Making an Impact with Investment
14 April 2014 at 11:10 am
After 15 years working overseas in international development and a successful career in the corporate world, Sandy Blackburn-Wright is now dedicated to growing impact investing in Australia. Blackburn-Wright is this week’s Changemaker.
Blackburn-Wright’s first job in the Not for Profit was at an organisation in South Africa that built youth leadership, during the time the country was under an Apartheid government and after the 1994 elections.
After 15 years, she returned to Australia in 2003 and worked in corporate Australia, which included being Head of Social Innovation for Westpac.
In the role, Blackburn-Wright started the Organisational Mentoring Program in 2009, which partners with Not for Profits and social enterprises to build their organisational capacity over years of engagement and support.
She was also part of the Westpac team that won Australia’s first Social Impact Bond pilot.
Now Blackburn-Wright is dedicated to helping create a market for impact investing in Australia, co-founding Impact Strategist and Impact Investing Australia with Rosemary Addis.
She also served on the Federal Government’s Not for Profit Reform Council, is on several Not for Profit boards and sits on the Australian Advisory Board for the International Task force on Impact Investing, sponsored by the G8.
What are you currently working on in your organisation?
At Impact Investing Australia, we are hoping to build the infrastructure necessary to enable an impact investing market to grow in the region.
So we are working with governments, financial services, Not for Profits, the intermediaries, philanthropists and foundations to make that happen.
What drew you to the Not for Profit sector?
I went straight into community development when I was invited to spend four months on a program in the townships of South Africa.
It was such compelling work that I didn’t come back for 15 years. Since returning, I’ve spent the last five years or so working with and in the sector here. It’s work that matters at the end of the day.
What was your first job in the Not for Profit sector?
I was working with a local organisation in South Africa that built youth leadership capability.
In sounds unbelievable, but at the time, the Apartheid government was detaining and sometimes killing young leaders and so new leadership was required if change was going to be created.
As we were in Pietermaritzburg, I also had to learn Zulu as part of the job description, which was a constant source of entertainment to my black colleagues.
What was the most rewarding part of that work?
The impact was tangible and immense because the need was so great. I stayed in South Africa so long because I couldn’t imagine that I could create that kind of value back in Australia.
I loved the warm, relaxed culture of living in the townships and I loved the sense of belonging that doing this work created.
What had been the most challenging part of that work?
The most challenging part was the violence and the death. I went to more funerals than weddings in the years leading up to the end of Apartheid.
And to see friends when they came out of detention and the effects of torture on their minds and bodies was beyond description. I didn’t overcome it.
What do you like best about working in your current organisation?
I like the idea that we are working on creating something completely new.
This market has been building for a decade or two but it’s really gaining momentum here and globally and as it does, it’s a game changer.
The other wonderful thing is working with a fantastic team of smart, capable, audacious women.
Everyone is volunteering their time and we didn’t choose women to work with exclusively, but that’s who has shown up. It’s a real privilege.
Favourite saying …
My favourite saying was something my mentor told me in South Africa and it was “this too shall pass”.
There were some pretty rough times there but we knew it would eventually change. The flipside is when life is good, pay attention because that too shall pass.
I’m always being asked …
How can I get your job?
What are you reading/watching/listening to at the moment?
I’m reading two series, A Game of Thrones [A Song of Ice and Fire] and the Outlander Series.
I love them for the escape they provide – that and the lead male character in Outlander is every woman’s dream man, so I like to hang out with him from time to time.
Then I’m re-watching West Wing and old episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.
Pro Bono Australia will be running a two-part Executive Webinar with Sandy Blackburn-Wright on Impact Investing on May 1 and 8. To learn more, click here.