The philanthropic arm of Macquarie Group celebrated the bank's 50th year with a special global grants program. Chair Mary Reemst and CEO Lisa George reflect on its social impact.

    Since it began in 1985, the Macquarie Group Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the financial services company, has seeded more than $400m in funding to community organisations worldwide through matching the personal donations of its employees. Macquarie staff — 15,700 at last count — in turn, recorded nearly 60,000 hours of volunteering including pro bono work and community board roles in FY2018.

    The foundation has a long tradition of encouraging and supporting social innovation. It was an early supporter of organisations including Tasmania’s Beacon Foundation, Social Ventures Australia, the Centre for Social Impact, the Australian Centre for Social Innovation and Indigenous partnerships enterprise Jawun.

    Mary Reemst MAICD, managing director and CEO of Macquarie Bank (the banking arm of the wider group) succeeded Shemara Wikramanayake as foundation chair in December 2018. To mark the organisation’s 50th anniversary in 2019, it awarded $50m to five not-for-profit organisations over five years. Reemst and George hope it will stimulate lasting benefits.

    Mary Reemst

    These are huge shoes to fill. David Clarke AO [the late Macquarie Bank co-founder who died in 2011] was founding chair, then Shemara [now Macquarie Group CEO] after him. I’ve worked with Shemara for a long time, she’s an amazing individual. It doesn’t matter what she’s doing, she finds time to visit a soup kitchen or a project.

    The purpose of the foundation is to encourage our staff to contribute — whether as a service, financial support or in the community. It’s a fundamental plank that it is staff-led. The bulk of what we do is to match donations or fundraising efforts — and we have a focus on making grants. Every three years, we have a strategy session. At the last one, we decided to help staff support socioeconomic opportunities for young people in the communities where we operate.

    Globally, the focus is on similar things, but in slightly different ways. In Asia, it is more around modern slavery issues and helping the rights of migrant workers from countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia. In the US, it is supporting college access for under-represented youth. In Europe, the Middle East and Africa, we commit to organisations that support social mobility. In Australia, we focus on education, employment and training.

    In terms of governance, the foundation is a division of Macquarie Group, has a charter and regular minutes, an advisory committee and a regional committee of executive directors. We meet quarterly. It’s formal and fit-for-purpose, but not overly structured.

    Five for $50m: the awardees

    Last Mile Health (US) provides access to primary healthcare for remote communities in sub-Saharan Africa.

    Monash University World Mosquito Program aims to protect 100 million people from mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue fever and Zika virus by 2023.

    Murdoch Children’s Research Institute World Scabies Elimination Program will run projects in Fiji and the Solomon Islands to demonstrate scabies can be eliminated as a public health problem on a national scale.

    Social Finance (US) aims to unlock US$1b in capital to address declining economic mobility in the US through innovative financing strategies such as social impact bonds, career impact bonds, and outcomes contracts. It also has a presence in the UK, India and Israel.

    The Ocean Cleanup (Netherlands) is developing advanced technologies to rid the world’s oceans of plastic.

    I have a passion for the issues. I grew up in Tamworth, northern NSW, went to school in the country and then we moved to Sydney. I joined Macquarie in 1999 from senior investment banking roles at Bankers Trust Australia and, before that, Citibank.

    I come from a large family with five siblings and part of [my motivation] is the sharing aspect that came from that. I’ve been on not-for-profit boards for at least 16 years. I’m also on the board of the Asylum Seekers Centre and the Sisters of Charity Foundation.

    The amount of social disadvantage in the world is enormous if you think about it in its totality. You might think that unless you’re Bill Gates, what you can do to redress it is a fraction of what’s needed. You can be overwhelmed and think you can’t make a difference; or you can see it as a few pebbles. If people pick up a few pebbles each, we can each make a difference. You can have a powerful impact when you get the collective of individual efforts.

    The 50th anniversary taught me there are amazing people who are well-placed disruptors, They put in 150 per cent effort and execute really well. The awards support the ones we think are going to make the most impact.

    Lisa George

    I’ve been with the foundation for 10 years, heading it up globally for almost nine. In the past six years, we’ve taken the opportunity to step back and ask what’s really working in terms of the foundation meeting its objectives. Its primary purpose is engaging Macquarie staff in the local communities in which we live and work.

    I’ve worked with three chairs and they’ve brought their experience, perspectives and wisdom. I rely on the chair to provide that guidance and ask the right questions on how we are thinking about strategy and risk.

    I’ve known Mary for many years through quarterly [foundation] board meetings. We are pretty realistic — we’re not the biggest foundation in the world when it comes to the US, Asia and other places.

    The foundation is a beloved part of Macquarie. Our staff giving has grown internationally — more than 50 per cent is now from overseas — in line with our staff footprint and grant-making. When I took over, our total giving was 75 per cent in Australia.

    The 50th anniversary was a step change. We received almost 1000 applications, then went through a rigorous judging and due diligence process to end up with 60 semifinalists; then 12 finalists and five awardees.

    We wanted the process itself to be beneficial, so the organisations who applied would have the opportunity to do blue sky thinking on where they could take their organisations. As we went through each stage, and the due diligence, the hurdles became harder. While seven finalists were unsuccessful the questions we asked and the way we engaged with stakeholders and boards helped them refine their thinking. Hopefully, that will pay dividends.

    We’re just beginning with the award program. Its success will be in forming strong partnerships with the winners. Money is one thing, but the winners are excited about other things they’re doing that we can help amplify. The process has given us a different view of what can be achieved.

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