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A ‘Flash Mob’ Farewell for McGregor Lowndes

9 October 2017 at 5:08 pm
Lina Caneva
A university “flash mob” and a scholarship legacy were the highlights of the recent farewell for internationally acclaimed not-for-profit sector researcher and mentor Myles McGregor-Lowndes, who retired from his day job of 35 years.

Lina Caneva | 9 October 2017 at 5:08 pm


A ‘Flash Mob’ Farewell for McGregor Lowndes
9 October 2017 at 5:08 pm

A university “flash mob” and a scholarship legacy were the highlights of the recent farewell for internationally acclaimed not-for-profit sector researcher and mentor Myles McGregor-Lowndes, who retired from his day job of 35 years.

The founding director of the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies (ACPNS) at QUT in Brisbane, McGregor Lowndes was described as a “legend” in the not-for-profit sector as a number of farewell events took place.

The main event saw McGregor Lowndes caught in the midst of a loud musical flash mob performed to the tune of The Proclaimers classic, I Will Walk 500 M(y)les, in the gardens of the Brisbane university.

The participants were his colleagues and students, including an ACPNS alumni reunion group, who gathered in ever growing numbers to deliver the musical tribute that McGregor Lowndes had mentioned to a colleague many years before that he would like as a farewell.

The farewell events also included a guard of honour using sticks with donation buckets on the end, commemorating McGregor Lowndes walking into ministers’ and regulators’ offices to tell them Australia didn’t need borrowed clauses from the British Metropolitan Streets Act of 1903 about collecting from second floors from the top of a stagecoach in its fundraising laws.

McGregor Lowndes told Pro Bono News it was all “rather a big surprise”.

“Unless you knew the context and if you saw students, staff and others singing and dancing upon your retirement it may not be a happy memory but it was all very fine,” McGregor Lowndes said.

“It is just a privilege in these days not to be given a security guard and a shoe box to clear out your desk. But being able to stay on in an appropriate role and still assist as I can and continue on the good work of the centre is an absolute privilege.

“To see people like John Emerson and Jonathan Casson, both very staid and very prim and proper lawyers doing the dance moves [arranged] by one of our students who was a choreographer in an arts organisation, out the front of B Block on the main drive… I am hanging out for the video to relive that moment.”

Long-time colleague and friend, Associate Professor Wendy Scaife, who has succeeded McGregor Lowndes as ACPNS director, said Myles was an “Australian not-for-profit sector legend” who commanded international respect.

“He has created more than 150 publications, and their downloads by the sector are in the hundreds of thousands. He has changed outdated laws, opened up new data for the sector, challenged practices like judges overlooking the charity perspective in bequest challenges and been a tireless campaigner for good regulation like a charity commission,” Scaife said.

“His hundreds of past students from the ACPNS course work in vital grassroots groups through to managing multi-billion dollar budgets of international aid.

“The surprise flash mob was celebrating that the hundreds of ACPNS alumni each carry forward a bit of Myles’ knowledge and integrity in their work.

“Through his research, teaching and evidence-based advocacy he has strengthened Australian nonprofit leadership in a unique and enduring way. His is a great policy mind and the voice that causes a hush when he starts speaking on a teleconference or in any forum.”

Scaife said McGregor Lowndes’ ACPNS colleagues were delighted he would continue his sector and centre contributions as an emeritus professor – in between his other passions, bushwalking and orchid cultivation.

On his retirement McGregor Lowndes said: “As I have been talking to friends and colleagues who are retiring… we agreed you don’t retire anymore. I have been doing one day a week in the rainforest of the Lamington National Park with a plan to do every walk there before Christmas.

“I am also doing one or two days a week in legal practice with Paul Paxton-Hall Lawyers, a boutique not-for-profit firm in Brisbane, as well as still being very connected with the ACPNS albeit now as an emeritus professor and continuing with research, mentoring of students and helping higher degree students, master’s and doctoral, and also some of the research projects I will continue to be involved in.”  

When asked about being regarded as a legend McGregor Lowndes said he acknowledged “that’s how other people see it”.

“I have really had an indulgent 35 years of having fun in doing good and trying to improve the lot of not-for-profit executives and volunteers particularly those who toil away with great motives and significant social impact straddled by regulation that is not fit for purpose,” he said.

“I am not against regulation but it really should be fit for purpose and I think [charities] were often too busy just getting on with the job, helping people, institutions and the causes they could, and I have been in a privileged position at the university pretty much with free reign to try and assist in bettering the regulation and the laws that apply to not for profits.

“If you look at what has happened in the last 20 or 30 years in small business and business regulation much of it has not so much been punitive regulation for small business but actually assisting and facilitating them to do their work ‘better, cheaper, faster’.

“And the mantra for not for profits should be ‘better, cheaper, faster’ for them to play their essential role in the community and it becomes much more essential day by day as governments retreat and expect more of the sector and expose them to the competitive forces of assisting for-profits to create a market in this area.”

On his formal transition into retirement, McGregor Lowndes made a donation of $5,000 as a part scholarship to assist a student to study at ACPNS from 2018.

On the scholarship Scaife said: “Our hope is that every nonprofit that has benefited from Myles’ decades of advocacy, research and teaching might donate $10 or more to honour him through this tribute scholarship or to put towards continuing his research if they prefer.

“When his students, past students and colleagues heard of this just a little while ago they wanted to turn this into a half scholarship for our Graduate Certificate in Business (Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies) and rather than help one student create a fund of $100,000 that would see 10 such Myles McGregor-Lowndes Scholarships awarded over the next decade.

“With just mentioning this to a small circle so far we have spontaneous donations/pledges of nearly $60,000.

“We would love to see Myles honoured by the many people from the sector he has helped so expertly through many decades – and that he continues to help.”

McGregor Lowndes said that the response to the scholarship was a “surprise but not a surprise”.

“The alumni and others are certainly giving back for a worthwhile cause for students to be able to come and do the course without the financial barrier. We have had some wonderful students through the years and they have spread to the four corners of Australia doing just such wonderful and great work. And they have gone overseas as well and still connected with the sector,” he said.

Donations can be made via the Giving to QUT site. Choose Myles McGregor-Lowndes Scholarship from the drop-down box.

Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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