becoming a self in history, becoming a self in my street

Stephen Atkinson

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 continue.

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.

Stephen 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 heart too.

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.