Sydney, Australia

Melissa Lipsett may have made her small mark in history by becoming the first female CEO of Baptist World Aid Australia in its 63-year history, but she’s making big plans to answer God’s call to create a world without poverty.

In a unanimous board decision, and after only nine months with the organisation, Rev Lipsett was appointed CEO in November, 2021, after taking up the position of chief operating officer and director of missional impact in February, 2021, then as acting CEO since June of that year.

Melissa Lipsett

Melissa Lipsett. PICTURE: Courtesy of Baptist World Aid Australia.

“Baptist World Aid is built on a foundation of great faith where we believe every person is made equally in the image of God and inherent in that is both equal responsibility and equal provision,” Lipsett told Sight. “So we see a world without poverty and where every person is able to enjoy the fullness of life God intends. And we truly believe that’s possible. We believe that that’s God’s plan for humanity and He invites us into that plan...He’s not going to wave a magic wand - humans are His plan to achieve that.”

Since it began in 1959, Baptist World Aid has developed relationships with 38 local Christian partners in 17 countries across the Pacific, Middle East, Africa and Asia to achieve justice for people living in poverty. It also works alongside the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian Council for International Development.

Among its main areas of focus are child sponsorship, community development, natural disaster support, and advocacy for a more just world.

Lipsett has previously describing herself as “angry” at the continued global injustice and poverty and has set her heart and mind on changing the narrative.

To this end, she particularly wants to draw attention to the plight of women and girls, making the improvement of their lives part of the organisation’s latest strategic plan.

“As a woman CEO, I am passionately drawn to the inequality I see for women and girls around the world, particularly the poorest places of the planet; and so, yes, under my leadership, we have named women, and certainly women and children, as a major priority for us,” she said.

Education equality is one area she hopes to prioritise, but she says Christians also have an obligation to ensure the equal sharing of the world’s resources, and a responsibility to care for the environment.

“It is absolutely the place of Christians to make a difference,” she said. “The church has always made a difference. We have always been called to care for the most marginalised - the widow, the child, the refugee. Again and again throughout Scripture we see that that is God’s call to us.

“We are His ‘Plan A’ to change the world and we need to take that call very, very seriously. Right throughout the Bible we see God’s concern for justice and mercy for the poor and marginalised.

“And as Christians we should understand our responsibility for caring for others and the particular responsibility we have for caring for those who bear the brunt of unjust systems and things like conflict and environmental damage and climate change.”

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Prior to joining Baptist World Aid, Lipsett served as chief operating officer at Bible Society Australia, where she helped grow its global and missional reach. Before that she was executive pastor of Newlife Church in Queensland, a community she served for nearly 20 years.

But she has some regrets, including not speaking up and putting up with “more than I should have” during her career.

“I think for my generation in particular, we worked within the constraints that we were given and we had much more of a mentality of don’t rock the boat, just double down and work incredibly hard. But I regret not speaking out more strongly because I don’t think - I haven’t served the women in the generations behind me well, by not finding my voice around these things earlier, by not ensuring my voice and their voices are heard.”

Perhaps no more.

It seems that Lipsett has well and truly learned how powerful her voice is and is faithfully using it to highlight the needs of the least powerful and those without a voice.