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2021 Impact 25 Judge’s Choice Award winners celebrated


1 April 2021 at 8:30 am
Maggie Coggan
The winners were picked for their influence, innovation, and collaboration


Maggie Coggan | 1 April 2021 at 8:30 am


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2021 Impact 25 Judge’s Choice Award winners celebrated
1 April 2021 at 8:30 am

The winners were picked for their influence, innovation, and collaboration 

A spotlight has been shone on three of the sector’s most influential leaders during the 2021 Impact 25 award night, with this year’s Judge’s Choice Award winners revealed.   

The three accolades went to Paul McDonald, Liz Thompson, and Gabi Hollows AO, who were warmly celebrated on Wednesday night during a virtual awards ceremony. 

McDonald, the founding chair of the Home Stretch Campaign, took home the Influencer Award in recognition of his role leading a campaign that brought together over 100 organisations to fight for governments to remedy legislation that sees vulnerable young people in out-of-home care being turned out of their homes when they turn 18.    

In less than five years of campaigning, five state and two territory governments have committed to introducing The Home Stretch policy, extending support for vulnerable young people in state care. 

The judges said they chose McDonald because of the scale of influence on government policy the campaign has had, as well as the scale of the results that will influence young Australian lives. 

McDonald told Pro Bono News that being picked for the award was “very humbling” and that he hoped this would show other social campaigners what can be achieved. 

“The Influencer Award that I’ve been lucky enough to receive highlights the ways and mechanisms that you can get government systems and institutions to change their behaviour through dialogue, through influence, through effective advocacy and campaigning,” McDonald said. 

“I’m hoping that the wider sector sees that change can happen.” 

The Innovator Award went to Liz Thompson, who as the founder of Sharing Stories uses technology to record, store and transmit hundreds of stories from Indigenous children and adults in their native language. 

This way of working also acknowledges Aboriginal knowledge systems, brings Elders into the classroom to take up their role as teachers, and returns children to Country with their Elders for the purpose of intergenerational transmission and digital media production. 

The judges said that Thompson was picked for the award because of Sharing Stories’ unique and sustainable programs that had an exceptional track record of success and creativity.

Gabi Hollows AO, the co-founder of internationally recognised charity The Fred Hollows Foundation, took home the Collaborator Award. 

Hollows worked with her late husband Fred to create the foundation, building it up into a charity that is now a leading voice in eye health and social justice both in Australia and overseas.  

Whilst the foundation has found enormous success over the years, the judges highlighted the need to carry on Fred and Gabi’s work in 2021, with the number of people who are blind set to triple from 36 million to 115 million by 2050 and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples three times more likely to be blind or vision impaired than other Australians.

Karen Mahlab AM, the founder and CEO of Pro Bono Australia said it was critical to recognise these individuals exemplifying the spirit of the Impact 25 Awards, working to make the world better.

“Each of the Judge’s Choice Award winners have worked for decades in their particular area of endeavour and we celebrate their determination, their humanity and their intelligence,” Mahlab said.

Each year, an esteemed panel of judges choose the Judge’s Choice Award winners from the Impact 25 winners

This year’s judges were Bruce Speirs, executive, business banking at Bendigo Bank; Karen Mahlab AM, Pro Bono Australia’s founder and CEO; and Greg Mullins AO AFSM, former Fire and Rescue NSW commissioner and councillor at Climate Council.  

The ceremony also featured special guests Aunty Fay Stewart-Muir, senior Boon Wurrung and Wamba Wamba elder; and Melanie Mununggurr-Williams, Djapu writer and 2018 Australian Slam Poetry Champion.

To see a full list of this year’s Impact 25 award winners and their stories, head to the website here. 


Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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