February 24, 2020

Lisa George: Leading Macquarie Group Foundation

This article is part of For the love of giving - a storytelling series featuring just some of the people who give to, work and volunteer in the Australian for-purpose sector.

Written by CSI's Rhonda Yanitsas, the article has ben republished here with permission.

It was towards the end of my interview with Lisa George, Global Head of Macquarie Group Foundation, that a statement from her resonated with me the most:

“I’ve always been drawn to giving back as I just can’t abide by social injustice. I find an unequal society infuriating.”

Lisa went on to explain she’s felt this way since she was a child. Her parents - teachers by trade - had always instilled ”that sense of giving” and it’s stuck.

And lucky for us it has.

Lisa is a respected leader in the corporate philanthropy sector steering the Macquarie Group Foundation on its impactful path for more than nine years.

At the helm of Macquarie Group Foundation

“When I first started off with Macquarie it was very serendipitous as I was happily working for Social Ventures Australia (SVA) at the time and Macquarie was a funding partner,“ Lisa explains.

“Through my work at SVA I got to work on a project with the Foundation’s grantees and I was able to really get an understanding of the ins and outs of the Foundation’s approach.”

Soon after, the Foundation’s Australian Program Director role opened and Lisa landed the job. Eighteen months later the Global Head retired and Lisa was promoted.

“If I’m honest it was daunting to take on the international role but having the opportunity to work on that scale was appealing. Macquarie also gives people ownership in their roles so that was very appealing to me.”

The Foundation provides financial support, volunteering and skills sharing to community organisations internationally, predominantly in the locations in which Macquarie operates.

Since its establishment in 1985, together with its employees, the Foundation has contributed more than $360 million to thousands of community organisations and in the past financial year alone more than 53,000 volunteering hours were contributed by employees.

Focus areas in the CSR sector

As with many companies, engagement of staff and being led from the bottom up is key to Macquarie’s philanthropic approach. It’s in their DNA and can be seen in all corners of the company around the world.

“The Foundation’s work is significantly influenced by our employees and we have a strong focus on capacity building within the community sector and increasing social and economic mobility,” explains Lisa.

Lisa sees this strategic approach increasing more and more with the companies she talks with:

“Many corporates are being much more strategic and importantly seeing the value of aligning their business with a social impact. Their employees are also expecting it."

“I’m seeing an increase in shared value initiatives and impact investing is another interesting area on the rise.”

Increasing impact through board positions

Lisa first started her board career with the YWCA NSW - an avenue of impact which Lisa views as crucial to her own development and her team’s.

“In my late 20s I got a board position with the YWCA and it has gone from there,” says Lisa.

“I encourage all of my team to be on not-for-profit boards as it is important when you work in philanthropy to keep in touch with grassroots organisations. They have big challenges in funding, talent and policy issues and it’s a complex environment we need to understand.”

Most recently Lisa took up a board position with Philanthropy Australia, adding to her other current board membership with SYC Limited and as Chair of the Harvard Club of Australia’s Non-Profit Fellowship Program.

As a Philanthropy Australia board member the opportunity to contribute to a better philanthropic sector in this country excites Lisa:

“It’s a good fit with my role at Macquarie and as a leading corporate in this space we’re supportive of a thriving and robust philanthropic sector.”

“My team and I would meet with at least one company a month who are seeking advice and we love to share it because we want to see corporate philanthropy proliferated.”

Advice for getting a start

Lisa’s advice to people wanting to follow in her footsteps:

“I am honest with people when I'm asked this question as it's quite hard to get a start in the corporate responsibility area, but my main advice is to be patient," says Lisa.

"You also need to start getting out there, expanding your network and demonstrating your passion.”

“I also recommend to people that they work in a not-for-profit to gain an understanding of what it is like – the challenges faced, the impact made and the ins and outs of working and running a community organisation. It’s a really important perspective to have."

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