(08) 8269 9333 stateoffice@lutherancare.org.au

International Women’s Day spotlight: Susan Richards

Image of Susan. The Lutheran Care logo appears in the bottom right hand corner.

International Women’s Day spotlight: Susan Richards

Susan Richards stands out from a crowd with her stylish eyewear, the bold prints that jump out from the organic fabrics she wears, and the shoes she sports in a range of vibrant hues. 

It should be no surprise that Susan was a fashion designer in a former life, before she went into community services. 

But it is how she’s been able to use her creativity in support of vulnerable people, and how she remains a constant cheerleader for her teams, never looking for the limelight for herself, that has really allowed her to shine in her role. 

As our Executive Manager Community Services, Susan is one of the Lutheran Care women we are focusing on to mark International Women’s Day 2024. 

As a younger woman out of school, it was indeed fashion that Susan gravitated to, with her own fashion design business and then as a buyer for John Martin’s department store in Adelaide. 

However, it wasn’t a calling that she would follow forever. 

“I always knew I wasn’t going to do this for the rest of my life,” Susan says. 

“I wanted to do something more meaningful.” 

She was likely inspired by her Social Worker grandmother, who took Susan with her when visiting the families she supported when Susan was a child. She recalls bringing toys to share with the children, recognising these visits as pivotal moments that ignited her social conscience and left a lasting impact on her 

Whilst working at John Martin’s, Susan became a single mother to her two children, and the long hours and work travel were not conducive to the parent Susan wanted to be. So, she stepped back from that role, and worked in her father’s business for a period. 

A career change at any age can be a courageous move, however in her mid to late thirties, Susan was ready to take the plunge and had her eyes open for opportunities that would allow her to use her skills to help others. 

She began studying a degree in teaching which eventually led to her gaining a position at Anglicare as a Child Care Centre Manager. 

Anglicare clearly spotted Susan’s leadership potential and recognised this would make a greater impact if she was working across the organisation more broadly. So, Susan “went down the management track”, and completed a Master’s in Business Administration. During her time at Anglicare, Susan led teams undertaking a range of work including programs to support children with disabilities, young people, and people with reliance on alcohol and other drugs.  

In reflecting on strong female mentors ahead of International Women’s Day, Susan mentioned her Anglicare colleague, Sonia Waters, whom Susan felt honoured to work with and learn from.  

“She was incredible,” Susan says of Sonia, an Aboriginal woman and Stolen Generations descendant.  

“She taught me so much about Aboriginal culture and helped me acknowledge and interrogate white privilege and the perspectives that have been formed through this lens.” 

With patience and respect, Sonia helped open Susan’s eyes more clearly to the systemic racism and discrimination experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in this country.  

“Sonia also supported me with how to educate myself and staff about creating a culturally safe workplace and environment, and deep listening to Aboriginal people.” 

Susan has watched with interest and without surprise as Sonia’s passion for Aboriginal people has led her to do some very important and outstanding work in support of Aboriginal people as her career has progressed, as a government, community services and non-government leader. 

Inspired to similarly make a difference to the peoples who have walked on and cared for these lands for more than 60,000 years, Susan’s next role was at Aboriginal Family Support Services. She was a Senior Manager there for more than five years, before moving to her current role at Lutheran Care about two years ago. 

Susan oversees all of Lutheran Care’s community services, including Family Zone, a parenting and community hub in Ingle Farm, which helps children to thrive by supporting their parents with the skills, knowledge and confidence they need. Whilst she has a big heart for all clients, she certainly has a soft spot for children and young people. 

“The positive impact that the teams can have on the lives of young people is a privilege to see,” Susan says. 

Susan also heads the Emergency Relief program, the Financial Wellbeing team and the Aged Care Volunteer Visitors Scheme, and supports the Lutheran Care teams assisting people at risk of or experiencing homelessness through the Toward Home Alliance. 

“I love to support the teams doing the work they are so good at doing,” Susan says with pride. 

Susan remains passionate about supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and has recently joined the committee for Lutheran Care’s next Reconciliation Action Plan. 

Whilst she doesn’t get the chance to work with clients one on one very often, Susan really appreciates the opportunities when she gets to spend time with people Lutheran Care is supporting. 

She also loves how she is challenged and encouraged by Lutheran Care’s Chief Executive Officer Rohan Feegrade to be creative in her role. 

“When a need in the community or gap in servicing arises, we brainstorm an idea with the team and then go and search for the funding to make it happen,” she says. 

An example of this is the new pilot program being run in Port Adelaide in partnership with health provider Sonder, that explores the links between mental health and financial wellbeing. 

New outside the box partnerships have also been fostered, including with philanthropic matchmaking service Good360. Good360 has sourced many low or no cost surplus goods from businesses, to be repurposed for the benefit of Lutheran Care clients, from Lego kits for Christmas gifts for families who can’t afford them, to Oodies for Emergency Relief clients struggling with the cold, to shampoo and conditioner for people experiencing homelessness.  

Another unlikely but successful partnership has been formed with the Adelaide Fringe, to help bring the magic of the Fringe to families and individuals who otherwise would not have the opportunity to attend. Susan is a longtime friend of Adelaide Fringe Chief Executive Officer Heather Croall, and is so proud to see what an impact this inspiring female leader is having on South Australia. 

Pictured recently together at an event to celebrate the opening of the Fringe, Susan and Heather’s smiles couldn’t have been bigger, nor their outfits more eye catching. 

Susan is passionate about seeing young women succeed, and advises women to keep their eyes on their horizon and what they want to achieve. 

Finalising her Master’s Degree last year, Susan’s own dream career didn’t happen on a straight path but she never lost track of it. 

“Keep going. Don’t stop. It’s fine to take a step back, take time off, or sit and reflect. But you will get there,” she says. 

Susan is passionate about the arts, self care, sustainability, and catching up with friends and family. She particularly loves spending time with her granddaughter. 

However, with Susan’s ‘later’ start to her dream career, she says she is not going to be eyeing off retirement any time soon. 

“I have much more I would like to achieve,” Susan says, with a giggle, although she’s deadly serious. 

“I want to continue making a bit of difference to people’s lives, and the things that are important to me.”