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Philanthropists and NFP Leaders Take Top Honours

26 January 2018 at 12:02 am
Wendy Williams
Philanthropists and not-for-profit leaders from all areas of the social sector have been recognised in the Australia Day 2018 Honours List.

Wendy Williams | 26 January 2018 at 12:02 am


Philanthropists and NFP Leaders Take Top Honours
26 January 2018 at 12:02 am

Philanthropists and not-for-profit leaders from all areas of the social sector have been recognised in the Australia Day 2018 Honours List.

The Governor-General and Chancellor of the Order of Australia, Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd), approved 895 awards this year, which were announced on Friday.

Among those receiving an Officer of the Order (AO) were David Bardas, the former Sportsgirl/Sportscraft chief executive who used his retirement to become a writer and philanthropist, Good Pitch Australia’s founder, moderator and chair Ian Darling who was last year named Australia’s leading philanthropist at the Philanthropy Australia Awards, and the former CEO of International Women’s Development Agency Joanna Hayter.

Oxfam Australia CEO Dr Helen Szoke was also awarded an AO for distinguished service to social justice through roles with human rights, anti-discrimination and equal opportunity organisations, to health sector policy development, and to the disadvantaged.

She told Pro Bono News it was “fabulous” to be recognised for the work she was doing.

“It is incredible to get the recognition. It is a little bit embarrassing in a way as I feel that the jobs I’ve done have been such incredible jobs that they are recognition enough. But it is a great honour and hopefully there is some flow on recognition for the sector as well. I couldn’t be more delighted,” Szoke said.

But she said it was ironic that people in the not-for-profit sector were being recognised for their advocacy work at a time when civil society voices were being constrained.

“I think that one of the big issues we are facing at the moment is what is happening in the civil society space, we are seeing across the world that civil society is being constrained or being limited, and quite disappointingly I feel that that is the case in Australia,” she said.

“So we’re seeing civil society and charities being caught up in the issues of foreign donations, the issues around the extent to which we’re being regulated, the important role that civil society plays in advocating, which is the reason we really should be there. We are not service providers, we are actually groups that are connected to communities and understand the interests of communities and are trying to give voice to those interests, I think that is one of the biggest issues at the moment.

“It is cruelly ironic in a way that people are being recognised for being part of organisations that give voice to these issues on the one hand and yet on the other hand there is the feeling that regulation is pretty much geared to trying to quieten that noise.

“Civil society has an incredibly important role to play in democracy, we are a pillar of democracy and it ensures that governments are healthy, that governments can be accountable and that is in the best interests of Australia as a country, so that’s how they should be dealing with it, not that this is an opportunity to silence the voices coming from organisations like ours.”

Szoke said the other irony was that Oxfam believed Australia Day’s date should be changed “in solidarity with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people”.

“I won’t be in the office but our office is open and people can opt to work. We put out a statement supporting the move to change the date as an important recognition of the unfinished business in relation to our First Nations people,” she said.

But she said she hoped being acknowledged in the honours list would draw attention to their purpose.

“In Oxfam’s case our purpose is a just world without poverty, by having this recognition what hopefully this will do is it will alert people to the important role that Australia plays in helping communities of poor people in overseas countries,” she said.

Other sector leaders who were included in the honours list were Professor Donald Henry, the former executive director of the Australian Conservation Foundation, who received an AM for significant service to wildlife preservation and to the environment through leadership and advocacy roles, and to education, Margaret Barry who received an OAM for service to social welfare organisations assisting children in Bali, and Rachelle Towart who received an OAM for service to the Indigenous community.

Husband and wife team Andrew Myer and Kerry Gardner, who co-chair their own Private Ancillary Fund the Andyinc Foundation, were also both been recognised for an AM.

Myer was recognised for significant service to the community through support for a range of cultural and environmental conservation organisations, and to the film industry.

While Gardner, a documentary filmmaker, philanthropist and champion of the rights of women and girls, was honoured for her significant service to the community through support for a range of cultural, social justice and environmental conservation organisations.

She told Pro Bono News it was very exciting to be recognised for her work, particularly as a champion of the rights of women.

“I have been working in philanthropy for 27 years and my first board was the Victoria Women’s Trust, and it is really interesting that in the intervening years, I didn’t move away from women’s issues but I became very embedded in a much more traditional world of corporate Australia, and power of course rests with the men. And for a long time I played in that pond and it is really interesting that I now, at 55, really feel very empowered and confident to stand up as a feminist and to I guess be fully my authentic self. And to have the opportunity to be able to do that on a global stage is particularly important but I also think something comes out of when you have that self belief and confidence people recognise it in you and you keep getting more opportunities opening up and more doors opening,” she said.

Gardner, who is on the board of The Global Fund for Women and is the third Australian member of Women Moving Millions, said for structural change to happen 50 per cent of people in the corridors of power have to be women.

“I think it has to be very broad and it has got to be a revolution not evolution, the time has passed where we can discuss and debate, and I think we’ve got to have quotas and I think we’ve got to have structural change, in government and in community generally, that’s something that I really believe in,” she said.

“And I think the biggest value space issue for me and the thing I want to work on is having varied faces around tables, whether that is young women, or gay men or disabled people or people of colour.”

She said diversity and inclusion was also important in philanthropy.

“I think that the old days of writing out a cheque and giving on an annual basis to the same organisation all your life are completely gone,” she said.

“I think donors want to have a seat at the table and they are often highly educated, experienced people who can bring the sum total of their experience to philanthropy, so diversity on nonprofit boards is very important, I’ve always done both, since the beginning.

“The very first board I joined is also the very first board I gave money to, so those things coincided and generally if I am going to commit large funds to an organisation and I think I’ve got something to contribute, I would want to be in a leadership position, to influence the future of the organisation. I see the money as quite a small part of what I do and I don’t give to every board that I sit on and I don’t sit on every board that I give to, but you find your skills and your strengths and also your passion and I think, for me the best philanthropists are those that feel very genuinely committed to what they are supporting and are prepared to put the hard yards in to work with the organisation and to work with the really talented staff.

“A lot of the joy I get from the work I do, is the brilliant curators, the scientists, the people on the ground doing the hard work, some of the most impressive people I’ve ever worked with are the marine scientists that I worked with for Save the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.”

Gardner said it was lovely to be recognised for her work, and in the same year as her husband.

“The hilarious thing is that my husband also this year has received an AM, it is absolutely pure coincidence and I got my letter two days before him because his mail had been redirected because he moved offices,” she said.

“It means a lot to me because I want to encourage others to be involved in community work, and having a voice, and I want to see more women in Parliament and taking positions of power and influence.

“But it is the people you meet that is one of the biggest rewards. This award is lovely but it is the people I have met along the journey.

“We’re going to have a little celebration and I’ve invited 40 or 50 people that I have worked with over nearly two decades and that my husband has worked with because it is worth celebrating. It is exciting and I feel very honoured.”

The governor-general offered his congratulations to the recipients and said Australia was a “stronger, safer and more caring nation because of them”.

“We are fortunate as a community to have so many outstanding people willing to dedicate themselves to the betterment of our nation and it is only fitting that they have today been recognised through the Australian Honours system,” Cosgrove said.

“Since 1975 these awards have helped to define, encourage and reinforce Australian goals and values. They identify role models who give without thought of recognition or personal gain.

“Today’s recipients now join the company of many women and men whose meritorious and brave actions have enriched our community and our lives. Their qualities – compassion, dedication, generosity, selflessness, tolerance, and energetic ambition – inspire and motivate us.”

Included in the Australia Day Honours List were 641 recipients of awards in the General Division of the Order of Australia who have been recognised for contributions and service to fellow citizens in Australia and internationally.

The list also contained the first recipients of the Australian Corrections Medal which was created last year and is awarded to a person who has given distinguished service as a correctional service member.

Chair of the Council of the Order of Australia, Air Chief Marshal Sir Angus Houston AK AFC (Retd) said the awards recognised service across a broad range of fields.

“They are public recognition of people who provide outstanding community service and whose achievements enhance national identity,” Houston said.

“By their actions they demonstrate the qualities of positive role models. The recipients are not only worthy of respect but encourage emulation.

“These awards also recognise the ‘quiet achievers’ in our midst. They are people who serve the community, but do not seek accolades.

“All Australians are encouraged to nominate fellow citizens who have made outstanding contributions to the wellbeing of others for national recognition in the honours List.”

This honours list marks the last for Houston, who retires on 31 January after 12 years on the council and six years as chair.

It comes as a quantum physics professor whose work has launched Australia into “the space race of the computing era”, a teacher who makes maths accessible and fun, a biophysicist helping to solve the world’s food challenges and a footballer with the world at her feet have been announced as the 2018 Australians of the Year.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull presented the four Australian of the Year Award recipients with trophies at a ceremony in the Great Hall of Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday evening.

The 2018 Australian of the Year was professor in quantum physics Professor Michelle Simmons, the 2018 Australia’s Local Hero was mathematics teacher Eddie Woo, the 2018 Senior Australian of the Year was prize-winning biophysicist Dr Graham Farquhar AO and the 2018 Young Australian of the Year was sportsperson Samantha Kerr.

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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