How This QUT Executive MBA Went From NFP Service Delivery To Service Design

Joanne Allen-Keeling is currently working as Head of Knowledge and Performance at the youth-focussed not for profit, yourtown, where her role is to help the organisation to deliver safe and exceptional services, including Kids Helpline.

When front-line social worker Joanne Allen-Keeling wanted to take the step from delivering services to designing services for struggling and at-risk kids, she decided a QUT Executive Master of Business Administration might provide the skills she needed.

It didn’t start well.

“Coming from an NFP (not-for-profit) background, I was a bit nervous I would be out of my depth and surrounded by career executives who already had a big head start on me,” she said.

“When I showed up on the first day and couldn’t even connect my laptop, I thought, what am I doing here? I felt ridiculous and like I didn’t belong at all.”

“I quickly found my feet, and the whole experience ended up being one of the most rewarding of my life.

“The cohort of students was incredibly diverse with a huge range of life and career experiences that made for a really rich learning experience.”

Joanne’s NFP experience was once a rarity in MBA and Executive MBA programs, where the priority has traditionally been training the future leaders from the commercial sector.


Most modern MBA programs now attract a wide variety of students looking to enhance their skills in the not-for-profit sector.

To assist leaders in the not-for-profit sector to empower their communities further and address significant social, economic and environmental challenges, QUT recently launched a new scholarship for their MBA and Executive MBA.

Professor Sarah Kelly, Head of School at QUT’s Graduate School of Business, said the QUT Executive MBA was designed to help students reach their full potential and lead with positive impact in their communities and organisations regardless of their field of expertise.

“The not-for-profit sector is a growing and critical sector of the Australian economy that encompasses a broad range of organisations that pursue charitable purposes to advance and improve outcomes in health, education and social welfare,” she said.

“Like businesses, these organisations are operating in increasingly challenging and complex environments and require strategic leaders with the right skills to support their purpose-driven goals.

Joanne is currently working as Head of Knowledge and Performance at the youth-focussed not for profit,  yourtown, where her role is to help the organisation to deliver safe and exceptional services, including  Kids Helpline.

She has also held senior roles with Children’s Health Queensland, and she has over 25 years of experience in multiple health, child safety and community environments.


Her career journey is typical of many in the sector who start at the coal face of service delivery before using the experience built over time to take on leadership positions.

“My very first job was as a Kids Helpline counsellor, so to come full circle and play a role in redesigning the service is really rewarding,” she said.

“There was a point in my career where I felt I needed to transition from direct practice to applying a system lens to some of the wicked social challenges we face,” she said. “I wanted to drive systematic change.”

While having an Honours degree in social work, she knew it was essential to formalise and expand some of her management experience with further study.

“I had a pretty limited understanding of what an Executive MBA was. I knew I had the soft skills required to grow my capability and thought I would do it to improve my technical skills,” she said.

“It turned out the soft skills that were bread and butter for a social worker really helped. Unpacking problems and working in complexity were really transferrable skills that translated well in the program.”

The QUT Executive MBA is designed specifically for executives who have a desire to hone their leadership skills and build valuable networks with a diverse and experienced cohort.

With intakes in January each year in Brisbane and Canberra, it focuses strongly on creating an intensive learning experience (three days over one weekend once a month in Brisbane or bi-monthly in Canberra) within a cohort of like-minded executives.

The Executive MBA program at QUT offers students the choice of two distinct pathways – Complex Project Leadership and Strategic Procurement or International Leadership.

Applications for QUT’s Executive MBA are open until December. Find out more about their Brisbane and Canberra programs.

Ben Ready
Ben Ready founded MBA News in 2014 and is the Managing Editor. He is a former business and finance journalist with Australian Associated Press (AAP) and Dow Jones Newswires in London. Ben completed his MBA in 2012 and was awarded the QUT GMAA Entrepreneurship Prize. He is also the founder and Managing Director of RGC Media & Mktng (