Grant Paulson: Change is harder than it looks

Alumni Front Page Image: 
Grant Paulson, Headland participant

Grant Paulson is the Faith & Development Advisor at World Vision.

MARCH 2014: Previously at Reconciliation Australia, Grant has recently moved into this new role, assessing how belief systems in community can help deliver better community development outcomes, with a particular emphasis on early childhood and youth work among the Walpiri, Murtu (Pilbara regions) and Koori communities (Redfern area, Sydney).

Grant was a participant in Social Leadership Australia’s Headland initiative. He is also currently completing a thesis on spirituality and social change.


“One of the things I’ve learnt is that change is harder than it looks. To work with conflict, to have the deeper generative conversations, you have to sit longer in that uncomfortable space than you want to …

“To me, it used to be about self-preservation and avoidance of conflict … but now it’s about holding myself long enough to understand the context and also to understand the mutual fragility of the conflict—to see that ‘they’ are just as clueless and vulnerable as I am.

“The other key learning is about power and influence and rank …  I presumed that all the power was with the people with the resources, but they also need understanding and guidance, and I have something to offer to use constructively too.

“In black and white organisations working together, what I’ve been able to do is highlight the importance of understanding the system, as opposed to the people, and to help myself and others recognise that what we’re in is a tough dynamic: “It’s not them, it’s not you … it’s the dynamic, and unless you appreciate that you’re not giving anyone permission to move.”

“Delivering programs that benefit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, or in the reconciliation space, is challenging and difficult but it’s very, very important… The same dynamic exists at universities, legal centres, health centres, anywhere where black and white people are working together; this opposition shows up. Headland made me aware of my own power and influence for good, as opposed to feeling like the victim (when you use your power in a negative way).

I’m aware of the roles we have and the power we have—‚Äčthe innate influence that’s there by virtue of sitting in that conversation. A lot of our mob in the shared space may not be aware of it—or if they are, they think if it’s on the basis of their qualification.

“In all the local communities, even in the black and white faith community, these powder kegs exist everywhere. There are good white folks thinking, “Oh we tried,”  and black folks thinking, “What’s happened?” So many missed opportunities.

“Leadership often gets left out because we’re busy doing other pragmatic things at hand – the issues we’re dealing with often over-ride the process—things like infant mortality, legal aid, access to employment. They’re high stakes. You’re playing hard ball—it’s even life and death sometimes—so the luxury to be able to unpack ourselves and the safety to be vulnerable very rarely happens.

I’m at home in my own skin as a change agent now. This holding environment [Headland] has enabled us to evaluate old cycles and old habits—the traditional things—and find some new ways. Understanding ourselves better and the position and free ourselves up.”