Stephen Atkinson spent twenty years as a management consultant
working predominantly with large corporations. His consultancy was given a contract by a Human Services
department within the Australian government to review the deep problems around the protection of abused
and vulnerable children. This involved researching the nature of these problems. The many examples of
heinous abuses of children left Stephen deeply saddened and profoundly moved. It was a desperately serious,
sad and grave situation in which more than 30,000 children in his own State were victims of the gravest serial
abuse—a situation that had been completely invisible to him, and which he felt could not be allowed to
Stephen and his team quickly began to see this situation through the eyes of the main
stakeholders. They interviewed case workers, executives, lawyers and magistrates, community services workers,
academics, representatives of parents and abused children and many others. Almost all these people were
pained by the problems and complexity they saw, and longed desperately to make a difference, but they felt
stifled and helpless within a monolithic, fragmented, adversarial bureaucracy that served neither themselves
nor the vulnerable children it was designed to support. No one really knew what to do.
reflected that this situation and the roots of this hidden atrocity were more complex than anything he had
experienced before. It disturbed and perplexed him. It was not really about improving organizational
effectiveness; it was about transforming the lives of vulnerable people. It engaged not only his mind but his
During this time, Stephen’s first daughter Angelique was born. In a moment of quiet between
Stephen and Angelique, they fixed eyes and she gazed into his eyes with a deep, penetrating connection.
Stephen said that Angelique looked deep within and their ‘souls connected’. A current ran through him that
awakened him out of what felt like a deep slumber. An immediate need to protect and nurture Angelique
overwhelmed him and he broke into tears of revelation and awakened purpose. He questioned how anyone
could ever do anything to harm such precious, pure beings. This moment had a profound effect: it mobilized
him to action. He experienced a new connection with these ‘pure little beings’ and immediately felt a burning
desire to find a solution for these children. Almost immediately, his previous work in making corporations more
successful seemed to hold little meaning.
Stephen began to search for people and organizations
around the world who tackled these kinds of complex problems. One of his team members discovered an
international firm called Reos Partners, whose approach seemed to promise what was needed. Over the next
year Stephen’s consultancy, Reos Partners and the key stakeholders involved in the Child Protection system
came together in an unprecedented manner. They agreed to tackle the Child Protection issue in a new
way—a way that resulted in new and transformative work together and initiated new seed innovations and ways
of working that are being tested today. More than that, this new-found approach of enabling these key
stakeholders and decision makers to see the situation through each other’s eyes has made a significant
contribution to resolving problems and finding solutions. Stephen described how the many demoralized
people working in this area have since gained a new sense of hope and inspiration and have a new ‘light in
their eyes’ as they tackle this complex system in new ways.
This experience made Stephen reorient the
focus of his work. He has since become a founding partner of Reos Partners in Australia and is continuing this
work in tackling complex social problems. It seems as if the most vulnerable beings in the world—a new born
baby and those abused, unheard children—had led him to his new purpose.