Leading through vision, authenticity, and gratitude

We sat down with the new Director of Alumni and Donor Relations Brigette Sancho to learn about her career so far, her aspirations for her new role at the University, and what inspires her both personally and professionally.

Most recently you were Executive Manager of Engagement at University of Technology Sydney (UTS), can you tell us a bit about your former role?

As an Executive Manager at UTS, I worked in the office of the Pro-Vice Chancellor, Indigenous Leadership and Engagement (PVC-ILE). I led the engagement portfolio which had a cross-university remit including fundraising, alumni and donor relations, and corporate and community engagement.

Brigette Sancho

Brigette Sancho

You helped conceive Australia’s first Indigenous residential college at UTS, with its development currently underway. How do you think this initiative will help build stronger social equity?

When I studied at the University of Pennsylvania in the US, I had the opportunity to live in an African American residential college. When I walked through the doors every day, I felt a sense of pride, identity and culture. I wondered if that existed in Australia for First Nations people and what impact that could make on increasing Indigenous participation in higher education. I shared my experience with the Pro-Vice Chancellor (ILE), Professor Michael McDaniel, and that seed spawned the concept that is now an active, Indigenous-led capital campaign.

One of the greatest barriers to achieving a higher education in Sydney is the cost of housing, which is astronomical. I felt that if we could address the housing issue, that would be a step in the right direction to create greater access and increase participation.

The residential college will be more than just a place to stay, it will be an environment that fosters leadership, identity pride and culture. What we ultimately want to see is Indigenous people in decision-making positions. And we know you're more likely to hire, advance, and understand people who look like you, or come from a similar background. So, that felt like a really simple but innovative approach to addressing equity.

Can you tell us about your new role as Director of Alumni and Donor Relations here at the University of Melbourne?

Essentially, I'm responsible for shaping and delivering meaningful programs and strategy to engage alumni and thank donors. We want to make sure our alumni and donors know the impact they are having on our students, community and in the world. We hope to inspire deeper engagement and ongoing participation with the University.

What aspirations do you have for engaging with the alumni community?

Our alumni community are part of the fabric of the University and play a very important role – not only in helping to get the word out about our high standard of education, but as volunteers and mentors that help create career pathways for our students. They are often our link into industry and help provide very valuable resources and support to advance important education and research initiatives. We are so grateful when they decide to support us financially, too.

I want to collaborate and engage with our alumni across four keys areas of focus which include Global Health and Infectious Disease, Climate and Sustainability, Cultural Commons, and Indigenous Knowledge and Advancement. Whether it be through experiential learning opportunities, volunteering, mentoring, giving, or providing advice, I would like to see our alumni and donor community involved.

When you were a child, what was your dream job?

When I was a child, I wanted to be a writer and publish books – fiction and nonfiction – but that didn't happen! I used to enter writing competitions at school and in my state. I still plan to publish a book by the way. It will probably be an autobiography. I have had an interesting life.

What do you think makes a great leader?

I think it's being visionary, but also being able to articulate that vision in a way that inspires your colleagues and the organisation to really dream big and to achieve.

My style is to make sure that I express gratitude. And that means saying thank you, really meaning it, and expressing that in verbal and nonverbal ways to let your team know that you really appreciate and value them.

What are some things you are passionate about, personally and professionally?

I would call myself a creative. I really like the performing arts, that's something that I like to watch and engage in. Anything artistic – like painting, performances, and dance. House music is also my thing!

Professionally, throughout my career, engagement and relationships have been at the centre of most of the roles that I've had. It's changed in terms of working across public, private, government and education sectors, but it's all been about relationships. I think that’s because it's important for people to feel connected to something that has impact.

In this role, it’s all about impact, working with alumni and working with our donors. It couldn't be a more perfect position for me!

Is there a piece of advice that has held you in good stead throughout your life and career?

I would say: ‘Don't listen to the fear’. Obviously, our body and spirit gives us warning signs when we are in real danger. But I'm talking about the kind of fear that may limit you from dreaming big. The fear that may limit you from asking the question, or going on that interview, or taking that trip, or asking that guy out on a date.

My philosophy is lean into the fear. What's the worst thing that could happen?