At the Community Foundations Forum held in Mackay last week I missed the first speaker, Allan English, Queensland’s Community Philanthropist for 2012 due to travel issues. However, Allan repeated much of his talk at a business breakfast the next day at the Mackay Convention Centre.
Allan set up the English Family Foundation as a private ancillary fund which supports “social entrepreneurs driv(ing) change in their communities” and 40% of the funds from the foundation go overseas. The foundation grants around $400,000 per year with grants of up to $50,000.
Allan’s talk to business leaders in Mackay focussed on the need to “get the story straight”, and that a good business model needs not only enthusiasm but a structured approach. The gist of Allan’s talk was that having a social benefit attached to a business is good business and that if you can demonstrate social outcomes, not only will you attract better staff, but have a distinct advantage in attracting clients and customers.
It was great to hear about how Allan built up Silverchef from 1986, made a truckload of money, started to cut back his hours and then discovered philanthropy – which made him want to go back to working even harder to raise funds for his social objectives. Allan talked about aligning a business to social benefit outcomes, and having values and a culture which support this throughout the business. Allan’s philosophy is that making money for a purpose other than making money for money’s sake can be very powerful – and his purpose now is to reach his BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) of lifting 1,000,000 people out of poverty by 2020 (they are already at 190,000).
Allan talked about philanthropy as an investment strategy for business and his approach to contributing his own change to things which make us feel uncomfortable (ie homelessness, poverty etc). If a business has a purpose which is greater than just itself, Allan’s view is that this opens up the potential for greater leadership, engagement and success. He challenged the room to imagine what would happen if you really did attract the best possible candidate for each vacancy and shared the vision of the organisation with new staff and new customers. His view is that profits and productivity will go up, and that an organisation can choose to be significant.
It was great to hear a philanthropist put out a challenge to other business people in this way – and also learn a little about what motivates people to give.