We sure can

by Stuart Robertson

Let me tell you what President Barack Obama’s campaign and Social Ventures Australia have in common.

In 2012, I was an organising fellow for President Obama’s re-election effort in Arlington, Virginia. This southern state ‘turned blue’ in 2008 for the first time since Lyndon Johnson and, as a result, was a key battleground for Obama’s re-election.

It was my job to recruit local volunteers to join Obama’s “ground game” – in other words, I was the guy on your doorstep (somehow always during dinner) hitting you up to volunteer.

I was asking people to get out in the cold and rain to door knock their neighbours to talk politics, give up their Friday nights to canvass voters on their preference and why, or pester passerbys on voter registration at the metro. Not ideal ways to spend an afternoon or evening, and yet over a thousand locals willingly gave their free time to the cause.

They did so for nothing but the knowledge that they were playing a small part in a huge social movement. Their passion was infectious and a much more effective pick-me-up than the local coffee (quite fortunate, given syrup filled espresso is the only caffeine on offer). In the end, Arlington generated a record turn out and contributed 42 per cent of the margin of victory in Virginia.

Stuart Robertson (in glasses, top right of shot) attending an Obama rally in Woodbridge, VA. (Photo: Amr Mounib)

I’d never seen anything like it. Until I joined SVA.

In the few months that I have been here, I have met countless individuals with a contagious passion for the social sector. As I look around the office, despite the calibre of individuals, I can’t spot anyone who is here to make big bucks. They are all here to make a big impact.

My colleagues believe that we can make a huge difference to the quality of education delivered to young, disadvantaged Australians through collaboration. For example, the SVA Bright Spots Schools Connection is linking and developing outstanding school leaders to improve education outcomes. SVA worked with QUT to provide expertise to develop a business plan to replicate their Exceptional Teachers for Disadvantaged Schools program. SVA also leveraged its networks to help secure $2m in funding to scale the program nationally. As a result, hundreds more outstanding teaching students will be equipped with the skills to thrive in challenging school environments.

More of my colleagues are committed to developing new capital structures that are enabling strategic investments to support the development of social enterprises that will drastically improve an individual’s chance of breaking the cycle of long-term unemployment.

And those of us in consulting believe that not-for-profit organisations should be charged with the skills and resources they need to achieve the greatest social impact. The team strives for exactly that.

SVA also field a pretty formidable corporate soccer team; I’m not going to lie.

Looking back, the most inspiring aspect of President Obama’s campaign, for me, was a feeling – an overwhelming feeling – that I was a small part in an innovative machine founded to promote and invest in change and grounded in a desire for positive social outcomes.

I get precisely the same feeling at SVA.


Stuart Robertson, a graduate of Sydney University with a Bachelors of Commerce and Arts (B Comm/BA), worked as an intern at SVA from May – November 2013.