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A New Podium for Change


Monday, 29th June 2015 at 12:39 pm
Xavier Smerdon, Journalist
In November this year, Sarah Davies will leave her current role as CEO of the Reach Foundation to take on the position of CEO at Philanthropy Australia. Davies is this week’s Changemaker.

Monday, 29th June 2015
at 12:39 pm
Xavier Smerdon, Journalist


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A New Podium for Change
Monday, 29th June 2015 at 12:39 pm

In November this year, Sarah Davies will leave her current role as CEO of the Reach Foundation to take on the position of CEO at Philanthropy Australia. Davies is this week’s Changemaker.

In April it was announced that Davies would replace Louise Walsh as the full-time CEO of Philanthropy Australia.

Davies will bring a wealth of experience with her, having spent much of her life working in the Not for Profit sector, with her most high-profile roles being CEO of the Reach Foundation since 2011, CEO of the Australian Communities Foundation and Director of Kids Under Cover.

In this week’s Changemaker column, Davies explains what inspires her to continue giving more of her energy and what she is looking forward to in her newest job at Philanthropy Australia.

What are you currently working on in your organisation?

This is Reach’s 21st Birthday year – so as well as our regular programs (we deliver over 1,000 workshops a year to about 30,000 young people) we are working on a few special projects.

So far this year we have published a book – a guide to parenting teens, written from the perspective of our young Crew; released our first app, MYinspo, designed to support the young people who participate in our secondary school programs and take Reach’s approach and model into an online world; and later this year, we will be publishing the first ever Reach Hopes & Dreams Report.  

It is a special year. The Crew who are now designing and delivering our programs were not born when Reach started 21 years ago – a testament to the power and relevance of the original mission and purpose. And we’ll have some fun – a few birthday parties and celebrations thrown in.

How long have you been working in the Not for Profit sector?

I’ve been involved in the Not for Profit sector for a long time. I spent 14 years working in higher education with 10 years at Swinburne University. For the last 15 years I have been on a range of Not for Profit Boards, mostly to do with education and young people, and now [I have spent] eight years working in philanthropy and community organisations. But I have also worked in the private sector – mainly in HR, marketing and strategy consulting.

What is the most rewarding part of your work?

I believe that everyone has the power, capacity and responsibility to actively create the kind of world we want to live it –  in terms of the kind of life we want to lead, the kind of person we want to be, and also the kind of the community we want to live within.  

By far and away the most exciting and rewarding part of my work is to see this created every day. I work with about 200 passionate, able and inspiring young people and a bunch of talented adults who show up every day because they believe in the power, capacity and potential of young people to be great, and do great things.

In terms of your work sitting on a Not for Profit board, what would you say is the key to an effective NFP board?

  1. Clarity of role and purpose. Depending on the nature of the organisation (size, scale, age, resources) the Board needs to be clear what it’s there to do (and what not!)

  2. Composition of the collective: skills mix, diversity, trust so you can have honest conversations and really explore ideas and issues, etc.

  3. Personal commitment and willingness to put in the hard work – don’t leave your brains and muscles at the door!  Good self knowledge to temper passion where needed and ensure objective clear thinking

  4. Good leadership from the Chair

  5. Good Board processes – so the environment is conducive to really effective governance and leadership.                                                              

What are you most proud about of your work with Reach?

It’s hard to pick one thing, and everything we achieve is done because of and with others, so I’ll go for the changes we’ve seen in the quality of our work and impact it has on young people.

We’ve worked really hard to examine and build the evidence base underpinning our purpose and theory of change. We must have evidence and confidence that our programs are designed and delivered in such a way as to ensure maximum value and impact for young people.

So we have been developing and using a range of tools to help us do this to the point where we have a really solid foundation, from program logic models to evaluation frameworks and tools.  We have genuinely opened ourselves up to learning and improving our work – and the results speak for themselves.

What’s your favourite saying?

Oh I have so many! I think my two favourites at the moment, because I think they are very relevant to the current context in Australia, are:

“The secret is to gang up on the problem, not each other”

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”

Why are you excited about your next role with Philanthropy Australia?

Quite simply, because who would not want more and better philanthropy? One of the most exciting characteristics of philanthropy for me is the freedom to discover and invest in all the different aspects needed to build community, to advance us as a society, to address inequity and disadvantage, to create beauty and meaning, to repair what is broken and nurture what is valuable.

Philanthropy Australia is a catalyst, an enabler. Its role, in my mind, is to add value to and advance the capacity and effectiveness of philanthropic individuals, entities and organisations and to encourage and champion greater participation.  If we can do this – we are all better off.

What’s not to love about that?

What are you reading/watching/listening to at the moment?  Why?

I’m a sucker for a good whodunnit, so I am always reading a murder mystery of some kind.  I’m really enjoying the ABC/NZ drama, Top of The Lake at the moment, although it’s not necessarily easy to watch.  And my regular magazine reads include HBR, The Economist and (OK – I fess up here) Who Magazine (I like the pictures!).


Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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