Q&A with Kollen Sussman, Founder of OnSide

Those who know Kollen, either as a Support Coordinator, colleague or friend, understand just how passionate he is about the disability sector, NDIS and OnSide’s mission. We sat down to find out the ‘why’ behind OnSide and how he came to found a company that specialised in Support Coordination.


What is your professional background?


I was originally a teacher. One of the most fulfilling experiences in my work as an educator was engaging with students with a disability and ensuring we had an inclusive and accessible classroom and school community. I developed a specialist knowledge base for ASD and was lucky enough to have some students, together with their parents and care teams, who opened up their world to me so I could walk alongside them.


Following my time as a teacher, I was heavily involved in the set up of a health education simulation and collaborative clinical school at a major hospital where multi disciplinary teams had to work together in high pressure environments.


What led to the development of OnSide?


Early exposure to the NDIS back in 2015 meant that I was able to watch this scheme grow from almost its infancy. I have been an advocate from the start, and while I knew that not everything worked straight away, I was keen to find solutions to work in the grey areas.


My sense was that one thing the NDIS needed to be a success (and what NDIS participants needed to achieve their goals) was independence, especially for the coordinator of their plan. This is led to me starting OnSide in 2017 and what continues to drive me every day.


I have always wanted to walk alongside people living with different and multiple disabilities and support them to live the life they choose while providing them with ideas and resources to try different ways to connect to their community. 


How has your lived experience sparked your passion for what you do?


My life has been deeply affected by those close to me and their direct experience of mental illness. Seeking, receiving and engaging with a variety of mental health services has shown me what works and taught me how to balance the many elements connected with a person’s mental health.


I have seen first hand how great some of life’s challenges can be. Seeing those near and dear to me achieve their potential continues to motivate me to provide a voice and choice to thrive for those living with a disability. I am personally and professionally committed to the development and delivery of support to promote independence, development and confidence in others (and myself).


Why have you focused your offerings at OnSide rather than expanded what you do?


OnSide is a specialised Support Coordination service. We know that there are other companies out there that offer a wider range of services, but that has never been our mission. My goal from the outset was to set up a quality service with a laser focus on one thing and one thing only and do that the best I can. 


Support Coordination is probably one of the most important elements in a NDIS plan. It’s the glue that holds everything together. When the supports, goals and budgets are aligned, that’s when a plan works best. 


What do you love most about your job?


There is nothing more powerful than watching someone achieve their goals, and knowing that you played some (even tiny) part in it. I love getting to know people, developing my network. Collaboration is key and ensuring there are no barriers to connect to the best person for the role was why I started OnSide. It’s still something that excites me.


I know that Support Coordinators are not meant to be advocates, but I think the roles are somewhat intertwined. OnSide Support Coordinators are champions for people once they decide what they want. I can’t help myself but to get into their corner and explore every avenue to make it happen. 


How did you build your OnSide Team?


I have built OnSide as an organisation based on trust. Everyone I work with, I think: ‘Would I trust them to work with my daughter?’ If I have to think about the answer, then it’s already a sign that they’re probably not the right fit.


We refer to the people who engage OnSide Support Coordinators as our customers. They need to see the value in spending their valuable Support Coordination budget with us.


I have always worked best in a team scenario, where each person is valued for their contribution, respected for their opinion, but also knew their boundaries and didn’t cross them. These early exposures helped push me towards my path forward and set up the values for OnSide.


What next?


We are living through monumental times. One in five people live with a disability. There has to be a seismic shift to a customer-centric system for the NDIS. There are so many opportunities (both taken and missed). OnSide’s aim is to make every opportunity a possibility.


Knowledge, understanding and accessibility is key.


The NDIS is flipping on its head the idea that people with disabilities have full choice and control of their funds and supports – what they want, when they want and how they want it. We’re currently part of the biggest change across the disability sector.


Why is OnSide’s independence vital to its business model?


Independence is key. We want to truly walk alongside our customers. This can’t be done without independence. Independence allows for creativity. We have the ability to think outside the box and not to get locked into anything.


We are able to access the specialist for what you need, when you need it and to be able to monitor and adjust as required. If something isn’t working, we can approach it from another angle. If something changes, we change with it. Our only focus is our customer. We do what’s needed to ensure they’re meeting their goals and exceeding their own expectations.