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Evolving Chair  |  Governance

Food for Thought at the Board Table

29 September 2016 at 10:51 am
Wendy Williams
Richard Deutsch is the chair of national charity OzHarvest. He talks about the organisation passing the 50 million meal milestone and how they are refreshing their strategy after 10 years in the space, in this month’s Evolving Chair.

Wendy Williams | 29 September 2016 at 10:51 am


Food for Thought at the Board Table
29 September 2016 at 10:51 am

Richard Deutsch is the chair of national charity OzHarvest. He talks about the organisation passing the 50 million meal milestone and how they are refreshing their strategy after 10 years in the space, in this month’s Evolving Chair.

Deutsch is responsible for leading and growing Deloitte’s well-established Assurance and Advisory practice, with a particular focus on ASX-listed clients and financial services.

His industry experience is threefold with a background in financial services, especially with listed companies, players in general and life insurance and investment management; entertainment, media and communications; and property.

He also has a passion for people and helping strengthen the accounting profession.

It was his desire to put these skills to good use that led him to join the board at OzHarvest, which delivers approximately 900,000 meals each month with a fleet of 30 vans to more than 800 charities across Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Gold Coast, Melbourne, Newcastle, Perth and Sydney.

Deutsch was also previously the president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia and served as a director on the institute’s board for six years. He held a number of positions in that time including chairman of the Board Audit Committee for three years, chairman of the Premises Committee, and a member of the Nominations Committee.

In this month’s Evolving Chair he talks about why governance is critical in a Not for Profit board, the importance of partnerships and why he has his wife and kids to thank for getting involved with OzHarvest in the first place.

Richard Deutsch HeadshotWhat attracted you to a Not for Profit board?

I actually sit on two NFP boards, so I’m fortunate enough to be the chairman of OzHarvest and then I am also a director on an NFP called Adara Development. And I think to your question, I just thought, how could I use my skills and the skills that I have at my disposal at Deloitte to make an impact that matters. And I think a big part of that for me is also how can I show my kids how fortunate they are and how important it is to help others. So that does drive me quite a lot.

And then I think another thing that sits off the back of that, is why OzHarvest. If you sort of get to that point that you want to be involved in Not for Profits, why OzHarvest then, and when I was thinking about that, I think transparency in what we do is critical to me and as much as possible goes to the on the ground support, and then you know I think you have got to get involved in something that you are really passionate about. So for me food is such a basic human right and we need to stop throwing it away, we need to get it to those in need and we actually need to educate the community to minimise their food wastage so they are sort of all the reasons why I was attracted to the OzHarvest Not for Profit board.

I’ve been on the board about three-and-a-half years, from memory… How this all started is I’ve got three kids, two daughters and a boy, and my wife had taken my kids to hand out food to those in need in Bondi and the yellow trucks arrived from OzHarvest with the food that had been rescued the night before and my wife and the kids had helped prepare the food, hand out the food and then my wife and kids came back home and told me how wonderful the experience had been and I just took the initiative to ring Ronni [Kahn, OzHarvest CEO] and say “hey, I’m Richard and I’d love to see how I might be able to help OzHarvest with my skills and background” and it turned out not too long after that they were looking for a board member who had the sort of business and accounting background that I had, and that’s really how it all started. So I’ve got my wife and kids to thank for all of this.

What are your board’s current priorities / goals?

We’ve just passed our 10-year anniversary, and I think as we passed that 10-year marker we took the opportunity to sort of refresh our strategy and we came up with, if you like, four pillars that are fundamental to what we do. And so when we are talking as a board about our priorities and what we are trying to achieve, they are always linked to that strategy and those four pillars, because if we are trying to do things that aren’t consistent with that we need to rethink whether we are focusing on the right things.

So some of the pillars are more well known than others. The first one is food rescue, so we are on a mission to eliminate hunger and food waste through the redistribution of quality surplus food.

I think the second, is a really important one and that is educate. And I think with educate we are actually trying to address the problem rather than the symptoms, and so if we can educate and raise awareness about food waste, and food rescue and food security then I think actually in time there is less wasted food and people can make smarter choices. And so that educate pillar is really important.

Our third pillar is engage, so embracing community support, raising awareness and making sure that we’re spreading what we’re trying to do, to help more and more people in need, both globally and locally.

And then the fourth one is innovation. I think innovation is at the heart of what we do, whether that is trying to find ways to reduce food waste or whether it’s trying to utilise innovation and technology to help get that food to people in need or to educate the community.

They are our four pillars and so in terms of the boards priorities and goals they are very much linked to delivering on those four pillars.

What is the biggest challenge the OzHarvest board has had to overcome?

I think in my time on the board the biggest challenge that we’ve had is to make OzHarvest itself a sustainable organisation and to make it a sustainable organisation that can provide assistance to those in need for as long as that need is required. And I think partnerships with organisations… like the Goodman Group, Woolworths and others are critical to our own sustainability and for that we are eternally grateful for our key partnerships and supporters.

Does your board believe collaboration between organisations is important?

Yeah definitely, I think we believe that to be critical. I think frankly we all need to remember why we are here, and that is to help those in need, and you know I think the Not for Profit sector can be incredibly inefficient and competitive at times and I think some organisations lose their way, and their purpose. I am pleased to say that OzHarvest together with other Not for Profit players in the space have had some very productive conversations about how we can work together and collaborate better for the benefit of those in need. So I think whatever board or Not for Profit you’re involved with, you have got to remember your core purpose and your core reason for being and I think collaboration is more important today than it ever was.

How important is the board’s relationship with the CEO?

I think it is critical and I think that the board plays a vital role in terms of ensuring appropriate governance is maintained at all times for the NFP and at the same time we need to recognise that we need to be supportive and we need to help Ronni and the management team in their ambitions and their goals, and so that’s probably true of any board in any sector but I think in the NFP sector it is critical to get that balance right.

You can never compromise on governance, but at the same time you need to be passionate about what we do, you need to be involved enough to understand what’s going on and you need to be an enabler of the strategy and actually get involved and get your sleeves rolled up and help deliver on that strategy. So, it’s a critical piece in thinking about board members, their contribution and future board members.

I am very happy to say that I think Ronni and I work exceptionally well together and I would like to think that Ronni sees me as very supportive in what she and OzHarvest are trying to do.

What do you think you bring to the board?

The Not for Profit sector requires the same standard of corporate governance as any other sector and we are dependent upon corporate and individual donations and money and they deserve the appropriate corporate governance that ensures that that money goes to where it should go and so I think I bring that requisite background in corporate governance and how boards and management operate together etc.

Where I think I have a unique perspective that helps, is that if you have a Not for Profit board that is stacked with people who are only interested in that you can create an environment that is not supportive and conducive to the management team actually delivering on what their original purpose is and so I think where I am fortunate is for the NFP that I have chosen  I am very passionate about them and my heart is in them and I am able to use both my professional background and my own personal purpose to get that line right of supporting management but also ensuring the appropriate governance is in place.

Do you have any advice around governance for other boards?

The way I would answer that question, I would say that, I think as the chairman of the board I would say, for wonderful organisations like OzHarvest, you have no shortage of people who want to be on the board. And getting under that and understanding what is driving that motivation and ensuring that a potential board member wants to be on the board of an OzHarvest or any other NFP of good standing, that they are doing it for the right reasons and they are doing it because they believe in what the organisation is doing and that they can make a valuable contribution. Sometimes you get people who want to come onto the board becuase it will look good on their resume or their CV and actually their heart isn’t in it. And for OzHarvest it is all about heart and it is all about nourishing our country and achieving those objectives. So you can never compromise governance and the board has to exercise its responsibilities around governance but the board members have to have heart in what the organisation is doing as well. So I think as chair, board member selection is critical and all of those aspects are important in each and every director that you decide to bring onto the board.

What are the key sector issues that are being discussed at board level?

I think the thing that is probably on our mind right at the moment is how can we have the greatest influence and impact globally and locally to those in need. So if I just unpick that a bit, I think OzHarvest has a great role to play in sharing best practice around the globe and there are similar organisations around the globe where we think we can collaborate with them and partner with them and help share some of our great ideas that seem to work quite well in Australia. And so forging some of those relationships and partnerships and collaborating across the globe is very important for us because at the end of the day, anyone in need around the globe we should be able to have an influence through those partnerships and collaborations. So I think before you even come to Australia and what OzHarvest itself does on the ground in Australia, that global dimension is really important and that’s why Ronni spends time with the United Nations and that’s why we have events in Australia like Think.Eat.Save which are UN ideas which we have plugged them here into Australia.

And then locally even in a country like Australia, which in my view is the best country, we still have plenty of people in need around Australia and we want to make sure that we can support and reach out to as many of those people in need around the country as we can and that is why over the last few years we have expanded into other regions of Australia with our partners support to make sure that we can have those impacts that matter. I personally find it amazing that there is so much need in Australia, in arguably the best country in the world. And organisations like OzHarvest, and others that play in the sector, play a critically important role in supporting those in need.

What does the future hold for OzHarvest?

I think the future’s really bright. I think if I go back to those four pillars, the food rescue pillar is  obviously one that people know and will continue to be important, but we would like to think that as we reduce the amount of food waste that that pillar become less relevant than it is today. The one that I think is the really exciting one going forward is the educate pillar, and we have a number of programs around the educate pillar but the one that is probably worth highlighting is in the last 12 months we put around 20 people in need through a Cert III cooking certification and they have just graduated from that and we are in the process of employing them with some of the organisations that we collect food from and so it becomes this wonderful virtuous circle and we would like to do a lot more of that. If we can take some of those in need, train them, get them qualified and put them in a job, I think that it is a fantastic thing that we do at OzHarvest and we are looking to do more and more of that as we go forward, and that’s just one example of what i’m talking about when I talk about our educate pillar.

What has been the highlight of your work with this board?

There’s been so many! I’ll just rattle a few off… but there have been so many and I think it all boils down to again helping those in need. So one stat that I find amazing is that we have just passed our 50 millionth meal, so since we started just over 10 years ago we have now delivered 50 million meals which came from food that otherwise would have been thrown out.

I think about the Think.Eat.Save events which we run annually, last month we did the 2016 event around the country so for the first time that was nationally, whereas historically it has just been in Sydney in Martin Place, which it was again this year. We fed over 10,000 people on that one day. Having been to Think.Eat.Save in Martin Place it is a very humbling experience to see the impact that you can have even in the Sydney CBD.

Our annual CEO cookoff, we run in February each year, this year we fed over 1,500 people in one sitting and we raised more than $1.5 million which is our biggest single individual fundraiser ever.

And I probably would just highlight two others ones. Last year we were fortunate enough that when Prince Charles and Camilla visited Australia last year, Camilla actually picked OzHarvest to come and visit one morning and so we showed Camilla around our headquarters in Alexandria, that was a great experience. What’s been even better is Camilla was very taken with what we’re doing and we have been asked to think about running an event in the UK to raise awareness so that was definitely a highlight.

The final one, that we have already talked about, but personally I am very excited about the educate pillar, I just think that is such a great thing that we’re doing there. So they are certainly a few highlights.

What advice would you give to someone chairing a NFP board?

In terms of the chair, you have to believe in the management team and you have to believe in the CEO and if you don’t, I don’t think that relationship is going to be what it needs to be and that is going to put you in a difficult position from the get-go.

I think then I would go to one of the most important things for the chair is to ensure there is appropriate succession planning in the management team. Very often these NFPs are created by the founder, the founder is the CEO and the brand, and unless there is appropriate succession planning in place you could unfortunately one day find yourself with a problem. I’m very please to say at OzHarvest Ronni has been fantastic around that and has built a wonderful management team around her, and we don’t want Ronni going anywhere but you have to have a contingency plan.

The third thing I would say is that board member selection is critical. Diversity of thought is incredibly important, diversity of skills and background is incredibly important and above all of that does the board member truly believe in what we are trying to do, and don’t bring them on unless they do. They are probably the three things as chair that I think are critical.

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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