One year in for SVA’s CEO
At the end of his first year as Social Ventures Australia’s CEO, Rob Koczkar shares what motivates him and how his corporate experience applies in the for-purpose world.
Like many of his contemporaries, Rob Koczkar’s decision to get into the charitable space was motivated by his own upbringing.
“I’ve been very lucky – I was born into a supportive family, had a great education, and managed to find a good job in a niche area that’s been intellectually challenging, I’ve been emotionally supported and financially rewarded. But when I look around me, I know that’s not the way it is for everyone, not everyone has the same opportunities – I hope I can do something about that,” he says.
Koczkar explains that fatherhood was a crystalising moment that led to his career taking off in a very different direction to that which his private equity background might have otherwise dictated.
“… after we had children, I started thinking about what values I wanted them to have and what world I wanted them to live in.”
“I started my journey into the social sector about 10 years ago. I had been busy doing all the things you do in a professional career. Shortly after we had children, I started thinking about what values I wanted them to have and what world I wanted them to live in,” he explained.
“That led me to reach out to a couple of the organisations we’d been supporting, and offered to help with my time as well. In turn, that started a relationship with Mission Australia, where I mentored one of the executives. Through that, I got introduced to the consortium that worked on the GoodStart Early Learning deal, and that’s where I met SVA. When I finished up with private equity, it sounded like a fantastic opportunity to come to an organisation doing strategic work in a space I was interested in, to see if I could contribute by applying my skills to a more challenging set of issues,” he added.
“My experience has been as an investor and an advisor, and that’s what we do at SVA.”
Those skills, honed in 15 plus years in corporate Australia, were commercially based. “I worked in finance, in private equity and before that in management consultancy.”
And while the high-flying corporate finance world might appear to be a long way from SVA’s work to improve the lives of Australians in need, Koczkar emphasises there are more parallels than there might initially seem.
Koczkar sees his role as working with partner organisations to more effectively improve access to education, employment, housing, health and community services.
“My experience has been as an investor and an advisor, and that’s what we do at SVA. Working with organisations to help them get better at what they do and helping them get the best impact for their work, that’s what I was doing as an investor. Now I do it with SVA as a social investor, with the return being better outcomes for the community,” he adds.
His ability to apply his skills to what he sees as pressing community issues is key.
“It seems that luck is way too much of a determinate for individuals. In our community, it’s not good enough if what determines a person’s outcomes in life is a lottery. I’d like to do what I can to make sure opportunities happen by design, not by chance.”
“At the highest level, I’d like a community where it doesn’t matter where you were born, where everyone has the ability to achieve their potential as they grow throughout life, and when life knocks you over, there will be someone to help you. That’s the sort of community I’d like to live in.”
One way he is doing this is through supporting the adoption of social benefit bonds; SVA developed the first SIB which is proving the potential of these innovative funding mechanisms.
“The Newpin social benefit bond is deliberately structured as a contract between the government and UnitingCare Burnside to reunite kids who’ve been in foster care with their parents.”
“Payments are based on children being successfully returned to their birth families, which is now happening in about 62% of families in the Newpin program. That compares to a baseline of 25%. About 66 kids have been reunited with their parents, and another 35 have not gone into care because families have been able to enter the program at the crisis point, before children have been removed. The contrast between the despair that those families feel, then the joy at having their children come back to live with them is fantastic,” he grins.
“… how do we make sure we’re really allocating resources and time against the things that are going to have the most impact?”
But Koczkar is not sitting back and resting on SVA’s success to date. Rather, in his new role, he’s looking to how SVA can continue to develop its work with partners.
“The really hard question for any organisation is how do we make sure we’re really allocating resources and time against the things that are going to have the most impact? What should we do, and what should we not do? It’s an ongoing conversation,” he says thoughtfully.
And while the question of achieving that continues to evolve it’s clear that Koczkar is taking the challenges of effecting social change in Australia very seriously.
For him, the first step is working on programs with defined outcomes.
“PwC and the Centre for Social Impact did some research which added up how much money is spent on social services, broadly defined, across state, federal, corporate and co-payments and found it to be $420 billion a year. The most optimistic estimate was that less than 1% of that was spent on contracts with defined outcomes,” he marvels.
“I’d like to see that we’re spending that $420 billion based on the evidence of what works. At the start, let’s achieve that. Rather than grow what’s spent, let’s first focus on spending sensibly and achieving outcomes we all care about.”
“… only a few break through the barriers to living the life they want.”
As to where that money should be spent – he has some pretty clear ideas.
“The start of a child’s life is critical. For that a supportive home environment is crucial which requires stable housing and access to appropriate community and family services,” he explains.
“From that base, all children need to go to pre-school so that they can start formal education at pace with their peers. Then they need schooling that gives them 13 years of progress in 13 years at school, and skills them to get a job and successfully transition into the workplace.”
“This should be possible for everyone whether they’re First Australians, people with disabilities, or second or third generation unemployed.”
Koczkar‘s mission is obvious – to help create a world where kids and families who have it tough get the support they need.
“Life can feel so stacked against people living with disadvantage, that only a few break through the barriers to living the life they want. So many things are in the way.”
“Here at SVA we are focused on ensuring that funding goes to the right places and that that funding is used really well to remove those barriers.”
“This will help ensure that everyone can get a great education, has a pathway to a fulfilling job, has somewhere safe and secure to live and can access the health and community services they need and so enable people to fulfill their potential.”
Pursuing this goal will occupy much of Koczkar’s 2016.