Neighbourly Approach to Change
15 September 2014 at 11:44 am
Andrew Heslop is an ACT nominee for the 2015 Australian of the Year Awards for his development of Neighbour Day. Today he is an Australia Day Ambassador and is now Ambassador and Neighbour Day founder with Relationships Australia, as well as an Ambassador for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day.
In 2012 he was named as NSW Volunteer of the Year for his work in founding and developing Neighbour Day since 2003.
Andrew Heslop is this week's Changemaker.
What drew you to the Not for Profit sector?
From an early age my grandparents instilled in me a sense of philanthropy and volunteerism, and so after working in broadcast media and producing market-leading radio programs I decided to transfer those skills to the NFP sector and went to work for Australian Red Cross. Certainly much better hours than breakfast radio.
How long have you been working in the Not for Profit sector?
I joined Junior Red Cross at primary school aged eight … so that’s almost 37 years ago! I became a volunteer collector for the Red Cross Calling doorknock appeal when I was at secondary school in Adelaide. As a staff member since 1993 and my first Board role was in 2003.
What was your first job in the Not for Profit sector?
I was the Public Relations Officer for the state office of Australian Red Cross in Victoria.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Making change happen. I was described last week as a ‘fixer’ because professionally, and as a volunteer, I have helped organisations overcome issues and achieve significant results by providing clarity and direction.
Whether it is collecting blankets for the homeless and in-need, generating income for local services and programs or heightening awareness of an issue the NFP sector has great capacity to move quickly and credibly to engage the community for good. That is enormously rewarding.
What has been the most challenging part of your work? And how do you overcome that?
The most challenging aspect is addressing sometimes entrenched mindsets that ‘we cannot achieve X’ because there isn’t a marketing budget. So no one bothers. I recently worked on an Australian Government funded project where I was able to achieve an outcome more than four times our contracted target by creating a campaign that resonated and engaged, yet spent less than $100,000.
While becoming my own philanthropist and benefactor to fund Neighbour Day (in the absence of any external income sources) I was able to gain extraordinary support for it as a grassroots campaign by asking NewsCorp Australia, advertising agencies, television and radio networks to donate the resources needed to make change happen. Pleasingly they did.
When I was Chair of the Winter Blanket Appeal in Melbourne I reinvented it, brought in external partners and took it from 200 blankets to more than 10 000, the best result in 71 years.
More than just asking the right people, you have to know what you’re asking and know how they’re going to deliver it – as former Myer CEO Dawn Robertson actually proved when a truck load of blankets arrived at our warehouse.
In terms of your work sitting on a Not for Profit board, what would you say is the key to an effective NFP board?
The key is to have a Chair who not only is able to lead but who has the capacity to influence board members/directors and make hard decisions when necessary, including counselling members/directors. Accepting this leadership role is more than just prestige – you have to work hard at it. And whether or not you are the leader you need to consider if you are the right ‘fit’ – and then opt out if you’re not. It’s tough call to make but you can’t have a dysfunctional board.
I consider my greatest achievement to be …
There are two which stand out – transforming the Winter Blanket Appeal after seeing so many families, and our partner agencies, come in to the former Victorian Relief Committee looking for blankets and knowing just one blanket was never going to be enough. Absolutely heartbreaking when some of the families were also homeless and sleeping in their car.
My other achievement is founding Australia’s annual celebration of community, Neighbour Day, in 2003 after an elderly woman Mrs Elsie Brown was discovered to have died in her home and been forgotten for two years.
After leading, funding and directing it after hours and on weekends, this year I gifted it to Relationships Australia in perpetuity following a national expression of interest process. I’m very proud of what I was able to do with the support of communities across the country over ten years, but I’m more proud of the plans Relationships Australia have for it.
I was really disappointed to have received some quite nasty criticism for not selling it or licensing it – and in doing so making money from it. But I am very comfortable in my decision because I strongly feel it wasn’t mine to sell, I just needed to find it a new home so it could continue to grow.
• What (or who) inspires you?
I’m inspired each Australia Day and Queen’s Birthday when the names of people admitted to the Order of Australia are announced. As an Australia Day Ambassador I get a great kick out of meeting some of them on the day after the big secret they’ve held on to so tightly from family and friends is finally revealed.
I nominated my Albert Park neighbour Mrs Joan Nicholas OAM for recognition because of the fantastic volunteer work she had achieved advancing the cause of drug education and support after her son David died from an overdose of heroin. But when I researched her story I discovered her lifelong commitment to the community as a volunteer, following her father’s advice to ‘go the extra mile’ to ‘be of service to the community’.
When I went to her investiture at Government House in Melbourne it was so moving to be among so many women and men recognised for science, community building, volunteering, commitment to the disability sector, education and military service, among many spheres of expertise. Everyday people doing extraordinary yet important things, often well away from the limelight.