From little things big things grow

From little things big things grow

By Mary Sue Rogers, November 2020 (WOB Non Executive Director)
Like many Non Executive Director’s (NEDs), one of my first boards was a Not for Profit (NFP).  The pursuit of that role was driven out of a passion for the cause - because without passion an NFP board can be hard work.  My passion is ensuring that all children around the world get access to education and a safe environment, so they can grow up to be strong contributors to their community.  This is the story of my board journey with Save the Children Australia, an NFP whose cause and mission I passionately believe in. 

Twenty five years in the making

I have been a donor to Save the Children for over 25 years, and my track record and commitment to supporting Save the Children both in the UK and Australia allowed me to make connections.  My story, which positioned me to be offered a NED position on the Australian Board, evolved from a simple telephone call to volunteer my time. 

Save the Children

To provide context, if Save the Children Australia was a commercial a organisation, it would compare to a larger middle market, and if listed, it would be at the top end of the ASX300.  It employees more than 1,000 staff nationally, with oversight for programmes in places like PNG, Solomon Island, Vanuatu, and Fiji.  Funding is derived from a variety of sources including DFAT, family trusts, HNWI (high net worth individuals), every day giving, unique one-off donations, and increasingly from a variety of social enterprises. Read more about the Save the Children programmes here.

I've been a NED for Save Australia for three years, but that’s not where my journey started. 

How my journey began – Step 1

My journey began in my last CEO role after the organisation was sold out to private equity (PE).  A characteristic of many PE deals is that the incumbent CEO is asked to handover to a CEO who is known and trusted by the PE.  Suddenly you're out of work with time on your hands.  My answer to this was networking and volunteering.

One of the calls I made was to Paul, the CEO of Save the Children, to ask how I could help.  I was thinking I could read to kids and help with after school programmes, but Paul had bigger ideas, asking if I could help negotiate the Oracle license and look at the HRIS (HR Information Systems) implementation plans for Save the Children International.  This fits with my background, skills, and expertise – but far beyond where I thought I could volunteer. 

I credit my networking with Paul, his awareness of my commercial skills, and knowing how he could use them as the first step to working with Save. 

The key lessons here are:

  • network today for what you might seek in the future;
  • keep all of your channels open; and
  • be open and ready to receive an email or text.
Step one of my journey to the NED position(s) was volunteering to support a critical infrastructure project for Save the Children. 

Step 2 - From volunteer, to HR committee, to the Board and more

After assisting Save International with their HRIS project, Paul asked me to be an observer for the HR Committee of the Board  to help ensure that they understood the risk and challenges with the HRIS implementation in Australia.

Then they asked me to be a member of the HR committee.
...  then I was asked to join the main board 
.... then asked to chair the HR committee
....  then this year, I have been asked to join the Investment Review Committee for Save the Children’s new Social Impact Investment Fund, established to identify commercial organisations that meet our criteria for investment.  This is a fund that anticipates a return to investors and expands the ways that organisations and individuals can make a difference without being directly philanthropic

I've also been asked to be a board member on a Joint Venture (JV) called Inclusiv Education.  Being a member of this board is laser-focused on my passion – education for children.  The success of this JV social enterprise (a start-up, commercial entity) will assist Save the Children to generate increased funds and facilitate a platform for co-biding on complex deals that are focused on childhood learning around the region. 

Through little things big things grew

Through one organisation I have built a board portfolio that includes:

  • NED for Save the Children Australia;
  • Chair of Save the Children Australia's HR sub-committee;
  • Member of the investment review committee for Save's Social Impact Fund; and
  • NED of start-up, Inclusiv Education.
Four different board experiences and opportunities. 

Key Learnings

My key learnings, to share with other aspiring NEDs: 
  • Network – make sure it’s consistent, sustained, and meaningful.
  • The first step is not always your end goal - larger NFP’s have governance processes and structures that allow you to build up a collection of experiences and skills.
  • NED positions in many NFP’s are as complex and demanding as many ASX companies - they provide excellent learning and development environments for aspiring NEDs, especially if they have an experienced Chair from whom you can learn.
  • Being on the board of an NFP allows you to “give back” and help to create and sustain a better world.

Good luck with your NED search and never discount the learnings and experience you can gain from the right NFP.
Mary Sue Rogers' current board roles include:
NED, Chair of HR Committee, Member Impact Investment Board , Save the Children Australia
NED, East-West Seed
NED, Women on Boards
NED, Inclusiv Education
Activator, SheEO
Advisory Board, Aiir Consulting