Andrew Penfold

on Sunday, 06 May 2012. Posted in Leadership Interviews, Action Motivated Leadership

Andrew Penfold
Australian Indigenous Education Foundation (AIEF)
Andrew Penfold

In 2004 Andrew Penfold left a successful career as a lawyer and investment banker to devote his time voluntarily to help transform the lives of Indigenous children through education. Working from his dining room with a laptop and mobile phone, Andrew established the St Joseph’s College Indigenous Fund and raised $5 million to support 40 Indigenous boys to board at the College, winning acclaim as the nation’s pacesetter in Indigenous scholarships.

With an unwavering belief that the challenges facing Indigenous children can be overcome, Andrew recently established the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation (AIEF) to expand the delivery of Indigenous education scholarships for thousands of Indigenous children on a national basis. Just a year on, AIEF has already won critical support and is well advanced in raising $20 million from individual, corporate and philanthropic investors in partnership with a $20 million investment by the Australian Government, to permanently change the trajectory of disadvantaged Indigenous children through an effective program with proven results.

Interview with Andrew Penfold

Why did you leave your legal and financial career and decide to find funding for financially and socially disadvantaged and marginalised Indigenous children to attend high performing boarding schools?

At age 38 I reached the stage in life where I wanted to try doing something that wasn't driven by making money. I felt strongly about the benefits of helping Indigenous kids gain entry to the best boarding schools in the country, and strong convictions that this could really make a tangible difference. Three years later I know I was absolutely right.

How did you manage to reach your initial target of $5 million for the Indigenous Fund to support 40 Indigenous boys boarding at St Joseph's College Hunters Hill? What personal and professional qualities did you apply to attract patrons to your Programme?

Well we haven't reached the $5 million target yet, we're still about $500,000 off that, but it's making good progress.

First, people needed to understand that this wasn't about supporting St Joseph's College - it was about supporting marginalised Indigenous children, and understanding that the outcomes are more likely to be positive if those kids were enrolled at a school that is committed to supporting them. St Joseph's College is one such school - there are many others - but I thought Joey's had the track-record, reputation, credibility and scale that we needed to develop a 'best practice' template that other schools could emulate. 

The personal and professional qualities that have helped in the process are these:

* Before we asked for a single cent, we spent 18 months planning. This included all the legal and regulatory structuring, obtaining tax approvals, writing a business plan, selecting and appointing a board and a group of supporters that we call Ambassadors, and producing marketing and information material. That gave us very strong foundations and meant we were well positioned when we started seeking funds.

* I think charitable investors also look for passion, energy and conviction in the people running the programme rather than careerists and those for whom it is "just a job".

* Investors have also liked the fact that we apply high standards of transparency, accountability and good governance.

* Because this programme is run on a voluntary basis, there are no salaries or overheads coming out of the money being donated. Our investors have liked the fact that 100 cents in the dollar they donate is going towards the education of Indigenous children and not being absorbed on salaries and administration like it is in many other charities.

How have others been instrumental in the success of your Programme?

I spent a good deal of time - and continue to do so - explaining the programme to people of influence in the community. That includes business leaders, journalists, politicians, sports people, etc. These are the people that give your programme wings and momentum. My job then becomes about harnessing that momentum and following up and being a good administrator.

I've always believed in surrounding yourself with people who know more than I do and are great at what they do, and then my job is about managing those people and their skills and contributions to achieve our objectives. The success of this programme is 90% about the others and 10% about me administering them and their contributions.

What do you feel is necessary in the leadership of the school and in its ethos for the Programme's success?

1. Conviction: the school has to genuinely believe that it has a responsibility.

2. Courage: the school has to be prepared to back its conviction even if things don't always go according to plan.

3. Patience: the school has to be in it for the long term and not focussed on short-term outcomes - it's about creating permanent change in Australia that can't be done in three-year election cycles. If a school isn't in it for the right reasons the programme wont succeed. 

What have been some of the major highlights and stumbling blocks in getting to where you are today with the Programme?

It's an amazing feeling of satisfaction when someone believes in this programme as much as I do and decides to invest their own money in this programme. That's given me greater satisfaction than any business deal I've ever done. And when I see people that have made a fortune in their business life who are willing to give away a large part of their wealth to try and help underprivileged children, it just gives me the most incredible admiration and respect for those people, and it's enriching and fulfilling for me to have the privilege of knowing such great people.

But without question, the highlight is always seeing the progress of the Indigenous kids we support. That really makes my heart thump. The stumbling blocks are too trivial to mention, anything can be a positive, it's just a matter of perception and approach.

What is the rationale for the Indigenous Programme that is being run at St Joseph's College?

Working to create future Indigenous leaders and role models; Break the cycle of Indigenous disadvantage; Promote Reconciliation among non-Indigenous Australians / students; Giving everyone a fair-go; Providing a template that other schools can emulate; Accepting that we all have a role to play in achieving these. 

How does the Programme work for the Indigenous children and what impact has it had upon their lives?

In the case of every single student we have supported, it is totally life changing. The whole trajectory of their life is permanently altered. 

What benchmarks do you use to gauge the success of the Programme?

School retention

School completion

Transition to tertiary study and productive careers Other schools embarking on Indigenous programmes 

How do you juggle the demands of voluntarily fund raising for this Programme and balancing all your other professional commitments?

I spend all my time working voluntarily so there aren't any other professional commitments apart from other voluntary boards I sit on. 

What are your hopes for the future of this Programme? 

That schools all around Australia seriously embark on similar initiatives so that we see thousands of Indigenous children enrolling at prestigious schools throughout Australia. And that those with capacity to do so continue to provide financial support, leadership and encouragement so that programmes like this are run in accordance with best practice principles from the private sector.