Taking risks seriously for non-profit return

15 Jan 2017

A large financial services company like Macquarie Group may not seem as if it has much in common with a small social sector organisation but some threats are ubiquitous, according to Fiona Walkerden from Macquarie’s operational risk team in Sydney.

She says that every business, no matter the size or sector, faces risks across their operations and it’s just as important for non-profits to focus on potential hazards as corporates.

Together with 10 colleagues last year, she led a workshop and panel session to run through what they know about risk management with more than a dozen community organisations, as part of Macquarie’s Community Resourcing (CoRe) program.

“At our workshop, we delved into three types of risk that apply to almost every business you can think of - technology, people and culture, and financial risks,” Walkerden says. “The most critical to any organisation is people and culture and it needs to be managed effectively.”

The session incorporated a ‘real life’ risk management case study of one of the workshop participants, the Aurora Education Foundation. Aurora aims to change the conversation about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education to one where excellence is seen as the norm.

It delivers a range of programs under the banner of The Aspiration Initiative, including a high school academic enrichment program; an Indigenous Scholarships Portal with a scholarship matching service; an annual Aurora Indigenous Scholars International Study Tour for high achieving university students considering postgraduate study at leading universities in the UK and US; and the administration of international scholarships and bursaries for the Charlie Perkins Scholarships Trust and Roberta Sykes Indigenous Education Foundation.

Aurora also runs an internship program for students and graduates interested in working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and in the Indigenous sector more broadly.

For the Macquarie workshop case study, Macquarie’s risk team met with Aurora and together looked at the various risks Aurora faced, assessed how those risks could affect its operations and suggested ways management could improve and prioritise their responses to them. A high level summary of best practice risk management options was also provided.

Aurora CEO Richard Potok said it was a wonderful opportunity and the advice provided “lots of food for thought”.

The panel session featuring four risk experts from across Macquarie was also received very positively.

“Attendees said the panel session was extremely relevant, with panellists providing valuable insights across a wide range of risks and first-hand experiences,” Walkerden says.

Walkerden herself learnt something from working on the Aurora case study review and in the preparations leading up to the workshop.

“We have a whole lot of people at Macquarie who really care about risk management and were really interested in using their knowledge to help others,” she says.

“It was also a great opportunity to meet my colleagues from across risk disciplines, gain their perspective in a different context, and to set up a pro bono legal agreement that can outline our relationship with a non-profit in future as well.”

Image caption: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander university students on a study tour exploring postgraduate options in the UK, courtesy of the Aurora Education Foundation which worked with Macquarie’s Risk Management Group.