Under the Spotlight with Kirsten Armstrong

Kirsten Armstrong is an experienced director and actuary with a 30-year career in health, disability and insurance system reform.

She is Director of Impact Investing at Social Ventures Australia, Chair of disability provider, Northcott and board member of NSW insurer, icare.  Kirsten has volunteered generously on numerous committees since 2003, including the Health Practice Committee (HPC), Actuaries Digital, General Insurance Practice Committee (GIPC), Access to Insurance Working Party and the 2021 All-Actuaries Summit Organising Committee. She is also a volunteer wildlife carer with WIRES.

Why did you start volunteering with us?

I first started volunteering for the Institute in 2003 as part of the Ageing Australia Taskforce, after returning to Australia from a 5-year stint reforming retirement income systems in countries of the former Soviet Union. It was a great way to reconnect with others in the profession and understand the big issues here.

What did you hope to achieve by volunteering?

I wanted to contribute my skills to make a positive impact. I saw volunteering as an opportunity to be part of something meaningful and worthwhile and work with others who wanted to be involved in important change.

Can you share any special moments from volunteering that made you proud?

One highlight was volunteering in India for three weeks with a micro-finance organisation, Uplift Mutuals, which was pioneering the use of micro-health insurance for people living in some of India’s poorest areas.

The Actuaries Institute helped broker the opportunity, and though I wasn’t quite sure what value I could add, it turned out to be quite a lot! I used first principles to help them better understand the risks in the product design, joined community workshops to help refine the product, and developed a pricing model and monitoring tool they could use over time.  The biggest win was encouraging fellow actuary Eamon Kelly to move to India for two years to lead the next phase. Uplift Mutuals now has more than 400,000 members and continues to grow.

How do you manage volunteering along with your other responsibilities?

I think of volunteering as integral to my responsibilities and my own professional development and have been able to convince various employers that this is the case, too.

Committee work has expanded my professional network, deepened my knowledge of important topics, and enabled me to work with and learn from a range of respected experts.  

Did you learn anything new about yourself while volunteering?

Volunteering helped me to understand where and how I add value, as a result of my specialist knowledge and unique skills. It also helped me understand the value of teamwork, and how it can deliver better solutions to complex problems.

What advice would you give to someone who’s not sure about volunteering?

Volunteering is both personally and professionally rewarding, and I would encourage all actuaries to give it a try; it can be truly energising.

Volunteering can help satisfy that “itch” to be part of an important change that matters. All of us have benefitted from the volunteering of others before us, so don’t be afraid to continue the chain. I’d suggest starting small by joining the committee that best aligns with your values and seeing how it feels.

How do you think volunteering can help with building a personal brand?

Very directly! Volunteering has enabled me to put my name to important work, which has been invaluable in enhancing my profile. It has also helped me expand my professional network, open new doors, and imagine new directions for my career.

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