A holistic approach to learning and care

After many years as a counsellor and numerous management roles across health and education, David Wild (MSW ’15) moved into his first Chief Executive role leading a unique school in the Adelaide CBD that provides
a holistic approach to education, combining student-driven learning with a focus on wellbeing. In 2023, David was recognised in InDaily’s 40 under 40 for making a positive difference for SA for his work in this area.

Now in early 2024, he has been appointed as CEO at Sunbury and Cobaw Community Health in Victoria. His time at Flinders allowed him to hone the skills he needed to make a difference in the areas of life that truly interested him.


Why did you choose to study at Flinders University?

Flinders was a unique offering – the Graduate Certificate in Loss, Grief and Trauma Counselling held great industry connections and the lecturers at the time were well regarded and engaged in the mental health, social justice, and human rights sectors. This Graduate Certificate evolved into my Masters of Social Work.


What did you do in the years following your graduation?

I graduated from my Social Work Master’s when I was living in Broome, WA. I was working for the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Services Council as their senior mental health clinician in the headspace clinic.

I then set out looking for a role that could bring my family back to Adelaide, which resulted in a role leading the drug and alcohol programs for Nunkuwarrin Yunti.

I continued working in Aboriginal health for a while, but then a unique and career-defining opportunity came up in the South Australian Education Department.

They had advertised for a group to lead the inception of a new statewide program called the Child Wellbeing Program.


How do you think your Flinders qualifications prepared you for the work that you’re doing now?

Within each subject, the major assignment was often free choice – so I chose to write my essays on the things that interested me, which were often quite unique areas to study. I think this prepared me for the range of different roles that I have held since graduating as it deepened my knowledge significantly in my interest areas.

I was able to apply the subjects or the topics and drill down deep on bespoke and unique interest areas, which I think further enabled me to have interesting career.

For example, I remember one of my major assignments was centred on the use of drumming and rhythm to help alleviate trauma symptoms in young refugee arrivals. There was another one on the legal aspects of mandatory detention of asylum seekers.

My experience at Flinders Uni helped me to apply theory into practice in my specific areas of interest. It helped me to remain interested in the things I’m interested in, and ultimately apply analytical thing.

You’ve recently taken on a new role as CEO of Sunbury and Cobaw Community Health

This is an opportunity again for me to broaden my skills, experience, and community impact. Sunbury and Cobaw Community Health delivers a range of health and community services with 200+ staff across 4 sites in regional Victoria. It is exciting, diverse, and furthering my skills. It has also offered my family the opportunity to relocate to a beautiful part of Australia, the Macedon Ranges!


Tell us about your time with the Specialised Assistance School for Youth

Specialised Assistance School for Youth (SASY) is a unique secondary school in the Adelaide CBD specifically operating to support vulnerable and disengaged young people that haven’t thrived in mainstream education because of complex mental health concerns.

To do that, we needed to do school differently from mainstream education, so we operated a school with 200 students with no classrooms, no year levels, no set timetables, and a very flexible and interesting way of engaging in learning.

SASY runs a range of different programs and individual learning opportunities, but essentially the whole format of what they’re trying to do at SASY is to put relationships first and everything else second.

We know that through authentic and safe relationships with young people, we can aim to support young people to overcome negative experiences experienced in mainstream education – that could be through exclusion, through bullying, through just not fitting in or the fact that they just needed more support.

We also see homelessness, domestic violence, physical disabilities and a whole range of different life experiences that led to these young people having anxiety and depression to the level where they can’t attend school anymore.

The aim is for young people to walk into SASY and go, “Wow, this is something that I think I could engage in!”

For example, SASY has a chef that cooks breakfast and lunch for students. There is coffee machines in the open plan learning areas. There are teachers and youth workers who work side-by-side – the youth workers aren’t just in the room at the end of the hallway in a little room.

My role there as Chief Executive was to help lead the organisation to deliver on it’s plan, now and into the future. From a strategic perspective, while I was there, we doubled in size – from the revenue, to staffing and student numbers, even the footprint in terms buildings.

We developed partnerships, for example with the Adelaide Fringe, which are all about providing the kids with experiences that they might not have otherwise.


How does your current career compare to what you thought you might do as a child?

Completely different! There is no way I would have thought that I would end up in CEO roles. There is no way I would have imagined this even five years ago.

I feel privileged to be doing what I’m doing, and I love it. When I was finishing school, I was interested in filmmaking. I got into a degree for filmmaking, but I deferred numerous times because all I wanted to do was travel around the world.

I have always been interested in things that are different and unique, and I’ve always thrown myself at them with 100 per cent of my energy.


What is your greatest accomplishment to date career-wise?

I played a significant role in the development of two organisational Reconciliation Action Plans (RAP).

That to me is one of the things I am most proud of because reconciliation work not only impacts a whole organisation but also aims to co-create a better Australia for all.


Who has inspired you personally or professionally?

A lot of people, I think I’m completely a product of everyone I’ve worked with, and I’ve worked under some great leaders.

One person that really sticks out to me is Kristen Douglas, who is the Head of Headspace Schools and Community Services nationally. I think her contribution at a sector level, as well as learnings from being a school principal, are inspirational. But I think above all, she cared about people and anyone who worked with her would know that she cared about them. And I think caring for people is the best quality in leadership.


What does being a Flinders graduate mean to you?

I’m part of an exciting and great group of alumni, including my Dad!

My Flinders years are a badge of honour in a sense, so I’m proud and I wouldn’t be where I am in my career without it.


What would you say to anyone who is considering studying Social Work Flinders?

Absolutely, do it! I think that it can lead to a ton of opportunities and social work as a profession is a very dynamic profession.

You can end up working in clinical hospital settings, all the way through to community development in regional Africa. It’s an interesting career pathway and I think Flinders would be a great option for people to study it for sure.


Interested in studying a Master of Social Work? This program is accredited with the Australian Association of Social Workers and available via graduate entry.

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College of Education, Psychology and Social Work Social work

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