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Sustineo's 2020 - A Year In Review

Sustineo Team 2020

If we look back 12 months in time, to sign off the 2019 Year in Review we made a bold prediction about 2020…

We look forward to an exciting year ahead in 2020, our 10th year in business, and almost certainly our biggest yet!

While our reflection was not inaccurate, none of it quite emerged in the way that we had expected. It is fair to say no-one expected 2020 to throw up what it did. In Canberra, we have been dealt a series of ‘unprecedented’ events kicking off with devastating bushfires and the associated chronic smoke, followed by a rampaging hailstorm and topped off by a global pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant impacts for the nature of our work, our team members as well as the communities we are part of in Australia, the Pacific and Asia.

It has been a very tough year for our organisation and people, but 2020 has also been a year of learning, resilience, achievement and success. In this Year in Review we showcase some of the key accomplishments. These have been informed by a series of inputs from the Sustineo team.

Our people and culture

In the midst of such uncertainty, we focused on what we could control; our people and the culture that shapes their experience of Sustineo.

The changes to routine habits inflicted by the pandemic provided us with opportunities to enhance our emerging practices designed to promote staff wellbeing within and beyond work. We trialled a range of initiatives, including tracking staff wellbeing via a recurring survey, rotating fortnightly ‘exercise buddies’ who we share physical activity goals with, and a weekly virtual yoga session among others. These initiatives have helped to get us moving more, switch off from work at the end of the day, and practice compassion in our work. It is easy to make discussions of wellness seem overly glossy. We acknowledge that we have more to do on this front, and that promoting staff wellbeing is a dynamic and evolving process, not a static one.

During the year, we said a sad farewell to some valued Sustineo team members who had made significant contributions to our organisation. We also celebrated important staff milestones, with both Dr Asenati Chan Tung and Ellis Mackenzie reaching their one-year anniversaries at Sustineo, while welcoming new members like Daweena Motwany and Montana de Meillon. The team will continue to grow in the near future, with a new Principal Consultant (Research) to join the ranks in the new year (watch this space!).

Managing change and uncertainty

At an organisational level, we continued to demonstrate that Sustineo is a learning organisation. As part of reaching 12 months in the CEO role, Tom Sloan reflected on his experiences and how Sustineo as an organisation has managed change. In the period pre-COVID, we continued an emphasis on staff engagement and culture, characterised by renewed focus on inclusion, ownership and accountability. In the period post-COVID, Sustineo faced a myriad of challenging decisions amidst constant uncertainty. Despite notable hardship, multiple silver linings emerged. This period has highlighted the importance of making and communicating decisions despite uncertainty and on the need to operate with compassion even during the hardest of times.

Throughout the year, plenty of hard work also went on behind the scenes to continue to improve our management systems. Notably, we successfully completed, and fully complied with, our second surveillance of the implementation of Sustineo’s Quality Management System against the ISO9001:2015 Standard. Min Sul, as our designated Quality Manager, has done a great job driving this work throughout 2020.

Our contribution and impact

Even in a year as challenging and disruptive as 2020, we have had some great achievements through our work. In doing so, we have actively contributed towards the positive impact and change we endeavour to achieve. Highlights from the year include:

  • Fiji Higher Education Commission – Graduate Outcomes Survey. It is not often you get to work on a ‘first of its kind’ and we were privileged to support the design and delivery of the inaugural Graduate Outcomes Survey in Fiji.
  • Solomon Islands Resource Facility – Civic knowledge and citizen engagement. We had the wonderful opportunity to work closely and collaboratively with SIRF to deliver a comprehensive baseline of civic knowledge and citizenship engagement in Solomon Islands, which has informed the re-design and delivery of areas of their work.
  • Pacific Labour Facility – Baseline Studies. Throughout 2020, we have been on a challenging but rewarding journey with the PLF. Our research required navigating COVID-19 impacted data collection with stakeholders in Fiji, Samoa, Tuvalu and across regional Australia as part of a baseline study for the Pacific Labour Scheme.
  • ANU Climate Change Institution – Climate Smart Agriculture opportunities for enhanced production in Papua New Guinea. We entered the next phase of a multi-year ACIAR project let by the ANU CCI with other Australian and PNG-based partners, leading both the M&E for the project, as well as other research activities in PNG to inform and improve the delivery of the overall project. One part of this work – focused on understanding the different challenges that men and women farmers face for local information dissemination and receipt pathways – was presented at the Annual Australian Social Network Analysis Conference 2020.
  • Havelock House – Disability Housing Audit. Closer to home, it has been rewarding to work with Havelock House in the delivery of an independent review of their disability housing portfolio. This audit will support Havelock in providing quality services to their residents and ensuring their properties are maintained to a high standard.


We are also grateful for the opportunity to have worked through the year with GIZ, SPC, the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA), the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and the Australian National Botanic Gardens (ANBG).

Looking ahead

We will be hitting the ground running next year with an exciting range of projects to keep us busy into 2021. Internationally, we are looking forward to continuing current projects on Pacific labour mobility, supporting internal auditing in Solomon Islands, understanding leadership pathways for women in Samoa, enhancing food security and resilience in the Pacific, as well as understanding the potential for carbon trading to provide benefits to smallholder farmers in PNG. Domestically, we are also excited to be continuing work understanding future skills needs for the Australian agricultural industry and collaborating with other partners as part of the ONE Basin CRC.

Giving back

Throughout 2020, Sustineo and our team members continued to contribute, and give back to, the communities that we are part of both where we live and through our work.

Ongoing engagement with the Australian National University

We were glad to continue our long-standing engagement with different parts of the ANU. In 2020, we were delighted to host and supervise Montana de Meillon’s research project “Planning for Impact: Using the KS-RAPID framework to enhance impact in agricultural research for development” as part of the Australian National Internships Program. Beyond this, Sustineo staff were presenters and panellists for various alumni focused events, including the Careers in a Time of Change panel and through the Alumni Mentors program.


In a difficult year, we were also active in fundraising for groups in need. Taking part in his first Vinnies CEO Sleepout, Tom raised nearly $6,000 to support the many Australians who are experiencing homelessness and people at risk of homelessness. Later in the year, Tom also laced up his running shoes for a good cause, participating in the Virtual Canberra Times Marathon Festival and raising over $1,750 for Femili PNG.

Industry and sector engagement

Sustineo team members also continue to contribute to communities of practice regarding the sectors we work in. Our Executive Director, Nicky Thatcher, is an elected Board member for the International Development Contractors Community (IDCC). Tom also continued this year to participate as a private sector observer to the RDI Network Steering Committee.

Concluding remarks

So now it’s time to sign off for 2020… we are having a well-earned break!

Thanks to our clients, associates, local partners, and our broader network for your ongoing support for the work we do at Sustineo.

The Sustineo office will be closed from 23 December 2020 to 11 January 2021 to allow us to recharge our batteries for the new year.

As a final word for 2020, “we look forward to an exciting year ahead in 2021 and almost certainly our biggestactually, maybe we will reframe from any bold predictions! While we would all settle for a little less excitement in 2021, we will nevertheless be back in the new year ready to take on the opportunities that it presents.


For more information on Sustineo’s work, email Tom Sloan at

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