A more connected way of giving

From June 2008 to June 2009 Gabi Donovan, Senior Human Capital Relationship Manager with PwC in Brisbane, worked as a mentor with the social enterprise Food Connect providing ongoing support, focus and guidance.

This opportunity was an initiative of SVA’s Brisbane Social Enterprise Hub which is a collaborative partnership between SVA, Brisbane City Council and PricewaterhouseCoopers. It provides business development support to local social entrepreneurs and community organisations that are establishing or growing a social enterprise.


I had been aware for some time of SVA’s commitment to ‘engaged philanthropy’, it being a more connected way of giving that encourages people to do more than just give money; it enables them to contribute their expertise and skills and actively participate in making change happen. So the chance for me to become a mentor to one of the social enterprises supported by SVA’s Brisbane Hub was very exciting.


I had a personal reason for choosing to work with Food Connect as a mentor. I heard about their aim to support and grow the supply of local organic produce and jumped at the chance to be involved with this organisation. I have always been passionate about the supply of good food, hunting down local organic produce to fill my fridge and feed my friends; this business was close to my heart.


Once I had met Robert Pekin and John Hilcoat and began to learn more about their business, I was struck by how much Food Connect actually does to support the community on all levels: As well as promoting ecologically sustainable food production and developing environmentally responsible distribution systems, Food Connect is passionate about giving farmers a fair go and getting the best possible prices for their produce. In addition, as part of a truly community based initiative over 50% of employees come from marginalised backgrounds.


The FoodConnect Brisbane packing team
The FoodConnect Brisbane packing team

Given my skills in HR and my background in an environmental NGO in the UK, I was pleased at the prospect of being able to add real value to such a worthwhile social enterprise. And so from day one I was able to work closely with Robert and John on writing their vision for the business, helping with their ‘people plan’ and team structure as well as reviewing and advising on people policies.


The more deeply I began to understand Food Connect’s goals and their ‘paddock to plate’ philosophy, I realised how valuable it is for all of us to be more aware of the impact our food choices and purchasing decisions have on our immediate and broader communities.


Although I worked closely with Robert and John throughout my 12 month involvement with Food Connect, I particularly valued the time I spent at the Food Connect warehouse and offices with the entire team. It was refreshing to see the team in action and to watch how everyone got stuck into the project. Their enthusiasm and dedication was tangible and real and great to be around.


Working as a mentor in a small business with a passionate group of people, in a completely different environment from the one I was used to, was a life changing experience for me. As much as I was able to contribute my skills, I also learned a great deal from working with Robert and John and their committed team and it served as a good reminder for me to stay in touch with my passions. Each encounter was another opportunity to learn new ways of thinking about community, the business and the food industry and was at once inspiring and informative. Their receptiveness to new ideas and their willingness to implement innovative approaches to tackling problems, particularly in the area of human resources, was inspiring.


Mentoring allowed me to make a real contribution to SVA’s work driving enduring social change through engaged philanthropy. It provided me with a valuable means to give back to the community. And along the way, it helped me develop personally – an added bonus!


It has made me realise the difference applying specific skills can make, even in small ways, to various community based projects.


My greatest challenge now is to maintain my renewed connection with community and not get swept back into my ‘real life’ forgetting that there is a world that can benefit from shared skills and knowledge.