Author Archive

South Africa on the move

October 5, 2013

You hear lots of stories about the lack of personal safety in many parts of Africa. So we asked Kym Fuller (former Chair of RDA Western NSW and now director of Cerful Travel, a tour operator based in Victor Harbor, South Australia) for a frank report of his tour of South Africa. It was a pleasant surprise. Below is Kym’s report.

Yes, I am currently taking tour groups, and South Africa was great – the difference between now and 15 years ago on my first visit was chalk and cheese. At no time did we feel uncomfortable – the white population is under 10%, but as one ex South African Broadcasting executive mentioned “the fire is out of the eyes” which was certainly noticeable everywhere we went.

The road infrastructure is amazing and the number of new cars on the road is impressive. The retail side of things looks to be booming. There were a number of new shopping centres we saw that were very busy. One of the most impressive pieces of infrastructure is the new Kingshaka airport in Durban. When it opened they completed the move from the old airport in one night so they closed the old airport after the last flight, and the first flight landed at the new airport the next morning. Apparently the Brits were using it as a case study for their airport dilemmas.

With the favourable exchange rate, travelling over there is a breeze. The food is fantastic as is the local wine. We stayed in 4.5 – 5 star accommodation, which was very affordable. We also traveled up to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, where they have totally abandoned their local currency in favour of USD. All of the workers are paid in USD and they seem to be really happy, everyone we came in contact with were friendly and very welcoming. We arrived at the tail end of the World Trade Organisation conference which was a big deal for Zimbabwe and Zambia – the airport was being upgraded and the roads had been fixed up.

The airfares are pretty competitive (as low as $1500 return from Perth/Sydney) and given the increasingly strong linkages to South Africa, WA folk in particular should be making a point of seeing this fascinating country.

Are communities merely collections of highly parochial individuals?

August 29, 2013

We were recently debating collaboration at the regional level. A very interesting contribution was made by Bob Neville, a community consultant from the NSW Northern Tablelands, as follows:

“The challenge we have is that Aussies are generally very independent in their outlook – even to the death. I recall one time during a severe drought, when farmers and businesses were dying like flies. One bright spark had the idea of pulling together, pooling resources and equipment. A great plan was formulated and people were rallied behind it. Just as all of this was about to begin, it rained – and everybody IMMEDIATELY lost interest and went back to their independent ways.”

Bob continues “I tried to encourage them to keep it going, but to no avail…a change of mindset is the first step. The same is true for struggling businesses in regional communities. Many are struggling to survive – how do they find time or clarity of mind to get their position into perspective? The challenge is that communities are merely collections of highly parochial INDIVIDUALS. But the mindset here is that communities rarely work together, except in times of severe disaster. There is no one simple solution, but it’s worthy of serious focus.

Identifying the problem

Well, it’s hard to disagree with Bob, and from our experience part of the answer lies in better identifying the quantum of a problem and then explaining it. For example, the Greens have a patchy track record in this area and lose credibility as a result.

Another example is the social costs of bored youths. There is much anecdotal evidence, but little cost-benefit analysis, of how sports facilities can help kids get healthy, let off steam and develop self-worth. Could be a role for a university to take the lead here? We could even build a case for poker machine profits to flow to such infrastructure, rather than the pockets of investors!

Identifying the solution

The other part of the answer lies with a practical solution.
For example, three years ago the federal government’s High Speed Train consultants arrived at $114 billion as the likely construction costs to link Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane over 30 years. That was never a practical solution. But government advisers are now talking about a staged solution, starting with a Sydney-Canberra leg of $23 billion over 17 years. This could be a very practical solution if the feds, NSW and ACT governments, councils, institutional investors and developers could agree on a funding cocktail.

Another example is the $614 million for light rail between Gungahlin and Civic here in Canberra. While the Greens are leading the charge, most Canberrans are choking on their scotch and sodas. The general consensus is that we simply avoid the 15 minutes of heavy traffic at peak hours. Indeed, Infrastructure Australia doubts whether the territory has enough traffic congestion to warrant federal funding for both light rail or rapid buses!

In any case, the solution has to be a staged approach – the best cost-benefit arguably lies on the Civic – Manuka – Kingston route (5km). The benefits include easy access for Manuka Oval patrons, activity to soften the Stalinist features of the Parliamentary Triangle, and smart transport for the many apartment dwellers in this area.

Getting back to Bob Neville’s point about parochialism, I suspect he is right. We will not collaborate unless someone properly explains the problem and provides a sensible solution. One without the other is not enough.

The ‘best and fairest’ federal politicians in Australia – an insider’s view

August 9, 2013

During the week I had a long chat with a very senior Parliamentary Officer, who spends hours every week at close quarters. I asked for a nomination of the ‘best and fairest’ from each side.

The picks among Labor were
– Tanya Plibersek (‘very good at enunciating policy’)
– Jenny Macklin
– Stephen Smith

Among the conservative up and comers
– Craig Kelly – member for Hughes NSW
– Ewen Jones – member for Herbert Qld
– Wyatt Roy – Longman Qld (old head on young shoulders).

Bronwyn Bishop as next speaker of House of Reps?

August 9, 2013

The word around Parliament House is that Bishop will be the speaker in any Abbott Government – there is a certain logic – she is a lawyer, has an affected gravitas, has years of parliamentary experience, is close to Abbott. Sad if true.

Healthy breakfast strategy for regions?

July 31, 2013

It is sad to see small towns struggling to survive against the onslaught of agglomeration effects and structural changes.

Thankfully regional folk are doing great things to make themselves more interesting to city dwellers by creating an emotional connection to them. And good healthy food in the tummy creates an emotional connection.

Indeed, if you’re travelling in the Bush there’s nothing better than being at the local café for a brekky of local scambled eggs, tomato and toast, washed down with a decent coffee while reading the local paper. The academics call it ‘Slow Travel’ whereby tourists become connected to a place, its people, and the local food and culture. Indeed, Dunkeld, Orange and Hahndorf have managed it.

Well I recently drove for fifteen minutes around a fair-sized regional town (8,000 population) looking for such a café. But I retired hurt to a multinational fast food outlet for a hash brown and a burger the size of a small child’s fist. The establishment was quite busy. It had presumably had run the opposition into the ground.

The next evening I stopped into an iconic café in an iconic town 300 km further on. The fish and chips were terrible – oily NZ hake and crinkle-cut chips. Shudder.

Coincidentally, a few days before, we’d been reflecting on reasons for declining regional tourism traffic – rising petrol prices, the cost of upmarket tourism accommodation, expensive airfares to regional areas, cheap international airfares, and absence of a strong regional food culture.

What is the reason for the average food served at cafes and restaurants in some regions. Is it because the locals aren’t fussy diners? Or haven’t the kitchen staff the caught up with changing consumer preferences? It’s a shame because running a small business in the Bush is tough work. The problem is finding someone willing to tell the mum and dad chefs.

So what if there was a program to deploy expert chefs and dieticians to provide advice on cooking skills, menu development, food sourcing, marketing and signage? After all, Enterprise Connect and AusIndustry have good programs advising small businesses in other sectors – so it’s no big deal to tack on another program.

A constraint is that the issue has four dimensions – health, tourism, small business, regional development. Perhaps a bottom-up approach via a collection of Regional Organisation of Councils could pull something together? If you share our concern, please email us at

Dentists hard to find in regional Australia

July 31, 2013

The Australian Government has a Dental Relocation & Infrastructure Support Scheme (DRISS) to get dentists out into regional areas – big subsidies (up to $370k per dentist).

Alas, the patients need to have private health cover. I explained to the DRISS folk that the people they’re endeavouring to help often can’t afford private health cover!
The reply was that we don’t have much funding ($77.7 million) but we might look at hybrid arrangements.

If you don’t believe me, here is the verbage on the DRISS website – ‘Applicants (i.e. dentists) who intend to operate in both private and public practice may be eligible for the measure, however applicants who intend to operate solely within the public sector are not eligible.’

Global Shared Value – a view from Down Under

June 12, 2013

A former Sydney financier, Phil Preston, was in Canberra yesterday (11 June 2013) to brief federal agencies on Global Shared Value. We had a coffee before the session, and Phil explained all about his interest in the power of collaboration, and where he wants to head with this – he can be contacted at

Phil penned the following article while in Boston last month at a workshop with Professor Michael Porter et al.

“I’m sitting in my hotel room, looking out a heavy clouds on the Boston horizon, at the end of four days of intensive work discussing shared value implementation with companies and practitioners from all around the world, including Colombia, India, Philippines, Canada, Czech Republic, Brazil, Australia, Italy, Hong Kong, Singapore, US, UK, Costa Rica, Mexico, Korea, Japan and Chile.

We rubbed shoulders with the likes of Harvard’s Professor Michael Porter, Mark Kramer of FSG and the Chairman of Nestle, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This is a pivotal moment in the development of this field – you may like to refer to or this article of mine that Porter re-tweeted last year, if the topic is quite new to you.

It’s impossible to summarise everything in one go, but here’s three big take-aways for the business, government and the NGO sectors:

1. Meaning

For a business to have real purpose and be resilient to future shocks, it helps to identify it’s role in improving society. This approach underpins sustained profitability; if profitability is the primary short-term goal, then there is a risk that the business model fails overnight.

Nestle adopted “shared value” as a formal strategic initiative in 2006; however Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe remarked that shared value is now the strategy. It has transformed from being a food and beverage company to one that seeks to improve nutrition, access to water and develop rural economies. Nike was once a footwear company, it now sees itself as a health and well-being player. Thermo-Fisher saw itself as a scientific company, it now sees its role as building a healthier and safer world.

On my table at the global summit, four companies talk about their evolution in the way that they define their purpose. They were all at different stages – for different reasons – and still had some way to go, but the point is that they were all conscious of the need to bring clarity.

2. Measurement

How do we measure if and when shared value is created? There are two sets of indicators that need to be present: those that prove business value and those that evidence social value. This is not always easy and sometimes proxies are required.

Novo Nordisk sells diabetes-related products and has a strong presence in China. It estimates that it has improved patient life years of those who use its products and services by 80%, while increasing its market share from below 40% to 63% in the second largest insulin market in the world. The strategy was underpinned by physician training and patient education.

We will hear a lot more about measurement in years to come and the Shared Value Initiative provides a community of practice to develop expertise and serve as a repository for case studies.

3. Momentum

The global summit started two years ago and the first meeting was a small collective of North American businesses. This year, 225 places were filled and many were turned away. The companies in the room were very large, significant and mostly multi-national players. But not just that, we saw great representation from the NGO, development agency and government sectors. If you want to dispel any myths about the quality of management in the non-business sectors, tap into what Judith Rodin of the Rockefeller Foundation, Neal Keny-Guyer of Mercy Corps or Peter Singer from Grand Challenges Canada are doing and saying in this space. By the end of it, our heads were spinning.

It has become a truly global, cross-sector conversation. Where NGOs were once adversaries of business, they are now becoming partners. This is not because they have traded their values or mission, it is because they have come to the realisation that philanthropy is not enough; if we want to make real change in the world, the power of business is required in order to do what it does best: bring innovation and scale to the real needs in our society.

Where to from here?

Implementing shared value is a process of internal challenge and discovery. As yet there is no prescriptive rule book, but there are principles and processes that we can use to evaluate the core assets, needs and challenges of any business, find where the key social intersection points exist and create strategies that drive financial results for business and positive impact for society.

All I can say is that I love being a part of the evolution of this discipline

Shadow Ministers soon in the sun

June 11, 2013

Interesting to reflect on the Shadow Ministers who will be running Australia in an Abbott Government. Here is a quick take on some.

Malcolm Turnbull (Communications) – will aim for a scaled back NBN wherever possible e.g. a fibre-to-the-node VDSL network, utilising Telstra’s existing copper network. Lots of fireworks.

Julie Bishop (Foreign Affairs & Trade) – this field is her passion. She is capable and will do a good job.

Kevin Andrews (Families and Community Services) – solid background in this field, traditional Catholic and family values. Expect radical changes.

Greg Hunt (Environment) – will oversee a drastic downsizing and reshaping of this portfolio. A rising star.

Joe Hockey (Treasurer) – my bet is he won’t last 18 months. His person skills will be used to better effect elsewhere.

Ian Macfarlane (Resources & Energy) – a seamless transition because he was a very good minister in the Howard Government and knows the issues.

More bang for your buck

June 11, 2013

Our Gippsland correspondent says that a government official should be like a pianist in a house of ill-repute – a facilitator at the lowest and most personal level, not a participant on a grand scale.

He’s right of course, but the problem is that most federal officials at least aren’t even in the same neighbourhood.

Food for thought – less officials will be needed to administer federal programs after post-September. So why not put some of the surplus officials into Action Teams to work on development projects with companies and local/state officials? Some of these federal officials could be very handy on a piano, or a violin or guitar. More bang for your buck.

Anyone for Memphis or Nashville?

June 11, 2013

I was recently invited by an American friend, Dr. Stuart Rosenfeld, to think about collaboration on creative economies. Among other things, he’s a Board member of South Arts, a creative arts network covering nine states – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.

I readily agreed on the proviso that any collaboration should extend to both the creative AND tourism industries because of their complementarity. There were also other timely reasons:

– Cultural tourism is the fastest growing segment of the tourism market, and has a high spend value.
– The Australian tourism market is flat, and Tourism Australia is looking for new markets. And we figured the Yanks are in the same boat.
– Qantas now has Dallas as its main US hub – a great gateway to the relatively untapped southern US market. Qantas and the US carriers surely want to drum up two-way business.
– In March, the Australian Government announced a Creative Arts Program ($235 million) AND a Precincts (Clusters) Program ($500 million for 10 precincts), with a creative arts precinct a distinct possibility.

We thus decided that the planets were in alignment. But, as always, the solution lies in finding the stakeholders with the vision and commitment to make something happen. It seems smart to think of Sydney as the Aussie precinct connected to counterparts in the USA. After all it’s the main entry point for US artists and tourists, and there are two precincts forming around University Technology Sydney, and Walsh Bay – the Rocks.

But Melbourne and other places have equally long and proud histories in the creative industries and strong international links. In any case, it’s our rural regions that appeal most to international tourists – disparate places like Bendigo, Katoomba, Broken Hill, Tamworth, Gladstone, Alice Springs, Cape York, Broome etc. The dilemma is that while the regions have cultural tourism product, much of it is under-developed and hard to get to – regional airfares outside the main trunk routes are crippling, and you’d be loathe to recommend most of our train services to international tourists.

But let’s not dwell on the negatives. We have some fascinating cultural tourism agendas that might form the basis of relationships with cities and towns in southern USA – New Orleans, Dallas, Memphis, Nashville, Houston and Miami come to mind.

We’ve fired off a discussion paper for Dr. Rosenfeld for his next Board meeting. The first hurdle is to get arts administrators thinking tourism, and tourism administrators thinking arts. The second hurdle is to get US tourism/arts administrators engaging with their Australian counterparts, and then somehow connecting their regional cousins into the agenda. The third hurdle is to market the opportunity. On this score, we’ve suggested engaging some champions once things take shape e.g. Harry Connick Jnr. (New Orleans) and Nicole Kidman & Keith Urban (Nashville).

The above scenarios are somewhat speculative, and it involves a lot of cat-herding and people looking to someone else to arrange things. If it doesn’t pan out with our American friends, we might see if there are cultural tourism links back to Italy for Griffith, Mareeba and Leichhardt, or to South Africa in the case of Perth. We’ve found a federal program to defray expenses – so please contact us if this aligns with your interests.

Contact Rod Brown, Cockatoo Network – if you would ike to collaborate in this field.