Building Community and Building Evidence: 15 Years of the Centre For Social Impact
Centre for Social Impact, Sydney
Wednesday, 16 August 2023
I acknowledge the Gadigal people as traditional custodians of the land, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.
I commit myself, as a member of the Albanese Government, to the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, including a constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament.
It doesn’t matter who you talk to across the political spectrum almost everyone believes in a society where a child’s outcomes aren’t predestined from birth.
As A.B. ‘Banjo’ Paterson wrote in his poem ‘Boots’:
They called us ‘mad Australians’;
they couldn’t understand
How officers and men could fraternise
The poem captures Australia’s fundamentally egalitarian ideals. We prefer the word ‘mate’ to the word ‘sir’. We’re likely to think of ourselves as more country pub than country club.
So, how well does Australia live up to that ideal? One way of answering that question is to look at how much parents’ incomes affects the incomes of their children, a measure known as the intergenerational elasticity.
On this metric, Australia is more socially mobile than the United States, but less mobile than Scandinavian countries. We do ok, but we could do better.
One of the ways we’ll improve social mobility is by understanding the drivers of disadvantage, and the pathways out of poverty.
And that’s where the Centre of Social Impact comes in.
Centre for Social Impact
We are here tonight to pay tribute to the Centre for Social Impact for its research and education over 15 years.
The Beatles might be the greatest collaboration of all time, yet the Centre has now lasted twice as long as the fab four. Some of you might say it has been a ‘long and winding road’ but the Centre for Social Impact has built an impressive catalogue of research covering everything from mental health through to cultural diversity and homelessness.
The Centre has also built a reputation as a leader in social impact education. It’s a credit to you that last year more than 2,400 students undertook social impact courses across your partner universities –UNSW, the University of Western Australia, Swinburne University of Technology and Flinders University.
The ten-month Social Impact Leadership Australia program is also highly regarded. With each intake the program supports two dozen for-purpose CEOs to hone their leaderships skills. Two cohorts of 24 have completed the program and I’m told the third intake has just commenced. Many alumni – including CEOs of charities of all sizes and CEOs of peak bodies – describe the program as life changing.
The Centre can be proud of its many achievements and I’d like to acknowledge National Board Chair and founding CEO, Peter Shergold for his contribution.
In 2008, then deputy prime minister, Julia Gillard addressed one of the Centre’s first events (UNSW 2008). She said it was significant that ‘Peter should choose to pursue this project of creating a Centre which can bring together research, teaching and cross-sector partnerships to create positive social impact at the intersections between government, business and community life’ (Gillard 2008).
And, here we are 15 years later. Congratulations.
The standout for me has been the Centre’s work in highlighting the importance of education in addressing social inequality.
An excellent example is the Centre’s two-part Amplify Insights: Education Inequity report (Varadharajan et al 2021). The Centre’s report said, ‘equity in education matters because it improves the quality of life of individuals, supports social mobility, and reduces public costs to society’.
Part one of the report identified ‘key drivers of inequity both inside and outside education settings for the selected demographic groups’. And part two of the report backed it up by focusing on the levers of change.
Minister for Education Jason Clare is passionate about improving opportunities for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. As he often notes, children from poorer families are less likely to go to pre-school, less likely to finish high school, and less likely to go to university (Clare 2023).
Treasury research highlighted the power of education to support social mobility (Deutscher 2020). It found second generation Australians often experience striking upward mobility, largely explained by their educational aspirations and attainment. In one example, Vietnamese Australians had fathers with an average income rank at the 29th percentile but ended up at the 54th percentile in the space of a generation. By understanding where mobility is working, we can help expand opportunities to more people.
As a government, we’re working to address education inequality, including through reviews into schooling led by Lisa O’Brien and into universities led by Mary O’Kane.
We need rigorous evidence to give us an accurate picture of the impact – or lack of impact – of programs. And I acknowledge the Centre for Social Impact has made a positive contribution in this area with its own research.
However, a long line of reports and reviews – including the independent review into Australia’s COVID-19 response co-authored by Professor Shergold – has called on government to lift its game and adopt better evaluation practices (Shergold et al 2022).
We’re doing that by establishing the Australian Centre for Evaluation within Treasury, which will carry out rigorous evaluations – particularly randomised trials – right across government.
The Australian Centre for Evaluation will partner with government agencies to initiate a small number of evaluations each year. It will work to improve evaluation capabilities, practices and culture across government. Ultimately, this will save taxpayers money by identifying ineffective programs, so we can either improve or end them.
Measuring What Matters
Economists, policymakers and researchers are only as good as the data in front of us. The Centre for Social Impact understands that better than most having published the Australian Social Progress Index since 2018. The index enables governments to measure their state or territory’s progress.
I thank the Centre for sharing its insights by making a submission to the consultation on developing the Government’s new Measuring What Matters Framework. In fact, Treasury received more than 160 submissions in the first round and 120 in the second round of consultation. It attracted strong interest because the Framework helps us build on what we already know from traditional economic measures.
Measuring What Matters isn’t about ignoring economic growth – it’s about broadening the conversation; ensuring that we make progress towards a society that is healthy, secure, sustainable, cohesive, and prosperous.
In some areas, there is a great deal to be done. Measures of community show that over recent decades, Australians have become less likely to join, volunteer, donate and participate. As Assistant Minister for charities, I’m working with the sector to build a stronger community sector and a more connected society.
The Centre for Social Impact works closely with the charity sector including through the Governance for Social Impact short course. The micro-credential course supports charity Non-Executive Directors to ‘lift their gaze’ to govern for improved social impact. Since 2018, more than 400 charity directors have completed the course.
There’s also the Partners in Recovery research series launched in mid-2020. The Centre worked with Social Ventures Australia to deliver five publications highlighting the contribution charities make to Australian society. The reports provided a financial health check of registered charities and how they have been affected by service disruption, falling income, rising demand and higher operating costs.
We know charities are under pressure and my job is to make their job easier. To do that, we’ve been holding town halls to listen to concerns and we’re working with states and territories to harmonise charitable fundraising laws.
As part of our goal to double philanthropy by 2030, we’ve initiated a once-in-a-generation Productivity Commission review of Australian philanthropy.
We are also collaborating with philanthropic partners through the Investment Dialogue for Australia’s Children— enabling the government to coordinate efforts to tackle intergenerational disadvantage and direct funding where it’s needed most.
And we’ve started work on a blueprint for strengthening the capacity and capability of Australian charities.
The traditional gift for a 15th anniversary is crystal – symbolising lightness, clarity and durability. Like a good piece of crystal, the Centre for Social Impact has shone a light on important questions, providing clarity to Australians, and producing durable policy proposals.
Your work has aided the charity sector, educated policy leaders and provided fresh ideas to policymakers.
It has informed policy ideas on social connectedness and social mobility.
The Centre for Social Impact has helped to build a fairer society and a stronger economy.
I congratulate you on your 15th anniversary and wish you all the best for the next 15 years ahead.
Clare J 2023 ‘Speech National Press Club’ [Speech delivered 19 July 2023, Canberra].
Deutscher N 2020 ‘What drives second generation success? The roles of education, culture, and context’ Economic Inquiry, Volume 58, Issue 4.
Gillard J 2008 ‘Social Innovation, Social Impact: A new Australian Agenda’ [Speech delivered 28 February 2008, remarks to the Centre for Social Impact, Launch of the Australian Social Innovation Exchange, Sydney].
Shergold P, Broadbent J, Marshall I, Varghese P (2022) Independent Review into Australia’s response to COVID-19 ‘Fault Lines - Independent Review into Australia’s response to COVID-19’, e61 Institute, Sydney.
UNSW Media 2008 ‘Social Innovators gather at UNSW’ [News article published 29 February 2008].
Varadharajan M, Buena P, Muir K, Moore T, Harris D, Barker B, Dakin, P, Lowe K, Smith C, Baker S, Piccoli A, 2021 ‘Amplify Insights: Education Inequity’. Centre for Social Impact, UNSW Sydney.