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A Commissioner of Change

6 July 2015 at 11:59 am
Xavier Smerdon
Few people hold more responsibility for the future of the Not for Profit sector in Australia than ACNC Commissioner Susan Pascoe AM. Pascoe is this week’s Changemaker.

Xavier Smerdon | 6 July 2015 at 11:59 am


A Commissioner of Change
6 July 2015 at 11:59 am

Few people hold more responsibility for the future of the Not for Profit sector in Australia than ACNC Commissioner Susan Pascoe AM. Pascoe is this week’s Changemaker.

Every morning Susan Pascoe wakes up at 5am to answer emails and walks four kilometres before starting her work as the head of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission no later than 7.15am.

It is this dedication and focus that has seen Pascoe steer the ACNC through what has undoubtedly been a rocky start.

Earmarked from the beginning as an organisation that the Abbott Government wanted to abolish, the ACNC has had to survive an infancy of instability.

After more than two years of constant campaigning from the sector to maintain it, the ACNC appears likely to remain.

As this week’s Changemaker, Pascoe shares with Pro Bono Australia News what motivates her to persevere in the big bad world of regulation.   

What are you currently working on in your organisation?

Here at the ACNC we have strategic priorities such as working toward harmonisation with the States and Territories to remove red tape for charities, and operational priorities such as completing the build of the IT infrastructure.

What drew you to the Not for Profit sector?

Personally I have always been drawn toward the NFP sector as it gives your work a sense of purpose, vibrancy and momentum, when you are contributing to the common good.  In addition, the volunteers, donors and paid staff in the NFP sector tend to be people who are mission-driven and focussed on others.

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

I began my working life as a teacher, more than 40 years ago, and have been in education, NFP and government roles for the entire time.  I love the work and find it energising and engrossing.  It is a privilege to work with so many committed people who are motivated to build public benefit, especially for marginalised or vulnerable Australians.

What is the most rewarding part of your work?

Regulators are often regarded as a dry breed, but charity regulators aim to work in ways that support and enable their regulated community and the broader public. As a new organisation the ACNC has had to build all elements from scratch – staffing, IT, education and guidance, policies and procedures, relationships and so on.  It has been demanding doing this in a climate of uncertainty, but very rewarding to see the staff gel into a coherent team, and offer such great services to charities and the broader community.

What has been the most challenging part of your work? And how do you overcome that?

Uncertainty about our future has been the most challenging part of our work as a new regulator.  This has been offset by the consistently high levels of support from the sector.  The Executive has managed the uncertainty by committing to the ACNC for the long term, keeping staff informed of developments as they emerge and focussing on the main game – implementing our Acts in a professional and approachable manner                                                                                 

What do you like best about working in your current organisation?

The really attractive aspects of working for the ACNC are building a new enterprise from scratch, providing the Australian community with its first national charity register (, helping maintain trust and confidence in charities, working with dedicated and passionate colleagues, having the support of an expert Advisory Board, and engaging with all those involved in the NFP sector.

What is your greatest achievement?

I consider my greatest achievement to be my wonderful family, now of forty years duration.

What is your favourite saying?

My favourite saying is "maintain the long view".

What are you reading, watching or listening to at the moment?  

I’ve just read Ian McEwan’s The Child Act, set by my book club – a great read.  I compulsively watch ballet and opera extracts on my iPad when I’m travelling as part of my sleep routine.

Through your work, what is your ultimate dream?

My ultimate work-related dream is well resourced charities, able to work in innovative and sustainable ways unencumbered by contractual, donor or grant-maker constraints that limit their independence and their ability to fulfil their mission.

What did school teach you?

My school, Loreto College in Ballarat, taught me you could be whomever you wanted to be, and do whatever you wanted to do with sufficient preparation, commitment and resolve.  

What does a typical day for you involve?

I get up at 5.00am and have a big cup of Earl Grey tea while I work on emails.  My long-suffering spouse is woken at around 5.45 am and we walk 4 km of The Tan around Melbourne’s Botanical Gardens.  I am at my desk by 7.15am and formally begin the work day then (earlier if I am interstate).  My days are full of meetings, presentations, writing and deliberating.  As we are a national body, based on a single site in Melbourne, I spend a lot of my days travelling, presenting at conferences, participating in meetings, and maintaining contact with peak bodies, other regulators and key charity groups across the country.

What, or who, inspires you?

I have always been inspired by St Francis of Assisi

Where do you feel your passion for good came from?

My parents were a very strong influence on me.  My mother (who had eight children) is highly organised, a great communicator, and a person of strong morals.  My father migrated from Lebanon as a boy, and loved his adopted country.  He was a self-made person with an entrepreneurial disposition and great interpersonal skills.  Like my mother he was community- oriented, ethical and fun-loving.

To nominate someone for the Changemaker column email

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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One comment

  • Aloma Fennell says:

    I would like to nominate Cate Turner as a change maker. A tireless NFP worker/volunteer for many organisations

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