Robert Van Aalst

  • Canberra ACT
Robert Van Aalst


Regional economic development; policy development; innovation; project development, implementation and management; writing; Web 2.0. 


After many years of experience in the private sector both managing and owning businesses; and providing professional advice to other business owners, I turned my attention to the NGO and public sectors in order to progress economic development outcomes for Canberra and the Capital Region. During 2009/2010 I undertook a secondment to the University of Canberra from the ACT Government, pursuing similar opportunities in the higher educational environment. 

My current role with Regional Development Australia (ACT) focuses on the development of the ACT across economic, social and environmental dimensions and critically takes into account the importance of the regional relationships that the ACT has with the south east of NSW. A strong economic and knowledge base provides opportunity for individual achievement and helps the Capital Territory remain globally competitive. And in a globally competitive environment it is progressive cities and regions, not countries, that are increasingly becoming the centres of competition. Innovation is not a luxury, it is a necessity. 

Work History

Work History


Capital Region Business Enterprise Centre

In August 2000 I commenced as Manager and Business Facilitator with the Capital Region Business Enterprise Centre (CRBEC), formerly the Queanbeyan BEC - a position I held for two years. This multi-function role encompassed many facets, including: 

  • Business facilitation (including providing): 
    • Business operational advice to existing firms;
    • Advice on staffing, marketing, costing and financial management;
    • Regular mentoring of developing business owners; and
    • Start up regulatory information to small business intenders.
  • Hosting a monthly networking breakfast - and growing this from 100 to 180 attendees.
  • Authoring a regular newspaper column and writing and publishing a regular newsletter.
  • Ongoing maintenance of web site (including content and technical management). 
  • Representation of the organisation by way of networking and media.
  • Regular reporting to government departments (State and Federal) and funding bodies.
  • Liaison with local government and the local business community.
  • Liaison with Queanbeyan Council senior officers including Economic Development Manager.
  • Coordination and liaison with regional, state and national BEC network.
  • Management of the organisation (an incorporated association) and reporting to the not-for-profit voluntary Management Committee.
Dec 2010 - Present

Executive Officer

Regional Development Australia (ACT)

Regional Development Australia Committees are a Federal Government vehicle designed to provide better engagement, understanding, and ultimately services and quality of life to regional Australia. RDA Committees work with all three tiers of government, with the business sector and with the community to better define priorities for the region - and works on addressing those identified priorities - to enhance a region's potential.

RDA ACT is one of 55 RDAs nationally and the only one jointly supported by the ACT Government. It works closely with the ACT Government and the surrounding RDA of NSW Southern Inland.

Feb 2006 - Nov 2010

Manager, Innovation and Industry Development

ACT Government

In February 2006, I commenced with the ACT Department of Economic Development in the Business and Economic Policy Branch. As a result of an ACT Government agency restructure, the Department's capability was significantly downsized, restructured and moved to within the Chief Minister's Department. 

As a consequence, I became one of the more senior and experienced team members and was a member of the leadership team that led the re-focusing of the organisation. For three years from August 2006, I held the position of Manager, Innovation and Industry Development.

While managing a small team, this role included:

  • Preparing ministerial briefs including; response to correspondence, meetings, question time, estimates and responses to questions-on-notice and for functions including speeches and media releases (as well as a number of Cabinet Submissions).
  • Undertaking research and analysis on a wide range of industry, innovation and economic development issues.
  • Development and scoping of the ACT Government supported business advisory service - including managing procurement processes.
  • Development of innovation and industry development focused policy proposals and initiatives including the implementation, delivery and contract management of funded initiatives and programs. Examples of funding successfully gained through the budget proccesses include screenACT, Lighthouse Innovation Centre and the Innovation Connect competitive grants program.
  • Developing and maintaining ongoing productive relationships with other ACT Government agencies and with the Chief Minister's staff.
  • Developing and maintaining relationships with regional industry and innovation stakeholders including business groups, universities and research and development organisations.
  • Managing the ACT Government's role as a founding member of NICTA (National ICT Research Centre of Excellence).
  • Being a key player, driving the process of the ACT Government's Innovation and Business Development strategies through the commissioning and completion of several key documents, including 'Innovation, Creativity and Leadership - A Study of the ACT Innovation System' (from July 07 - Feb 08) and an ACT Business and Industry Development Strategy (Unpublished - Aug-Oct 2008).
  • Representing the ACT Government on the Federal Cultural Minister's Council Creative Innovation Economy Round Table.
  • Representing the ACT Government on a visit to South Africa aimed at attracting skilled and business migrants.
  • Representing the Branch at Legislative Assembly Public Accounts Committee and Budget Estimates hearings (including answering a range of questions regarding program delivery).

During this period I also acted at various higher levels, including Branch Director (SES).

Sep 2009 - Aug 2010

Manager, Development and Engagement

University of Canberra

In August 2009 I commenced a twelve-month secondment from the ACT Government to the University of Canberra. The role, located within the Office of Development and Engagement, sought to expand the University's engagement with governments at all levels, the business community, and other stakeholders. Additionally, the role included management of a range of University projects. The role description included:

  • Further developing meaningful interactions with the ACT Government under the auspice of a Memorandum of Understanding.
  • Enhancing external relationships with the business community.
  • Developing the University's commercialisation opportunities through an enhanced relationship with other stakeholders in the regional innovation system.
  • Assisting in grant applications and tender proposals under major funding programs (including four successful funding applications for the Health Faculty).
  • Assisting in maintaining and developing relationships with the Australian Government, business groups other peak organisations and lead businesses.
  • Seeking and pursuing business development opportunities for the University across teaching, research and consulting.
  • Undertaking a range of University consultation work, including significant research and writing contribution to the ACT Government commissioned 'Clean Economy Framework' document - a study that included economic, social and environmental perpectives; and conducting the Review of the ACT Government supported screenACT initiative in early 2010.
  • Assisting in the delivery of a range of new initiatives secured - including the Innovation and Best Practice component of the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government - and the ACT activities of the Creative Industry Innovation Centre.
Aug 2002 - Aug 2005

Executive Officer

Capital Region Development Board

For three years from August 2002 I was the Executive Officer of the Capital Region Development Board (CRDB), formerly the Australian Capital Region Development Council (ACRDC). The CRDB was a regional development organisation co-funded by the NSW and ACT Governments. The board members and Chair were jointly appointed by the NSW and ACT Governments (five members each). The Executive Officer role was wide ranging and included the following duties:

  • Ongoing interaction and consultation with business, community and local government interests across the broader region.
  • Development and initiation of project concepts and funding applications.
  • Project management of a broad range of regional activities, including a regional community leadership development program and infrastructure and industry development programs.
  • Development of marketing and communication materials, including electronically (web site). 
  • Representing  the organisation externally, including to the media (print, radio and TV).
  • Ongoing liaison and relationship management with the sponsoring governments (NSW and ACT), as well as the 14 local governments within the region.
  • Provision of strategic level feedback and advice to the sponsoring governments.
  • Management of the board secretariat (up to five staff).
  • Management and compliance of an incorporated association, including financial budget control.
  • Preparation of board meeting agenda and other business papers.
  • Development of submissions to various agencies on a range of topics.
  • Preparation of speeches and correspondence for the Chair.
  • Liaison with MPs and Ministers at the ACT, NSW and Federal level. 




  I have several years experience and training in enterprise facilitation. I have undertaken analysis and provided advice to hundreds of businesses (primarily small and micro) and business intenders. I have conducted scores of business operational reviews, written (and reviewed) hundreds of business plans and coached and developed close to 200 business intenders. In all, my experience extends to providing information, mentoring and business advice to over 500 clients during the period 1997 - 2002.     


My workforce management experience ranges from overseeing an operation of two people up to a larger group of over 100. I have experience in managing sub-level managers and have the capacity to delegate and motivate staff to achieve results. 


In my management roles, in both for-profit businesses and not-for-profit enterprises, I have gained extensive experience in managing the financial aspects of an organisation. I have experience in analysing financial performance, setting budgets, running organisations to achieve budgeted results and achieving sales and profitability targets. My financial skills have been more recently broadened to encompass public sector requirements. 


In my various employment roles I have successfully undertaken the management of a wide range of enterprises. My business experience ranges from the management of a large multinational, at branch level, through to owning and running small businesses. I have the experience and ability to manage enterprises of varying sizes commercially and in the not-for-profit sector. Additionally, I have extensive experience in mentoring, enterprise facilitation and business skills training for micro and small business across a range of industry sectors. 


Whilst not necessarily ambitious, I have always been driven to succeed at whatever tasks I undertake. I learn quickly, adapt to situations rapidly, develop best practice methodologies and obtain results in a quick and efficient way. I work well by myself and with others and have experience in managing, directing and focussing a team. I relish challenges and regularly strive to undertake increasingly challenging roles. 


In my many management roles I have generally had little supervision. I am self-driven, have good time management and prioritising skills and can plan my workload, and that of an organisation, over periods of hours, days, weeks or months. I set tasks and priorities dependant upon 'bigger picture' strategic direction. 


Over the years I have developed a substantial network of contacts, across both the ACT private and public sector environments, including successful business operators, industry association executives, tertiary education and research and development organisations and government officials at council, local, State, Territory and Australian Government levels.  I maintain a significant online, as well as offline professional network.


I am proficient in a wide range of software, operating systems and networks and have an inherent capacity to adapt and adopt to any new technologies as they arise. I have a strong interest in new technologies including developing online 'communities of interest' and the utlisation of online mechanisms to effectively engage with a community of interest. 


During my tenure at the two Regional Development Organisations and the Business Enterprise Centre, I successfully developed and enhanced my media liaison skills to capably and effectively promote these organisations. I have participated in radio and television interviews as well as numerous press interviews. Whilst at the BEC, I regularly wrote articles for regional newspapers (which were syndicated to other regions) and have written countless media releases. More recently I have authored articles for magazine and posts online publication.


Within my private sector roles my communication priorities were centred around making sales and delivering profitable business results. Since 2000 I have further developed my communication skills in order to effectively operate in the not-for-profit, public sector and higher education environments. My experience in the public sector has significantly enhanced my already capable writing skills. My verbal communication skills are of the highest order, in one on one situations and with groups. I am comfortable and competent speaking in front of both small and large groups. 


I have an inherent capacity to quickly and accurately research, review, analyse and develop position options on a wide range of issues. I have the ability to synthesise and process issues and information efficiently and effectively.    I have made significant contribution to a range of ACT Government policy documents (both published and unpublished) during my tenure with the ACT Government.