Article by ABV CEO, Liz Mackinlay

I’ve spent the last 25 years working cross-culturally in indigenous communities here in Australia and overseas in developing and developed countries giving me firsthand experience of cross-cultural facilitation and the value it can unlock between multiple disparate partners, working for the common good.  It’s easy in an increasingly tribal world to define those not like us as the other, and the recent history of corporate volunteering in Australia is littered with well-meaning programs falling over because the NFP or community couldn’t find value or the employees themselves saw it was a transactional project that didn’t create meaningful change.  This is echoed across the Australian CSR sector too, which has been on a steep learning curve this last 20 years.   

With exciting initiatives such as the UN Impact 2030 Australia Council and the push to have mature and outcomes focussed conversations about the value of corporate volunteering, I think we’re on the cusp of some great discoveries about corporate social responsibility and corporate volunteering.   

As part of that journey of discovery, let’s call out an historical injustice as identified by the Oxford economist Professor Paul Collier: the reduction of economist and philosopher Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations to the paltry statement “greed is good”.  Smith’s statements that the pursuit of self-interest leads to the common good have often been used to justify many actions within markets and corporates where everything is justifiable if profit is made.  In exploring Adam Smith, Collier identifies that Smith didn’t ever define a dichotomy between the business world and communities who are focussed on morality and inclusion.  Adam Smith wrote a far less well known treatise in 1759 titled The Theory of Moral Sentiments which describes a healthy society as one in which its members are “morally motivated people in society” where we have empathy and compassion for our fellow citizens.  Modern economists including Professor Collier, now posit that the two documents were meant to be read together, in that we should support markets to pursue profit in an ethical way.  It’s not a reach in the 21st century to make such a claim, and increasingly sophisticated corporates are exploring how they can indeed make profit ethically. 

I’d like to add another aspect to the ethics of corporate behaviour and that is the immense opportunity that exists for corporates to leverage their significant talents, resources and expertise to solve the difficult societal challenges facing communities across the world. We exist within new economies such as the digital economy and borderless markets, where traditional government solutions will struggle to solve challenging community issues that are common to many and uniquely experienced in different contexts.   We’re living in a disintermediated, increasingly tribal society that needs clever, innovative and future focussed solutions to build strong, resilient communities. 

We need leadership, and we need people who believe in a purpose beyond themselves and their interests to provide that leadership.  Businesses and corporates that see the contribution they can make to improve communities, creating greater social impact as equally as important as their profit are ideally positioned to work with communities on solving the challenges facing us.  We need courageous NFP leaders, working to make their communities more inclusive and that restore people’s well-being to be willing to go out on a limb and partner with corporates who are authentically bringing their resources, skills and staff to solve the same challenges.  To do this there must be a trust in each other’s motivations which can only come from authentic engagement, transparent goal setting and clear parameters for the work.  Having a trusted partner broker that relationship and navigate the dynamics for both the corporate and the NFP can create the space for the collaboration to yield tangible benefits for both partners.  This is the wonderfulness of collaboration, and ABV delights in being this kind of trusted partner. 


Australian Business Volunteers