July 23, 2020

Sally McGeoch: On a crusade in the social enterprise sector

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.

Meet Sally McGeoch.
 
Sally is a Senior Advisor with the Westpac Foundation and has an obvious and infectious passion for supporting social enterprises to maximise their sustainability and impact.
 
Previous to her role at Westpac she was the Partnerships Manager at the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) for close to seven years – working at the intersection of social enterprise, business and philanthropy.
 
Sally is also a founding member of The Bread & Butter Project and has landed herself some other interesting roles around the world - all forming part of her eclectic career journey.

 

How did your interest in the social enterprise sector start?

A few years ago I realised my parents were involved in social enterprise as I was growing up. It sounds funny that I only realised it fairly recently but there wasn’t a name for it at the time.

They owned a wholesale plant nursery and were very inclusive and supportive, including employing people with a disability. They also set up a partnership with a women’s jail where female inmates would grow plants for the nursery. My dad helped them establish a small nursery on-site and he would buy back the plants once they had grown them – bringing home the plants and some fascinating stories from the prison.

My dad has an entrepreneurial and generous spirit and mum is really hard working. I think my interest in the sector partly stems from them.

How did your career progress?

After my Business Communications degree I started out working in public relations for fashion and beauty. My aunt had a cutting edge PR agency in Sydney and my first job was with her.

My early twenties was spent organising cocktail parties with A-listers and the press to showcase our clients' products. It was a great experience but luxury products were not really my thing and I was keen to explore the world.

I wanted to travel and work in New York so I made the leap and got a job with a large international marketing and PR firm. As part of my job I was involved in a product launch with a non-profit which sparked my interest in the sector.

Soon after I picked up a magazine with an article about a charity called Outward Bound and their work in Costa Rica. It was enough motivation for me and soon after I was packed up and on my way to volunteer.

I was then committed to working in the not-for-profit sector and returned to Sydney to study a Masters in Community Management. I was really impressed with Oxfam so also started volunteering with them and then got a job as the Marketing and Development Coordinator of their Youth Parliament. My career then progressed in leaps and bounds from that point.

Why did you get involved in setting up The Bread & Butter Project?

When Paul Allam (the founder and a friend) told me almost 10 years ago about his idea of setting up a bakery that would employ refugees and asylum seekers, I knew it was going to be a winning social enterprise and immediately wanted to help.

Most social enterprises I had come across in my role at SSE were being set up by wonderful and passionate people who were experts in the social issue they wanted to tackle, but they didn’t have any business experience or networks to get started. That is a long and risky road.

Paul had serious business acumen, a great market opportunity and the networks to make it happen. I had some good networks to offer too and an understanding of the social enterprise sector so was able to help navigate our way into accessing start-up funds and setting up a strong measurement framework so we could track our social impact over time.

The highlight every year is going to the annual Bread & Butter Project graduation where all the trainees and their familes share stories of immense resilience and hope as they join the growing ranks of talented bakers that then transition into sustainable jobs.

Some days I feel like I’m on a crusade, along with others in the sector – trying to raise the profile and demonstrate the value of social enterprise, and opening hearts and minds to what is possible.

What drives you in your career?

I really like the challenge and huge potential of the sector - balancing a social mission with the need to be sustainable, as well as finding ways to collaborate with others to amplify efforts.

It's also very exciting and rewarding if your organisation or project meets its goals. It’s not only personally and professionally satisfying but it also directly contributes to real change in the lives of others.

I love working with the Westpac Foundation where we not only have funds we can invest in amazing social enterprises, but also a huge pool of relatively untapped skills, resources and networks across the company that see the value in what we do too and want to support it.

I really enjoy introducing my corporate networks to social enterprises and seeing them connect to their purpose and start to identify ways they can help and create change. Whether it's buying ‘social’, providing time as a skilled volunteer or mentor, or identifying procurement opportunities to help grow these enterprises.

Tell us more about your role at the Westpac Foundation?

I started as a Senior Advisor with the Westpac Foundation in 2016.

Alongside my colleague, Lisa Waldron, we design and deliver our grants programs to support social enterprises, as well as small grassroots charities that focus on education, training and employment.

Job creation has become a particularly strong focus over the past few years as we believe in the power of employment as a pathway out of intergenerational disadvantage.

We recently commissioned some research with Distinguished Professor Jo Barraket and the team at the Centre for Social Impact Swinburne, which validates this approach and highlights how employment focused social enterprises are more effective and efficient compared to mainstream employment solutions, in delivering much needed employment outcomes for people with complex needs.

A major focus of my role at the Foundation is capacity building support for our partners through our Changemakers Program. Over time we have identified the needs of our partners, in collaboration with them, and developed offerings in the areas of leadership development, governance support, financial management and business strategy.

The Westpac Foundation’s Board Observership Program is a great example of this – it’s an initiative that taps into senior corporate professionals seeking to take on a governance role in the not-for-profit sector, alongside the needs of our community partners who are seeking talented and skilled board members to support their growth.

It’s challenging to secure a role within a corporate foundation - how did you do it and has the experience been what you expected?

I have worked in large corporates before so the environment at Westpac was not unfamiliar. There are many fantastic benefits of working in a corporate environment including the people, flexibility and access to support to do your job well.

The Foundation sits within the Community and Sustainability Team so I am surrounded by amazing practitioners who are passionate about social and environmental change and I am also exposed to new learning and development opportunities all the time.

Finding your way into a corporate foundation is hard to navigate as there is not a lot of turnover due to people loving their jobs so much. I was in the right place at the right time but I had also built up solid working relationships with many corporate sustainability professionals through my role at SSE.

My advice would be to build networks in your field of social impact and get involved in new initiatives to support the sector.

We recently collaborated with the Social Impact Hub and Social Traders to offer capacity building support to social enterprises and there are many ways to get involved, including acting as a mentor on the program alongside other corporate professionals. It’s a good example of a way people can get their foot in the door.

What advice would you give to social enterprises or community organisations who are seeking support from a corporate foundation?

For many Foundations, and especially at the Westpac Foundation, we see our grantees as partners in impact.

We tend to seek out relationships with organisations where we feel we can leverage our funding with a range of other non-financial support.

We also value very open and transparent relationships where we can all learn how to create impact better together. We want to understand the pain points and barriers for our partners as only through these open relationships can we work effectively together.

One example of the way we work long-term with our community partners is through our Changemakers Program, enabling our partners to access the skills, networks and resources they need across the Westpac Group.

For our employment focused social enterprises we take a collaborative approach and encourage them to invite their other supporters to come together, so we can work as one aligned group.

It is a very different mindset from applying for a grant and never having a relationship with the funder. Our very engaged approach does require a greater investment of time from our community partners but over time we have seen this translate to greater financial sustainability and impact.

Can you tell us about your role with the Australian Pro Bono Network and how people can get involved?

I helped to establish the Australian Pro Bono Network (APBN) as a practitioner-led community of corporates, which promotes knowledge sharing and collaboration around best practice in pro bono and skilled volunteering.

Together we seek to promote the business value of pro bono and skilled volunteering alongside the community value for sustainability and impact.

We have staged annual summits and are now focused on virtual learning sessions to support each other in building integrated and impactful pro bono programs within our respective companies.

Pro bono is a well established field in Australia’s legal profession with firms signing up to set targets annually, and we see potential for corporates to do the same.

There is so much untapped potential and we want to help companies see the obvious connections between investment in pro bono with employee professional development, engagement, retention and strong community reputation, and of course ensuring that we learn together about how to best support our community partners in a meaningful way.

The network is open to any corporate or government professionals by joining our LinkedIn group.

What’s the future looking like for you?

I never thought I would go down this path but I have recently embarked on a PhD with CSI Swinburne.

It is “practice-based research” in the field of employment-focused social enterprise, looking at the extent to which we can support them to scale their employment outcomes through greater cross-sector collaboration.

We are creating a more collaborative funding model at Westpac Foundation and while we can see the benefits of developing and managing collaborations, it is a complex area so I am in a learning zone now for the next 6+ years…stay tuned!

Ultimately, my agenda with the research is to help grow the evidence base to support the scaling up of Australia’s employment focused social enterprises as a strategy to addressing entrenched disadvantaged amongst our vulnerable communities. That’s my main goal.

 
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