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A nation of philanthropy

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Published on: Saturday, June 12, 2010

How generous are Australians? According to social strategy expert, Professor Peter Sherfold of the Macquarie Group Foundation, as a nation, we are incredibly generous – the issue is incorporating that generosity into business practice. He joins Peter Switzer on Sky Business’ SWITZER.

In 2009, the Macquarie Group Foundation –the philanthropic arm of Macquarie Group – donated $2 million towards an endowed chair in the Centre for Social Impact. The Macquarie Group Foundation Chair, Centre for Social Impact is held by Professor Peter Shergold, the Centre's chief executive.

Having worked in various fields from professor of economic history at UNSW to top public servant under the Howard Government, Shergold now focuses his attention on developing the Centre for Social Impact. The centre aims to bring together the not-for-profit philanthropic businesses and government sectors, to raise awareness and encourage corporate social responsibility.

Headquartered at the Australian School of Business at UNSW, Shergold says its aim isn’t for studying the practice, but rather developing it.

“We set up a centre for social impact, not a centre for the study of social impact,” he says.

“The aim isn’t just to teach socially-responsible business management within the university. It is to actually have community engagement, to work with not-for-profit organisations, to work with companies and their corporate social responsibilities, to have an effect on public policy, to actually have an influence.”

Strength of Australian philanthropic efforts

When it comes to the average Australian, there seems to be no indication of waning community involvement.

“The extraordinary thing about Australia is we have 600,000 not-for-profit organisations and about 60,000 are economically significant. About 35 to 36 per cent of us volunteer each year, we are members, and we donate. Almost everybody is involved in the social economy,” he says. “Yet, nobody seems to realise just how significant this is, economically and socially.”

With the launch of the centre, Shergold hopes to increase the recognition of philanthropy and its importance to society.

“One of the things I want the centre to do is get people to understand the importance and the significance of philanthropy, of not-for-profit organisations, of newly-emerging social business, of companies meeting their corporate social responsibility challenges.

“I think it is a very important part of our life and we need to actually understand how significant that is becoming.”

No bandwagon involvement

Though one of the aims is to encourage businesses to accept corporate social responsibility, Shergold says he wants the commitment to be genuine, to have “real substance to it”, rather than be just for show.

“The challenge now, I think, is to make it a part of business strategy, to understand how it really does help reputational advantage, to make it part of the business of the business and not just, as it’s sometimes described as, a launch, a luncheon, a logo,” he says.

Unfortunately, though many Australian companies are recognising the importance of implementing socially responsible strategies, the main focus in the current economy isn’t on these practices.

“The global financial crisis has presented a bit of a challenge for corporate social responsibility or sustainability. Most Australian companies are really hanging in there,” he says. 

Check out Peter Switzer’s SWITZER on Sky News Business Channel, Monday to Thursday from 7pm.

Important information:This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.

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