Ruth Lawrence

Ruth Lawrence undertook a combined Bachelor of Social Work (Hons) and Bachelor of Arts (Hons). After completing her PhD at the University at California at Berkeley, she returned to the University and undertook an Executive Masters of Public Administration. She currently works as an Associate Director in the KPMG Health, Ageing and Human Services Practice, and previous to that she worked for over 10 years in government. Since joining KPMG in October 2012, she has been undertaking program evaluations, advising government on human services and is leading KPMG’s stream on social investment which includes preparing non-government organisations to participate in social benefit bonds.

1. Please may you tell us more about yourself, your background and how you ultimately got to be where you are today?

Ruth Lawrence: There is a strong social and community justice bent in my family. I was bought up with social policy at the dinner table (with my father the first Professor of social work in Australia). I initially wanted to ‘work with kids’ and started my career as a social worker with children in foster care at a non-profit organisation. That motivated me to undertake further research and become equipped to influence government policy. At the University of California at Berkeley, I had the wonderful experience of working with a large research group and delving deeply into particular subject areas (children’s rights, child welfare, and public budgets) to gain a PhD.

Post-doctorate, back in Australia I joined government and was fortunate to work with Dr Don Weatherburn at the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research. Later I set up the research division of the NSW Commission for Children and Young People. I was always fortunate to be working on research that had practical application in policy.

2. What are your happiest memories about your time here as a student?

Ruth Lawrence: In my undergraduate degrees, my happiest memories were around discovering the world of research. Delving into a topic and asking questions, exploring what has already been developed into knowledge and what has been the approach historically and then being on that precipice when the data is in and you uncover your research findings.

3. Who was your favourite Professor while you were a student at the University of Sydney and why?

Ruth Lawrence: Not sure I could pick a favourite. While I was doing my Executive Maters of Public Administration, Associate Professor Joanne Kelly opened my eyes to public budgets, accountability and efficiency and made it quite entrancing with her enthusiasm.

4. What is your proudest achievement? What has been the most memorable success you have had?

Ruth Lawrence: It’s difficult to isolate one achievement; at the top of the list I would place winning our yacht division in the Sydney Harbour Regatta with an all-female crew. This is an annual event where up to 340 yachts compete on Sydney Harbour in a combined clubs race. It was quite something to plough along to the finish line which was in the middle of the 18 foot skiffs’ finish line.

Also up there on the list are several creative initiatives that I developed while I was a public servant. These initiatives involved knowledge sharing, translating research into plain English and setting up structures so that researchers, policy makers and practitioners had the opportunity to talk to each other. For example, I developed the Indigenous Justice Clearinghouse, (, the Criminal Justice Research Network and the Expenditure Review Roundtable. As a public servant you are able to directly influence the policy agenda and work towards a more just society for the vulnerable and disadvantaged.

5. Who inspires you?

Ruth Lawrence: Different people have inspired me at different stages of my career. I’m inspired by people who push boundaries. I’ve been reading the history of scientific discoveries where people pursued their ideas and the wisdom of the day was not accepted.

6. What is the mantra you live by and what drives you?

Ruth Lawrence: Making opportunities and stretching the boundaries; thinking outside the square. Staying in tune with who you are.

7. What advice would you give to students graduating from the University of Sydney?

Ruth Lawrence: Hear people’s stories, listen, and give depth to your perspective on an issue by incorporating an historical perspective.

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