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Karen's thoughts on the Social Economy

Founder handing over to avoid a case of Founders Fever

Wednesday, 20th April 2016

The town crier runs into the town square shouting “Hear ye hear ye! Founders Fever narrowly avoided at Pro Bono Australia… All now safe and well!”

Founders Fever happens when an idea-fuelled entrepreneur starts to drive an established organisation mad, seeding more and more ideas rather than harvesting what’s already ripe. It drives everyone a little crazy because unless you have unlimited resources – ​and ​ very few of us do – people can be spread too thin. This founder ​has​ recognised​ her limitations, ​is ​bow​ing​ to her legacy, to her organisation, to her successor​ and is shifting roles.​

So yes, after 16 years at the helm I have decided to step aside as head of the business​ and pass the reins over to the talented and capable Matt Betts. Matt and I have been working together for six months, during which our melding of like-minds formed a map, assuring confident navigation into the future: business goals – tick, social goals – tick, fabulous team – tick​.

The last few years have seen this power-packed, scarcely resourced organisation doing awesome work, well beyond what one would imagine ​a small team ​were able to do. Pro Bono Australia has ​tripled​ in audience, customer numbers and products. We’ve delivered relevant and timely services that build capacity, inform, listen, and speak to the issues.

In 2015 we invested in understanding our impact and paid EY a lot of money (worthwhile money!) to determine our social impact. We are so proud of the outcome. Our diverse business model supplies the social sector with $11 worth of social value for every $1 invested (it was so exciting that we made the awesome graphic below, too). So profit and purpose can work? Our business as usual is business unusual.

Who can now say that media organisations can’t make ends meet! However, we aren’t a standard media company. This is true in part because we have an agenda: belief in civil society, growth in the social economy, activating good intentions, making the world a better place.

These beliefs make us stronger as an organisation and attract people to our work. Purpose is attractive.

Now I’m off! In reality I’ll still be working within the office but working on projects beyond the realms of Pro Bono Australia.

I’m very excited – as usual!

​Developing the spaces, places and the movements​ for a holistic “​Good”​ still is and will always be my passion.


Karen Mahlab AM
CEO & Founder


Karen Mahlab AM is the Founder and CEO of Pro Bono Australia. In 2015 she was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for her contribution to the Not for Profit sector and philanthropic initiatives.
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