was active in the development of a national policy framework to guide the advocacy of the YWCA of Australia, attended the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing as a young woman delegate for the YWCA of Australia and represented the YWCA in the drafting of an Optional Protocol to the Women’s Convention at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York.   

In 1997, she and Lynda Poke were elected Joint Presidents of the YWCA of Australia, the first time in its hundred year history that young women had served in the role. Together, they led the Australian delegation to World Council in Cairo; presided over a period of unprecedented growth in young women’s leadership; participated in important Australian policy debates including tax reform, reconciliation with indigenous Australians, constitutional reform for a new head of state; expanded the resource base of the national association; promoted a commitment to cultural diversity within the YWCA movement; managed a process of change in recruiting a new Executive Director; and were instrumental in building a coalition of varied women’s organisations in a climate of declining public funding and increasing demands on NGOs.   

At the international level, Susan led workshops focused on the elimination of violence against women at the World YWCA Asia Pacific regional meeting in Taiwan in 1997. Through the YWCA Middle Eastern Encounter in Jerusalem in 1999, she learnt about the resilience of the Palestine people in the face of dispossession and disadvantage and their commitment to peace with justice. As a volunteer in 2001, Susan supported the capacity building programmes of Oxfam International in East Timor after the vote for independence. In Hanoi, Vietnam she participated in high level discussions on poverty, religious tolerance and corruption with leaders in the South East Asian region convened by the St James Ethics Centre. She participated in the Global Forum in Guadalajara, Mexico organised by the Association of Women in Development in 2002 with over 1200 participants from 131 countries.  

As the co-chair of Australia’s planning committee for the International Women’s Summit at the YWCA World Council 2003 in Brisbane, Susan was instrumental in developing, organising and delivering the human rights hearings on peace with justice, violence against women, economic development and HIV/AIDS.   

Over the last four years, Susan has been an active member of the World YWCA Governance Task Force drafting committee, helping to articulate shared values, build consensus, resolve differences and encourage good governance through the drafting of a strong, clear Constitution.   

Most recently, she has been an invited participant in the recruitment process for the new General Secretary of the World YWCA.   

A barrister by profession, Susan has well developed legal skills, enabling her to understand concepts quickly, to advocate and persuade and to work with diverse teams to achieve success. In her work, she is focussed on sound and collaborative processes and on productive and sustainable outcomes.   

Through her voluntary roles in the YWCA and other community organisations, Susan has helped groups engage in constructive debates, make wise decisions, balance all relevant considerations and make sure they operate according to their principles, within their means and do good in the world. As President of the YWCA of Australia and chair of other women’s organisations, Susan has represented organisations to the public, key stakeholders, funding bodies and partners.   

Her professional work is focussed on the environment and the development of sustainable, liveable cities. As a graduate of the Vincent Fairfax Fellowship programme, Susan is one of a select group of young Australians to have participated in a unique ethics in leadership programme. This programme challenges participants intellectually, emotionally, physically and spiritually in exploring aspects of their own integrity. It is conducted over an 18 month period in remote areas of Australia, in the national Parliament and in South East Asian countries.   

Her voluntary work has helped her understand issues of:

  • gender and development (as a board member of the International Women’s Development Agency, a boutique gender based organisation which works with development partners in the Asia Pacific region);
    violence against women (as chair of the Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service Victoria which provides a 24 hour telephone assistance and crisis accommodation for women escaping domestic violence);

    human rights (as co-convenor of the Women’s Rights Action Network of Australia, a national and international human rights advocacy organisation);

    women’s leadership and participation in decision making (as co-chair and Trustee of the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre Trust, which runs programmes and activities for women to realise their full potential);  and

    volunteerism amongst young people (as board member of “goodcompany” which links young professionals with charitable organisations).

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