Changemaker- Catherine Brown
17 June 2013 at 10:54 am
Catherine Brown is the CEO of the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.
This week the Foundation is celebrating its 90th anniversary. The Foundation aims to increase life opportunities and promote social inclusion through fundraising, partnerships and the distribution of grants to charitable agencies supporting people who are socially and economically disadvantaged.
This week we profile Catherine in Changemakers – a weekly column which examines inspiring people and their careers in the Not for Profit sector.
How long have you been working in the Not for Profit sector?
Too long! But in my current role it helps that I have worked in direct service organisations in the past. I know what it takes to run a small or even a very large Not for Profit. It can be tough and it takes a lot of determination and commitment – but when you make a difference, it’s worth it.
I moved from being a solicitor at a big commercial law firm to take on an in-house legal role with the MS Society in 1988. I was there for five years. I became Government Relations Manager as well and took on other management responsibilities. I was given half a day off a week to study Business Administration at Swinburne University – my boss said that they couldn’t pay me more but they could support my further education! I had a lot of fun doing marketing, finance and HR projects related to my work.
What are you currently working on in the organisation?
It is an exciting time for a few reasons. We are celebrating our 90th anniversary this week- on June 14, 1923 Sir John Swanson, Lord Mayor, established the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Fund for Hospitals and Charities as an independent foundation under an Act of Parliament. The Lord Mayor of the day is our President. Sir John set up the Fund to help coordinate fundraising for Melbourne’s hospitals, which were struggling to cope with demand for services for injured soldiers returning from WWI.
Setting up a community fund was a really visionary thing to do – community foundations had only just started in the US. In the granting area, we are completing the first round of our revamped grants program, which included Survive and Thrive, Capacity Building and Direct Aid grants. We also have a special 90th Anniversary Grants program so that school students can work with charities on projects that make a difference to their community. We are expecting lots of amazing ideas to come through!
We are starting on the next steps in our four Initiatives in Youth; Ageing in a multicultural community; Affordable Housing and Food Security, using a venture philanthropy approach. I am helping with the early stages of an interesting arts project and I am also beginning to develop a pathway for our support of social enterprises (not for profit model), which is focused on scaling up as well as start-ups. There is a lot to do!
What do like best about working in your current organisation?
The Foundation is in the lucky position of being in the business of investing in great ideas and great organisations. The potential for supporting positive social change is endless. My favourite projects are the Initiatives and the Proactive grants – I can help get things off the ground.
I consider my greatest achievement to be …
Helping people translate their dreams into reality – either as a CEO or previously as a consultant. My career has been a journey and I have developed a passion for start-ups and change ups. I have helped set up many new organisations (including sometimes doing the legal work) and helped change established organisations so that they are ready for the next wave of opportunities.
Working with the Sidney Myer Fund setting up the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal was a great project. Doing some governance training and charity tax work with Warddeken Land Management (West Arnhem Land) and NAILSMA (North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance) to obtain Deductible Gift Recipient status were highlights.
Having ACER Press publish my book, Great Foundations (which is designed to help people moving into senior management and Board roles in the Not for Profit sector get up to speed) in late 2010 was great. Since 2000, being appointed and reappointed to two Boards by different Ministers for Health and one Board by different Ministers for Women’s Affairs were my board highlights.
Last but not least, being appointed as CEO of the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation has been a wonderful opportunity.
What inspires you?
I know that change is possible. When I started at the MS Society I met with many younger clients living in our nursing homes. Later I was project manager for the development of supported accommodation units in the community, especially developed for younger people with MS. The CEO and I worked hard over several years to get all the government funding and approvals organised.
I trained hundreds of volunteers in human rights and duty of care over my years at MS and Wesley Mission and later supported volunteer philanthropists working with community foundations all around Australia. From that I know what a Lifeline counsellor can do for someone in crisis and what a Do Care visitor can mean to a lonely person. I know what even a small grant can do for a small rural community or for a young person who would not attend University without a scholarship. You can change lives for the better.
At the moment the people that inspire me are the young people who go through our Youth in Philanthropy program. The program gives me a chance to mentor a school group and to go on site visits to all sorts of charities with them. All the school students come together towards the end of the year to report on their grant recommendations. This is a moving event in so many ways.
Whether they come from government schools or non-government schools, whether they are Jewish, Catholic, Islamic, Protestant, agnostic or something else, they are all so genuinely and deeply thoughtful. You can see the way they have grown as people and as potential future leaders. The challenges we face as a community are huge but I think today’s teenagers are up for it! They are wiser and more caring than some people in my generation.