John Berryman reflects on his time at RIDBC

John Berryman with a studentJohn Berryman reflects on his time at RIDBC

The not for profit industry employs 8% of the Australian workforce and is an ever expanding and challenging sector as the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children’s (RIDBC) CEO, John Berryman, understands well.

Starting at RIDBC as Manager of Computerised Braille Production in 1978, Berryman’s first achievement was to successfully establish the Southern Hemisphere’s first Computerised Braille Production Unit.

Seven years later and after a brief stint as Deputy CEO, he was appointed CEO, taking over the reins of a long-established Sydney based charity which has now grown to be a national provider with almost 1000 children and their families across Australia receiving vital support each year. It provides hearing and vision screening to thousands more.

“My colleagues and I could see the opportunity to address some unmet needs and we have changed, grown and diversified as a service providing organisation as the sector itself has grown in size and diversity,” said Berryman.

Money is a constant challenge in the not for profit sector, and while Australians are an increasingly supportive community, there is now more competition for the charity dollar.

“The economy always has an impact – sometimes negative and sometimes positive,” said Berryman. “Planning ahead is increasingly challenging given the yearly fluctuations in revenue.

For example from 2004 to 2007, RIDBC experienced considerable growth in revenue however, in the last three years, revenue has dropped by about a third.”

RIDBC educates and supports children from their first weeks of life. This support continues for as long as needed, which may be right through their teenage years, providing education and specialised assistance to them and their families.

“It may be an 18 year commitment and we need to ensure we have the funds necessary to honour that commitment,” said Berryman.

Building a much better educated and skilled workforce has been a key goal for Berryman, which is challenging in the competitive not for profit industry.

“Demand for services always exceeds the capacity to meet these needs with trained staff, whether it is overseas aid or disability provision,” Berryman said.

“The number of tertiary qualified staff in RIDBC however, has grown from only a handful in 1985 to about 200 today, with more than 80 having Masters Degrees or Doctorates. This is something I’m very proud of.”

This was aided by the opening of RIDBC Renwick Centre onsite in 1994 which is one of only a few Centres in Australia offering postgraduate study in the education of children with sensory disability. The Centre is conducted in conjunction with the University of Newcastle, which awards the degrees.

Berryman himself completed a University of Newcastle Masters of Special Education at RIDBC Renwick Centre in 2000.

“I felt it was important to be able to respond more knowledgably to proposals for service development in the organisation,” he said.

Berryman will retire in March this year and he has seen relentless but incremental changes in the industry during his 26 years as CEO.

“One of the most profound changes is the more sophisticated and targeted support from the corporate sector, which can be a challenge in itself, but we greatly welcome the support.”