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Corporate leaders pool skills to give disadvantaged a chance to 'learn for life'

17 Aug 2012

Senior executives working with some of Australia's leading companies have focused their expertise on doubling the number of children assisted by the not-for-profit welfare group, The Smith Family to more than 200,000 over the next five years.

The executives from firms such as Woolworths, the Commonwealth Bank and Santos Gas, provided the assistance as part of their Global Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) course with the University of Sydney Business School.

"A key focus of our EMBA is learning by doing and we were looking to work with an organisation dealing with some complex strategic issues," said course director, Associate Professor Nick Wailes. "Through its educational programs the Smith Family currently assists around 100,000 children a year and plans to double that number within five years."

Over a two week period, the EMBA students analysed current levels of public support for the Smith Family, educational assistance provided by the charity; its fund raising strategies and marketing trends within the not-for-profit sector.

"The EMBA students identified a number of new and exciting opportunities for the Smith Family to expand its funding base and identified areas where they could streamline and improve what they are already doing," Associate Professor Wailes said. "The Smith Family is an incredibly professional organisation and I know they will pore over the recommendations."

Associate Professor Wailes went on to say that the project gave the EMBA students an opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge to "a complex organisational problem" which was different to the challenges they normally face and therefore, allowed them to learn and develop new skills and insights.

"It also provided an opportunity for these very talented senior executives to give something back and to make a contribution to our society," he said.

One EMBA student, Woolworth's Chief Information Officer, Daniel Beecham, described the Smith Family project as tremendously rewarding.

"It was inspiring to see just what can be achieved on a very small budget," Mr Beecham said. "The project gave me insights into a side of Australian society that many people never see and also into how not-for-profits operate in a very sensitive area."

"To give kids shoes is one thing, but to provide them with educational opportunities as the Smith Family does, lifts their chances of lifelong success," he said. "Learning for life is a high value add."

Mr Beecham says he undertook the Business School's EMBA course because he regards learning as a lifelong process and is particularly interested in focusing on his leadership skills.

"The EMBA is designed for senior executives and aims to give them the skills and insights they need to take on and succeed in leadership roles in their organisations," explained Associate Professor Wailes. "A key feature of the program is its focus on experiential learning with students working on complex real world challenges across four different continents."

The EMBA course consists of five two week modules - two are based in Sydney, one in Bangalore, India, one in Silicon Valley in the United States and a final module in Europe.

"Our work with the Smith Family is part of a wider effort by the University of Sydney Business School to provide opportunities for our students to work with not-for-profit organisations," said Associate Professor Wailes. "This is a win-win because it enhances the skills of our students and gives not-for-profit groups access to some of our leading executives."

"Not only are we providing educational opportunities through these relationships, we are also making a contribution to the community," he concluded.