'Australia Cares' Quietly Closes Its Doors
20 August 2009 at 3:29 pm
The partnership organisation set up less than 5 years ago to boost corporate volunteering in Victoria, firstly as Melbourne Cares and then as Australia Cares, has quietly closed its doors – with claims it is the first major Not for Profit victim of the economic downturn.
Based on the highly successful program London Cares and launched with Royal fanfare by Prince Charles in Melbourne in March 2005, Melbourne Cares had boasted a top line up of corporate and community supporters. In 2008 it changed its name to Australia Cares.
Australia Cares Chairman, Simon McKeon, who is also the Executive Chairman of the Macquarie Group in Melbourne, says at the end of 2008 the organisation was vunerable to the grim times in the corporate world.
McKeon says that as the ‘new kid on the block’, Australia Cares had no reserves or capital to give them the staying power to survive the downturn.
He agrees it is possibly one of the first major Not for Profit victims of the global financial crisis in Australia.
He says the straw that broke the camels back came with the opportunity to create the Schools First Program with National Australia Bank.
The Chairman says that under CEO Lea Sertori, Australia Cares put a remarkable program together over 12 to 18 months but by the time it had won the tender and reached the executive stage, the organisation’s battery had drained right down.
McKeon says the board could not be satisfied by the end of 2008 that Australia Cares could continue and had to make the awful decision to close.
Looking back, he says, the NAB project was incredibly ambitious. The project has now been handed over to its partner, the Australian Youth Foundation and the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). The NAB’s Schools First Project is currently operational and offering up to $5 million in funding, encouraging schools to partner with their communities to take learning beyond the blackboard.
In 2005 when Melbourne Cares was launched, the Victorian Government announced that “leading businesses show they care”.
As a founding member, the Department of Victorian Communities contributed $100,000 in cash or kind over three years; money drawn from the Victorian Community Support Fund.
Other founding members included Accenture, Amcor, Ambit Group of Companies, ANZ Bank, Cadbury Schweppes, Channel Seven, City of Melbourne, Connell Wagner, Medibank Private, Macquarie Bank, Melbourne Football Club, Rio Tinto and The Age.
Founding CEO, Simon Robinson came from the UK in May 2004 to carry out a feasibility study into the corporate volunteering concept and set up Melbourne Cares, running it for the first two years.
Robinson says he’s disappointed to see Australia Cares go.
He says it was originally envisaged as an employer/volunteer brokerage organisation based on the London model and moved quickly to become an innovative organisation that created a more effective space in bringing business, community and government together.
He says some 30 companies provided seed funding at its peak. Perhaps, he speculates, it was ahead of its time.
Former Board member of Australia Cares and a founding member of the Committee for Melbourne, Janine Kirk describes Australia Cares as being ‘cutting edge’ for its day and pushed the boundaries of getting a range of corporates to cooperate.
Kirk says she’s disappointed by the closure and the staff were given great support by the board.
Australia Cares Chairman, Simon McKeon says the board was made up of representatives from their founding corporate partners and they were involved in the decision to close the organisation as they saw the financial situation unfold.
He says the concept isn’t broken; it’s a wonderful model ahead of its time.
He says the board tried hard to get capacity funding but in reality it was during the hardest of times, financially, to be asking.
McKeon says however, he wouldn’t be surprised if it came back on the radar as things picked up in the economic world.
He says there is significant demand from corporates for simple CSR solutions.