For the past six years, Trudi has served as Deputy National Director, working closely with founder Naomi Steer, who stepped away after 22 years in the leadership role.
Trudi Mitchell officially became Australia for UNHCR’s new Chief Executive Officer in August.
“I’m enormously excited to be appointed CEO,” Trudi said. “It’s a great privilege to be leading Australia for UNHCR at this challenging time, when more than 100 million people are displaced worldwide.”
Trudi will be familiar to many Australia for UNHCR supporters. For the past six years, she has served as Deputy National Director, working closely with Naomi Steer, who stepped down after 22 years in the leadership role.
"We are delighted that Trudi Mitchell is the new CEO of Australia for UNHCR,” said Michael Dwyer, Chair of Australia for UNHCR.
“She has extensive leadership experience in the not-for-profit sector and a genuine compassion for refugees and displaced people. She is also highly respected by staff, partners and our UNHCR colleagues globally.”
Before coming to Australia for UNHCR in 2016, Trudi held senior management positions in a range of charitable organisations, including the Cancer Council NSW and Weave Youth and Community Services. She has served on the Board of the Fundraising Institute of Australia (FIA) and currently chairs the Emergency Action Alliance (EAA), a group of 15 Australian organisations working together on humanitarian emergencies around the world. In 2021, Trudi was named FIA Fundraiser of the Year in recognition of her contribution to fundraising in Australia.
FAREWELL NAOMI STEER
Tributes have also flowed to Naomi Steer, Australia for UNHCR’s former National Director.
On her last day in the office, Naomi took a moment to reflect on her 22 years at the helm of the organisation she founded, including her very first week on the job.
“It was a bit of a shock, to be honest,” she laughs. “I had assumed that, working for the UN, there would be systems in place, but private sector fundraising was a new thing for UNHCR globally. It dawned on me that I had to start this organisation from scratch. It was a start-up in every sense of the word — it was me and a three-drawer filing cabinet.”
Fortunately, Naomi had good contacts from her years working in foreign affairs and industrial relations. She also had a deep personal interest in refugee issues, having worked with families fleeing the first Afghan war during her time as a diplomat in India.
“I’ve been fortunate to have the support of a core group of people from the very start. I am particularly grateful to our Chair, Michael Dwyer, former Chair, John Denton, and people like Ian Chappell and Jane Turner who got behind our first campaigns and helped raise our public profile. In 2001, when Geneva let me employ a qualified fundraiser, Debra O’Neill came on board and put our fundraising systems in place.”
Refugees were rarely in the headlines at that time, but that was about to change. In 2001 came 9/11, the Tampa crisis and the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
“Afghanistan was a major milestone for us – the focus of my first field mission and our first appeal. It was a refugee return operation – the largest in UNHCR’s history — with four million people returning home in a space of just nine months.”
World events have continued to influence the growth and direction of Australia for UNHCR.
“The 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami saw us issue our first emergency appeal,” Naomi said. “We had a staff of four and we raised $400,000 in three days, which was huge for us at that time. The violence in Timor-Leste in 2006 was the catalyst for our first field project, working with local communities to rehabilitate a sports stadium. Long-running conflicts in Darfur, South Sudan and the DRC have led to our close and enduring engagement with refugee communities in Africa where our donors support specific UNHCR projects in education, maternal health and gender-based violence.”
With each major emergency — from the Syrian crisis to the war in Ukraine – Australia for UNHCR’s profile and supporter-base has grown. The organisation Naomi leaves has 100,000 regular donors and contributes more than $43 million a year to UNHCR’s global humanitarian programs.
Naomi says appointing Trudi Mitchell as Deputy was another turning point for the organisation.
“Trudi is a strong and experienced manager. She has helped take us to the next level, overhauling our back-end infrastructure and technology. She is an outstanding example of female leadership, which is pleasing, given this organisation’s long-standing focus on gender equality and women’s empowerment. I am leaving the organisation in a very safe pair of hands.
Trudi takes over at Australia for UNHCR when the need for international support for the refugee cause is greater than ever.
“I look forward to taking our organisation from strength to strength, to achieve our vision of empowering the world’s refugees, and to help more people than ever reach safety,” she said.
The majority of funds raised by Australia for UNHCR are directed to UNHCR’s emergency operations, providing the ready funds and resources to respond quickly and effectively in situations of crisis and disaster.