Once were SVA: where are they now?
In this special SVA Quarterly article, we catch up with six people who used to work with SVA to find out what they are doing now, and how their time at SVA still shapes what they do and how they do it.
The SVA Quarterly talks with SVA alumni to find out where they are now:
- Claire Kearney, Big Society Capital based in London.
- Susan Black, ActionAid in Myanmar.
- Prashan Paramanathan, Chuffed.org based in London.
- Lisa George, Macquarie Group Foundation based in Sydney.
- Jeanne Allegro, Teach For Australia based in Melbourne.
- Duncan Lockard, Change.org based in New York.
Claire Kearney: On the other side of the fence
In her seven years with SVA, Claire Kearney had a gamut of roles, starting out as Project Manager for the Social Enterprise World Forum that SVA co-hosted in 2009 and ending up as Director of the team that managed the venture philanthropy portfolio.
During those years, she oversaw the start of the demand-led employment initiative – working with employers to develop a model which later became the Industry Employment Initiative.
Claire also worked on some of SVA’s first impact investment products including the social impact fund and early stages of the Indigenous social enterprise fund (ISEF) as well as managing the set up of SVA’s WA office.
After seven years in Australia, Claire returned to London to become Strategy and Market Development Director for Big Society Capital (BSC), the independent investment organisation established in 2012 to grow the social investment market in the UK.
… I’m acutely aware of the sustainability issues and recruitment challenges that intermediaries face.
As a ‘social investment wholesaler’, BSC both funds and supports the intermediaries who provide funds, products or services to the frontline organisations having a social impact. As such, BSC acts as both an investor and a market champion – the area that Claire has focused most of her efforts since joining.
“Having worked for an intermediary (at SVA), I’m acutely aware of the sustainability issues and recruitment challenges that intermediaries face.
“I wanted to explore if BSC could be more proactive in how it approached supporting intermediaries. Could we apply more of a venture philanthropy approach in how we worked with investees to bring our knowledge and support to the relationships in a more strategic way?”
Claire spent her first year talking with the intermediaries that BSC currently invests with to explore what they needed to achieve their goals: What are the key components needed for a social investment intermediary to be financially sustainable and effectively deliver products, support and/or services that benefit charities and social enterprises?
It allows them to identify their strengths and to prioritise the areas for improvement.
“As a result of all those conversations, we’ve defined what the key components or ‘building blocks’ are and have published these, alongside a guide of what these look like in practice, which organisations can compare themselves against.
“It allows them to identify their strengths and to prioritise the areas for improvement.
“Then BSC can either support with in-house expertise, put other organisations with the expertise in touch, or, if there are common problems, find ways to help the sector more broadly.”
Claire recognises the value of being patient in building partnerships and not dictating to others simply because, as the investor, you can.
“I know it takes time to build relationships and earn respect and that drives what I’m doing at BSC.”
The other way that Claire has been championing the social investment market in her new role is exploring how to get corporates more involved in social investment: educating them about it and exploring how it can fit into their overall business strategy (not just corporate social responsibility).
It’s important for any organisation to regularly ask ‘is our mission still the same?’
During her seven years with SVA, Claire saw two strategy reviews and led two reviews of SVA’s investment processes. As a result, she recognises the value of taking time to step back to reflect and refresh
“BSC is just going through that process now. It had a three-year strategy which is running out this year, so we’re going through a big strategy review: taking stock of where we’ve got to and asking where can we play the greatest role.
“It’s important for any organisation to regularly ask ‘is our mission still the same?’ And ‘what do we need to tweak?’ I think it’s crucial for organisations to do this to stay relevant to their key stakeholders and to the sector.”
Susan Black: Social enterprise development from Australia to Myanmar
With SVA from 2006 to 2015, Susan Black describes the constant theme in her work as social enterprise investment and support. Her community engagement and development skills were also drawn on for consultancy assignments and Susan also headed up the development of SVA’s first Reconciliation Action Plans.
She’s taken this strong skill mix to volunteer in Myanmar with global aid organisation, ActionAid. Her remit is to provide mentoring and business support for social enterprise development.
Through 2016, Susan was based in Myanmar’s ancient city of Bagan – surrounded by the spectacular sea of pagodas and stupas – where she worked closely with one social enterprise, a craft-based network of women.
“It originally started as a program training 2500 women in weaving, sewing, and basic handmade crafts, linking them to health and education services and providing access to micro loans,” says Susan.
The women got very clear about production needs – around quality and supplier requirements.
“Four years on, 1000 women have stayed involved, formed a collective and started a social enterprise: MBoutik, to create an income to support the subsistence farming on which most of these women and their families previously survived.”
Susan has been providing business skills training drawing on materials she developed while at SVA.
“It was rewarding seeing SVA’s material up on the screen, translated into Myanmar, with local Myanmar people implementing the training,” says Susan.
“The women got very clear about production needs – around quality and supplier requirements.”
As well as MBoutik, Susan provided training to young people exploring social enterprise to understand what they’d need to kickstart a new business idea.
The work in Myanmar has allowed her to draw on her extensive experience in social enterprise development.
In her early years with SVA, Susan headed up the first social enterprise hub in Australia – when the Brisbane City Council, SVA and PwC partnered to provide early stage support for social enterprises primarily providing employment for marginalised people.
SVA reviewed over 120 social enterprises and provided significant support to 60 of them.
When you want social impact you need both the social and business skillset.
“Having come from a strong community engagement background, I grew my capacity and awareness of how to work with both business and government.”
“I learnt to think differently about how to engage with the private sector to bring their skillset into our work so that the partnership is not just about funding, but about working together to get the right mix of expertise.
“When you want social impact you need both the social and business skillset.”
Susan also credits the rigorous minds and approach of the SVA team with helping to develop her own analytical skills and to be more focused and strategic in her work.
… the business has just won its first international contract with an Australian social enterprise…
“Because of the consultancy work I’ve done, I was able to do a thorough review and analysis of the MBoutik business, and then use that data to build both a business plan and a transition plan for the social enterprise.”
Susan has been inspired by the strength and clarity of the women she’s worked with at MBoutik.
“Last year, we set clear targets and began hitting those targets. It inspired the team to have a clear, shared direction.
“We’ve had a big focus on sales, mostly contracts with hotels and international NGOs in Myanmar. Though the business has just won its first international contract with an Australian social enterprise, The Fabric Social – a fair trade fashion company.
“Over the next few years, MBoutik’s focus is on becoming a self-sustaining business producing handmade Myanmar textiles and goods.”
Susan is returning to volunteer for a second year with ActionAid – this time in Yangon where her role will be broader.
… there’s usually a lot of work to get the social enterprises investment ready.
“As a newly developing country, Myanmar is only just opening up. Commercial and social investors are keen to do business. But it’s similar to what we found at SVA; there’s usually a lot of work to get the social enterprises investment ready.
“I’ll be getting to know the business community in Yangon better, and getting them engaged with some of the emerging social enterprises.
“It’s an interesting time in Myanmar’s history, politically and developmentally. That’s why I’m keen to go back. I want to be part of that journey.”
Prashan Paramanathan: No manual for being a social enterprise CEO
As a smart kid who had known since high school that he wanted to work in the social sector, Prashan Paramanathan thinks he – and everyone – gets some pretty poor advice on how to make a difference.
He holds little truck with the suggestion that to be useful in the non-profit sector, you must first acquire skills in the corporate world. And it wasn’t until, after a stint in international development, when he’d landed at SVA that Prashan found a way he was comfortable to engage.
“I realised that instead of trying to be the hero solving problems that I didn’t own or understand, I could add the most value by helping the people on the front line who did understand the problems,” he says.
As a consultant, Prashan led strategic planning processes for the likes of Alzheimer’s Australia NSW, Sydney Children’s Hospital Foundation, and House with No Steps, but the times that he found most rewarding were when he became counsel for a client.
For some CEOs, there was no one else they could have those kinds of conversations with.
“Some of the CEOs I worked with trusted me enough to talk through the challenges they were dealing with; it became more of a coaching session. That was when I felt like I added the most value.
“For some CEOs, there was no one else they could have those kinds of conversations with.”
Prashan has discovered the truth of that first-hand: he now heads up crowdfunding platform, Chuffed.org which has grown steadily since it launched just over three years ago.
As founding CEO and sole employee at the start, Prashan did everything from the accounting, tech support, product development, drawing the website mockups, pitching for funds, liaising with lawyers, and, when the time came, employing people.
Last year, he moved to London to provide a base for growth into the North American and European markets. He’s now lost count of the countries represented in the campaigns that Chuffed.org hosts. “It’s somewhere around 25,” he says.
Prashan describes the Chuffed model as “trying to help the people who are changing the world.”
My world is full of people like that. It’s a very privileged world to exist in.
“It’s amazing to see ordinary people doing inspiring things,” says Prashan, at his most enthusiastic when he’s talking about those ‘everyday’ people raising money for the projects they are passionate about.
He enthuses about the five Australians who met on Facebook and began fundraising to send gifts to asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru, the bunch of Canadians who raised C$30,000 to sponsor a Syrian family to Canada, and the South Australian community who in the name of Karta, a much-loved orangutan from the Adelaide zoo who had died, raised funds for a guard post to help protect wild orangutans in Sumatra.
“My world is full of people like that. It’s a very privileged world to exist in. Globally if we can change the stories that are told, we can change people’s perceptions about what the world is actually like.
“It’s not all doom and gloom and people avoiding their responsibilities as citizens. It’s full of people putting their hand up and saying that they are going to do something.
“That was what I most enjoyed at SVA: forming relationships with people who were trying to do really great things and helping them along that path.”
If you’ve never been on the inside, you don’t understand the pressures on people and what matters to them.
That involved learning how to listen to people in the non-profit sphere, something Prashan believes requires a whole different language and way of thinking.
“If you’ve never been on the inside, you don’t understand the pressures on people and what matters to them. They value different things to people in corporate roles.”
Understanding this has carried through to running Chuffed.org. “One of the advantages we have (over our competitors) is that everyone has worked in the sector before.
“That has given everyone the language for, and an understanding of, what drives people in our sector and that’s really valuable.”
As CEO, Prashan’s role is constantly in flux. Right now he describes it as helping to pioneer new things: by figuring out which ideas work, throwing out the things that don’t and putting the working ideas into a process that others can follow. He cites one of his challenges as solving how to create a highly personalised experience for donors, so they repeatedly come back to fund other campaigns.
You never stop figuring things out as you go along. And there’s no manual for it.
“We haven’t cracked that one yet. No-one has. Generally donating has been a very transactional activity, not an engaging activity. We’re trying out a number of things at the moment to change that.”
Prashan says his role means he’s constantly learning.
“As you scale, your job never stops changing. You never stop figuring things out as you go along. And there’s no manual for it.”
Lisa George: A foundation for a foundation role
Lisa George, now Global Head of the Macquarie Group Foundation, was part of the consulting team when it started in 2007.
Recently arrived off the plane from Boston in the US and a role with a small social enterprise, she was persuaded from joining a corporate firm to help build the new consultancy team at SVA.
She still remembers the then SVA CEO, Michael Traill’s words: “You’ve made the head and heart connection early in life, why would you stop now.”
After one and a half years in the consultancy team she joined SVA’s venture team working more indepth with organisations such as Ganbina and AIME. This complemented the knowledge and understanding Lisa had gained working across multiple organisations and sectors as a consultant.
Having met the head of the Macquarie Foundation during an engagement evaluating a scholarship program for Indigenous students with the Cape York Institute, Lisa joined as its Director of Australian Programs in 2010. Eighteen months later, she took the mantle as Global Head of the Foundation.
That’s the greatest asset, but also the greatest challenge in my role.
In the role now for five years, she oversees the entire philanthropic program for the bank, with close to $20 million in spend. Macquarie is located in more than 20 countries with the Foundation team in the US, UK, Australia, India and Hong Kong.
“Corporate philanthropy is unique; you have a lot more resources than just funds. You have the networks and expertise of the employees as well. That’s the greatest asset, but also the greatest challenge in my role.
“We have to engage the hearts and minds of Macquarie employees around the world and direct that passion and energy to benefit the non-profits that we think are innovative and are having great social impact.”
How do you do that? “At the end of the day, it’s about relationships,” says Lisa.
“We need to know and understand the business, and the skills, expertise and interests of the employees. That involves talking to people, getting to know what they do; that’s what my team does.
“Externally, it means staying close to and understanding the needs of the non-profits. Then we can align the employees’ skills and interests with the non-profits.”
Lisa sees that the Foundation has made great strides on engaging employees. “One ‘tool’ has been Foundation Week where we raise awareness about how people can engage with the Foundation.”
Externally, Lisa believes the Foundation is getting better at demonstrating the impact of its grantees.
“It’s partly improved as we’ve got better upfront at being really clear about the grantee’s goal, how the grant will help achieve that objective, and how they’ll measure it. Also there’s more focus on outcomes in the sector; it’s lifted everyone’s game: funders and non-profit organisations.”
If you want good M&E you have to invest in it.
Lisa believes that it’s not fair as a funder to just expect good measurement and evaluation (M&E).
“To fund responsibly, you need to not only ask for good M&E but be prepared to support that as well. It can be expensive and takes time to build the capability.
“We’ve developed an evaluation toolkit and trained up a lot of our grantees to help increase their capacity. If you want good M&E you have to invest in it.
Lisa describes her two and a half years with SVA as an intense training period, partly because she was new to Australia and the sector here.
“The consulting job in particular enabled me to quickly get up to speed on the non-profit sector working in health, Indigenous, and some welfare agencies such as The Benevolent Society and The Wayside Chapel; and to understand the policy environment. To this day, my brief stints in some of those sectors help me.”
“Also I learnt a lot of general consulting skills. When you’re conducting due diligence on an organisation or meeting new charities to consider funding them, many of the enquiry and analysis skills are those that I applied as a consultant on strategic plans.”
It was also at SVA that Lisa appreciated the importance of the human connection and building relationships.
“There was no substitute for driving down to Shepparton and spending days in Ganbina’s office with the programs and beneficiaries, or being up in the Cairns office of the Cape York Institute, and visiting their programs firsthand at the schools in Brisbane and Rockhampton.
“The skills I developed still serve me well today.”
Jeanne Allegro: Non-profit challenges close-up
As an Associate Consultant with SVA, many of the projects that Jeanne Allegro worked on were in the measurement and evaluation field.
Now as senior manager of measurement, evaluation and research at Teach For Australia (TFA), Jeanne is applying that knowledge for a non-profit addressing educational disadvantage – to close the gap in educational achievement between kids from low income and high income households.
“We work on the two biggest levers to address that gap – the quality of teaching and leadership.”
While measurement and evaluation (including numerous social return on investment analyses) was the bulk of her work at SVA, Jeanne was also involved in projects addressing strategic questions for non-profit organisations often around changes in funding models.
I was curious about how you make change happen and how you take people with you on the journey…
Her interest got piqued seeing numerous non-profits facing the same challenges, and how their leaders balance the demands of running a viable and impactful organisation.
“Managing the ongoing sustainability of a non-profit while keeping a focus on your ultimate goal to have the maximum impact – that was what interested me,” says Jeanne.
“I wanted to see those challenges get played out first hand, not just as a consultant which was by its nature short-term. I was curious about how you make change happen and how you take people with you on the journey to commit to measuring social impact.”
When she joined TFA in 2015, the role was new; TFA had recognised that it needed to increase its focus on articulating and measuring the outcomes that it set out to achieve.
Jeanne’s role has two hats: externally focused research on TFA’s impact which involves understanding and communicating the impact of the program to funders and the wider community, as well as commissioning new research to understand different aspects of TFA’s theory of change.
The other is internal, and focuses on continuous improvement. “It’s about how we get better and more effective by constantly asking critical questions and analysing the data that we have,” says Jeanne.
One question Jeanne is grappling with is how to support TFA Associates (the teachers in TFA’s programs) with tools to understand and improve the effectiveness of their teaching.
“We want to embed data collection and analysis in their approach to teaching. Rather than only conducting summary assessments, we want to enable Associates to take a baseline of where their class is at and improve on that, as well as measure non-academic progress and regularly ask for feedback on their teaching from their students.”
We were able to reassure them that it could be done to different degrees…
Many organisations that Jeanne worked with at SVA were just beginning to measure and evaluate their impact.
“We were able to reassure them that it could be done to different degrees, and that it didn’t need to be overwhelming.
“You can lead into it; for example you can make great strides in articulating outcomes and indicators in just one workshop with staff to develop the program logic. You can then apply a simple framework and make a commitment to start measuring and build up from there.”
“It was a really useful approach for many organisations.”
Duncan Lockard: Getting comfortable with change
For Duncan Lockard, SVA was a springboard launching him into not only a new career but a new industry and country.
He got ‘dragged away’ from the consulting team in 2013 by an opportunity he couldn’t refuse: to be Director of Strategy with Change.org, the technology platform for social change based in New York.
In his three and a half years with the start-up, he’s also had a couple of years as Chief of Staff which had him not only oversee strategy, but leadership processes, such as running the executive and leadership meetings, internal communications and board and investor relations.
A year ago, his role shifted again back to focusing on strategy as Managing Director of Strategy and Business Operations.
The organisation is still growing rapidly. For six years, it has provided a platform for building movements for change for local, national or global issues. Users (or members) have reached 180 million; 60-70 million use the platform every month starting 5000 individual campaigns every day. The result? Once every two hours, a campaign is declared a victory as defined by the user.
As a consultant at SVA for a solid two-year stint, Duncan worked on a variety of projects, largely strategy, and measurement and evaluation.
Standouts included a three-year strategic plan for a childcare organisation faced with the loss of its primary revenue source, a rescue plan for a disability social enterprise, and many months working in Queensland with an energy company’s social impact team, the local government and community non-profits.
From the get go, I was flexible and could roll with whatever came.
“The biggest thing I got as a consultant at SVA was the breadth of knowledge and perspectives that working with such a variety of organisations gave.
“Rather than working in one organisation for a long time where you run the risk of believing that one way is the only or right way of doing things, at SVA I worked with so many organisations. Each had their own kind of challenge: they were trying to solve problems in different ways, with different leadership styles, cultures, strategies, and measurement and evaluation systems.
“It meant I could easily transition into a new country, a new industry (a tech company) and a completely different culture. From the get go, I was flexible and could roll with whatever came. I’m comfortable that there is not just one way of doing things.”
It’s set me up to think on my feet; I’ve needed that in this crazy start-up environment.
One of the big challenges Duncan identifies in his current role is bringing others in the organisation along with him on the journey.
“Most of the things I’m trying to push people in the company towards, I don’t have direct authority to tell them to do. I’m having to influence.
“So it’s not just about giving the ‘answer’, but helping them understand the answer and believe in it so that they can apply it to what they do. It’s very much like the consultant’s role.
“The skills in structured problem-solving – being hypothesis driven and using a variety of frameworks – and structured communications like the pyramid principle and leading with the answer have helped enormously in doing that,” says Duncan.
“It’s set me up to think on my feet; I’ve needed that in this crazy start-up environment.
“SVA also gave me a lot of rigour and clarity about how to think about things. We tried to do things well and comprehensively. People see that about me, and it is really valued and appreciated here.”
Thank you to our alumni for your time in sharing your stories.