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Interview With Our CEO - Mel Cross

Mel has an impressive history with Yogahood from teacher, to Fundraising Coordinator, to GM, to CEO. Mel discusses her career, the differences between paid work and volunteer led organisations, and of course her favourite yoga poses!

Congratulations on your new role Mel! What made you decide to take the next step as CEO of Yogahood?

I am thrilled to have been appointed to the role of CEO of Yogahood Australia. I’ve been with the organisation for three years and have seen quite a lot of change in that time.

I want to be part of making decisions that will drive Yogahood forward and secure its future as we navigate a post-COVID world. We’re all really tired of talking about COVID however the reality is that some aspects of life will never be the same and our role as leaders is to understand what the world will look like and where we will be placed in it.

You have been with Yogahood for a few years now, can you tell us your Yogahood journey?

I came to learn about Yogahood through the studio where I completed my yoga teacher training, the Australian Yoga Academy. It was fundraising for Yogahood through community classes and I thought the organisation sounded like a cause I could support wholeheartedly. Funnily enough, I applied to be a volunteer teacher when I graduated, except I wasn’t eligible as I didn’t have enough teaching hours!

A few years later, I saw an ad on social media for the Fundraising Coordinator role and decided to apply. I was in the role for about a year, when in early 2020 the organisation underwent significant change. The opportunity arose to apply for the role of General Manager, which would be a joint role alongside my wonderful colleague, Michelle Greenlee who was Yogahood’s Partnership Coordinator at the time. We had worked closely for the last year and I was excited for what we could achieve together; Michelle in Operations and me focusing on Fundraising.

When Yogahood was forced to completely suspend all activity due to COVID, things became difficult for many of the core team members, and the team just became myself and our CEO and Founder, Madeleine, managing the day to day of the organisation. I embarked on a massive recruitment drive, hiring a brand new team and training them all on my own.

Today, we are still navigating our way around lockdowns and suspension of our services. In the second half of 2021, we commenced our first online program and are learning a lot along the way. It’s this that is driving me forward in my role as CEO; how can we deliver on our mission and values in the post-COVID world.

For our partners and followers to get acquainted with you, could you please tell a bit more about yourself and your career?

I have a communications background and have worked across the government, corporate and not-for-profit sectors. I’m currently working in communications and stakeholder engagement in child and youth mental health, which is my job four days a week. I’m a yoga teacher and have my own business, which is where my passion for health and wellbeing stems. I’m also on the management committee for an animal rescue charity, so life is always throwing challenges my way!

I am incredibly passionate about improving people’s health, which is why I was so excited to start my role as CEO of Yogahood.

What unique value do you will bring to the Yogahood CEO role?

My experience working across the government, corporate and not-for-profit sectors is what I bring to Yogahood.

Early in my career, I developed my professional skills in politics, which showed me how important it was to stand up for what you believe in and get involved in the local community. I started volunteering, which opened my eyes to how rewarding it could be and also how managing people in a volunteer role is very different to when people are paid. This was an important lesson and something I also bring to Yogahood, as our volunteers are the backbone of the organisation.

I also spent ten years in the car industry, working in public relations. I was fortunate to travel the world and experience different cultures, learning how to work together. This experience taught me that people are what matters most in any job and that trust is the foundation of every relationship.

My role in public health is perfectly suited to my role with Yogahood, as my focus is now on how I can contribute to making people’s lives better.

What makes Yogahood such a special organisation?

Yogahood exists because of the hard work and dedication of its volunteers; they are what makes the organisation special. It takes a certain type of person to volunteer and I think Yogahood’s volunteers are the cream of the crop!

I am also passionate about helping improve people’s lives and Yogahood’s values align with mine.

Tell us about a stand out moment/win with Yogahood so far.

It would definitely be the challenging yet incredibly rewarding task of hiring an entirely new team, in the middle of a global pandemic, all while we couldn’t meet face to face! During 2020, the impacts of COVID put enormous strain on Yogahood’s core team. I recruited six new people to help run the day to day operations of the organisation with me. We essentially started from scratch and I am so proud of how the team learnt the ropes and pulled everything together to get us through that incredibly difficult time.

Today, we are continuing to expand our team as we look to what the next 6-12 months will bring for the organisation.

Why is Yogahood’s work so important to Australian communities?

There aren’t many organisations like Yogahood in our community. I know first-hand how powerful yoga can be to change people’s lives; I hear it from my own students. Yoga has unfortunately become inaccessible for the people who could benefit from it the most.

COVID has also shone a very bright light on the problems with some of our systems in this country. The mental health of so many has suffered immensely and organisations like Yogahood will be needed now more than ever. Our focus has always been on improving the lives of as many people as we can and I am committed to supporting this by leading Yogahood through the next phase.

What do you see for the future of Yogahood?

While there is still a lot of uncertainty in the world, it is important to understand what Yogahood’s outreach will look like and how we can best support the people that we serve. This will be through close working relationships with our program partners, who have first-hand experience with the challenges our communities have been going through. It will also be vital to ensure our financial stability when there will be so many charities and not-for-profits competing for a diminishing pool of resources. But we have a strong, dedicate team and a clear vision, so I have every confidence we will go from strength to strength.

Your favourite yoga pose?

Can I say Savasana?! This is a hard question, because there are poses I enjoy depending on how my body is feeling at the time. If I had to choose one, I’d choose a forward fold, either standing or if sitting, with a bolster under my knees. I tend to have tight back muscles, so this type of pose gives me a lot of relief! They are calming for me, as I prefer forward bends to back bends.


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