When the head and the heart are still reeling from trauma, a set of steady hands and sturdy feet may be the difference between standing still or moving forward. 

No doubt 2020 was a difficult year and for many Australians life’s challenges continue. However, for one small community in the NSW Southern Tablelands, it was the last day of 2019 that left a town traumatised, scorched and scarred far beyond any impacts a future pandemic may hold. 

The devastating bushfires that ravaged the Bega Valley township of Cobargo and the surrounding communities on New Year’s Eve 2019 heralded a season now known as the Black Summer Bushfires.  

Only three days after the unprecedented fires, Cobargo residents were unwittingly thrust into the international media spotlight when a last-minute visit by the prime minister failed to connect. The attempted outreach was shared on screens around the world and amplified the heightened emotional pain of a freshly traumatised community. According to locals the visit was ‘divisive’ and ‘abrasive.’ 

On the night of that now infamous exchange, serendipity stepped in at a dinner being held some 300kms away in the town of Yass. Australian Business Volunteers (ABV) CEO Liz Mackinlay was among the dinner guests. 

‘The PMs visit attracted a lot of attention and was a topic of discussion at dinner,’ Liz recalled. ‘I suggested that in six to eight months’ time, when the politicians and media have left town, and the community is left exhausted and still traumatised, they will likely need support to move forward with the building back better that they envisage.’  

As fate would have it, the dinner conversation led to connections being made between Liz and Zena Armstrong who was president of the Cobargo Folk Festival and went on to become president of the Cobargo Community Bushfire Recovery Fund Inc. That connection was the catalyst for a game changing partnership that continues to this day. 

Jump forward to September 2020 and as predicted, Liz Mackinlay and her ABV staff drove into Cobargo to begin a three-day scoping visit with a broad range of local community groups.  

Developed through 40 years in the field, ABV’s framework for supporting bushfire affected communities encompasses international disaster recovery theory and practice, world-class business volunteer management, business continuity planning and resilience, trauma-informed engagement, and place-based planning approaches.  

ABV’s support delivery model typically involves a combination of key stakeholders; corporate partners who contribute financial support and leadership; skilled volunteers from corporate partnerships, ABV’s skilled business professionals who donate their time to support the projects; and the not-for-profit or community organisations that require skilled support. 

From October 2020 to February 2021, more than 30 skilled volunteers were sourced, onboarded, and matched to local community groups and small businesses to support them in their rebuild, recovery, and resilience building initiatives. The volunteers came from ABV’s pool of skilled business professionals and its partners, who also led the program; ABV’s key strategic partner NAB, as well as IAG insurance company, the Australian Catholic University, and Arup global advisory, design, planning and engineering group. 

The beneficiaries of ABV’s Bushfire Resilience Project included Shona Taranto and John Walters of the Cobargo Quaama Business Recovery Group Incorporated, an inspiring duo of community champions. 

At first glance Shona and John may be strange bedfellows borne of adversity, but any generation or gender divide is countered by a joint passion and commitment to getting things done, to making things happen. The dynamic duo agree that they are intellectually matched and able to grasp the big picture concepts inherent in a community’s recovery. Together, Shona (the brains) and John (the grunt) create a formidable pairing. 

Prior to the fires the two had rarely crossed paths. John was an occasional customer at Shona’s main street retailer, The Dispensary, where he would buy salad greens that Shona grew on her property or, once a year, don his fire helmet and ask for donations to the local fire brigade services where he was president and an active firefighter. Among his many responsibilities, John held the hose.  

Tragically, Shona lost her shop in the fire. John, who was actively involved in the battle on New Year’s Eve, took on the role of Cobargo RFS community coordinator for the next month or so. When a not-for-profit wanted to talk with local businesses as a group, Shona and John created the Cobargo Quaama Business Recovery Group (CQBRG). John was elected vice-chair, and Shona, in the absence of anyone else putting their hand up for the position, offered to stand for the position of chairperson for the group. “I agreed that if nobody else could do it, I would volunteer my time for 4-6 weeks max to get the committee up and running”. Shona is still chairperson of the group more than 18 months later and is humbled and honoured to be in the role and supported by the committee. 

Shona and John share personal recollections of the fires and their aftermath describing ‘weeks of black skies and no sun’, a continued ‘midsummer with active spot fires all January and half of February.’ The event is variously described as ‘catastrophic’, ‘unprecedented’, and ‘apocalyptic’. 

And yet, despite the devastation, the Cobargo community united on a path to recovery. It’s a trait too often borne of necessity, if not tragedy. 

‘The reality in the country is that if something has to get done often the individual has to do it themselves,’ Shona said. ‘If anything, we need to learn how to outsource a little more.’ 

John recalls the spirit of Cobargo being very strong during the initial recovery period. Locals directly affected by the fires were living in the show grounds. Neighbours were making friends with neighbours they hadn’t met previously. Residents continued to support each other long after the media had left town. 

In reality, the community was left with the visual scars still exposed in the commercial heart of Cobargo. As John has stated often ‘it was like a giant dagger had been stabbed in the heart of the town.’ 

‘Cobargo has always been hard working and constantly punches above its weight,’ Shona said ’That's certainly true for the groups who had been doing some amazing work – a true testament to the community.’ 

But fractures had started to appear. Through no fault of their own, the community and the various bushfire related organisations that had been created started to silo based on specific needs; a greening group, a renewable energy and resilience group, or a family-owned property with aspirations of becoming a museum.  

Individuals, community groups, businesses and local government authorities were putting their hands up for financial support of their ambitious recovery plans. In fact, more than $1.6b worth of applications would eventually be submitted for a pool of just $250m. 

The community was worn out and worn down. Tired. Exhausted. And now dealing with the overlap of a global pandemic! As the heads and the hearts tried to manage conflicting goals and general fatigue, ABV stepped in with steady pairs of hands and sturdy feet to offer their service and support those in need. ABV staff also relocated to the area for a month to help support the community project leads and ensure the 30+ volunteers were closely linked and well supported to deliver effective remote support. 

ABV’s preparedness to sit with, walk alongside and actively listen to communities, rather than prescribe solutions, allowed them to deliver targeted and immediate support where it was most needed. During a 3-day Visioning Workshop held in November 2020 Liz and the team brought a diverse range of community stakeholders together to develop a shared vision of ‘building back better’ and greater coordination between community projects. This Visioning Workshop and subsequent Stream Two activities were co-funded by NAB, IAG, Arup and the Cobargo community. 

‘Liz did an extraordinary job to bring the community together through compassion, empathy and an ability to engage with us that encouraged ownership of ideas and solutions. Liz built on the strong social capital that already existed and helped us expand our thinking and reframe some of the challenges we faced. Having Liz present provided a forum and mechanism for the community to unify around shared goals. 

While the township of Cobargo was recognised as a thriving little country town, there were issues that meant some buildings were commercially unviable and the town was struggling economically after three consecutive years of drought in the local region. In a lesson that's as relevant for bushfire recovery as it is for a post covid world, the plans to rebuild Cobargo were courageous and ambitious. The proposed Village Square, New Post Office and Market Hall projects as community led initiatives with innovative concepts to rebuilding for the future, received praise from many government agency representatives as setting a gold standard in bushfire recovery. 

‘Liz spent as much time listening as she did talking. And she didn’t talk until she’d listened,’ recalls John. ‘She was facilitator, catalyst, enabler and coach. ABV provided an essential glue that stopped the community from falling apart.”  

When Shona and John became aware that their own council had submitted grant applications for multimillion dollars towards projects of that didn't directly impact on Cobargo, Liz stepped in and filled an advocacy role through the media. ‘Let’s just say that Liz’s approach was more streamlined and tempered than some of my words to the media,’ John recalls. 

In the ten days leading up to the deadline for funding submissions Shona and John put their individual lives on hold and worked around the clock to complete the CCDC grant submission. While ABV volunteers had been instrumental in helping to tell the Cobargo story, frame the funding cases, offer assistance with various aspects of the  grant submission the final leg to the finish line was up to the hearts and heads of the community – in this case Shona and John who, emotionally and physically exhausted, pushed the final submit button only 18 minutes before deadline for the first project and the submit button for the second project with less than 2 minutes to spare. 

‘The last week or so was very nerve-wracking,’ says John. ‘After sending the submissions I had no nerves left. I went and collapsed in a heap.’ 

On 1 July 2021, Shona called John to check his email. The funding outcomes had arrived. Some smaller projects had been knocked back. However, the two main town center redevelopment submissions had been successful, granting the newly formed Cobargo Community Development Corporation Limited $9.62 M funding to rebuild both sides of the main street Under the CCDC project proposal. 

‘I think Cobargo did exceptionally well,’ says John. ‘There’s an old proverb that says a crisis is an opportunity riding a dangerous wind. We managed to find a silver lining in the dark clouds of the black summer bushfires. Now we can make the community’s rebuild vision for Cobargo a reality.’ 

Liz and the team from ABV and its partners are currently working with the CCDC Limited to assist in delivery of further community consultation ‘We walked alongside the community and listened to their needs. We’ve supported their emerging priorities and facilitated place-based planning.  This is Cobargo driving their future with ABV walking alongside,’ said Liz Mackinlay. 

‘Our work here is not finished and it’s far too early to raise the mission accomplished banner. We will be heading back to Cobargo in the coming weeks to once again provide the arms and legs, the hands and feet necessary to support the community of Cobargo, to deliver on its brave new vision.’ 


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Anna Durward, a new member of ABV’s pool of skilled business professionals, was one of the volunteers who supported the Cobargo Bushfire Resilience Centre to write submissions for recovery funds. Anna had been through a similar experience in bushfire-affected Port Macquarie where she successfully applied for funds for her community. 

Anna brought with her a breadth of knowledge, skills and experience having worked for a decade in project management and design within the sustainable building industry, earned a Master of Science: Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability in Sweden, qualified as a trauma counsellor, and aspired to volunteer with ABV on her way to working for the UN one day. 

Inspired by the people she was meeting, Anna attributes the community’s success to its agility and resilience. ‘Resilience is being able to endure life’s challenges in a regenerative way.’ Anna explained. ‘We have to keep an open mind and allow for emergence; it requires a preparedness to be agile and adaptive, to hold on to hope and optimism, to not get beaten down.’ 

Anna worked remotely to avoid adding pressure to the community, providing support to several community organisations while also supporting the development of two large funding applications for the Cobargo Bushfire Resilience Centre, both of which were successful. 

‘Regenerative leadership demands constant renewal, circular regeneration, moving, evolving. As a volunteer we must be willing to undertake whatever tasks are necessary with professionalism compassion and respect. You ask a lot of clarifying questions; practice deep listening and learn to read between the lines,’ Anna says. 

‘It was really rewarding, and I wish other skilled businesspeople would get involved. Volunteering can be a remarkable opportunity to meet and work with new people and cultures, to build connections and relationships that are meaningful, and to learn and grow as an individual and a leader.’ 

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Zarnie Robertson, a Senior Associate at NAB, provided remote business mentoring and grant application support for the Cobargo Bushfire Resilience Centre (CBFRC) and the Cobargo RSL Sub-Branch. 

Zarnie supported the CBFRC to prepare grant applications that would allow the CBRC to undertake the Badja Forest Rd Fire Oral History Project - the cornerstone content for the CBRC. He also worked with Cobargo RSL Sub-Branch President Glen Morrison to formulate an approach for assessing viability of various options for redevelopment of the historic RSL Hall. They focused on how the redevelopment aligned to the RSL’s mission statement and community objectives, its financial viability and concerns of local residents regarding heritage protection. 

’Following my first conversation with Glen he mentioned that he had slept soundly for the first time in months,’ Zarnie says. ‘I hadn’t felt that we’d ‘achieved’ anything major in our conversation but for Glen the process had become overwhelming. Engaging with me gave him an impartial and supportive person to share his concerns and challenges, allowing him to reset and move forward in a more positive mindset. It was incredibly moving to hear this’. 

‘The lived experience of the people in affected communities is likely to be completely removed from your own. Everyone I engaged with in Cobargo was inspiring.  I would tell anyone considering volunteering that you have an opportunity to have a real, positive impact on people’s lives and that is priceless.’ 

Report from Cobargo Bushfire Resilience Centre for ABV Annual Report  

The Cobargo Bushfire Resilience Centre emerged as a community response to the Badja Forest Rd firestorm that destroyed much of our region on NYE 2019. Our not-for-profit organisation aims to honour the events of the Badja Forest Rd fire and to support the social and economic recovery of our region, while empowering our local community to become more fire safe and more resilient for the future.  

We were introduced to the Australian Business Volunteers in the aftermath as we started to prepare grant applications to facilitate the rebuilding of the main street of Cobargo, which was decimated by the fire. Since our first meeting, our organisation has been upheld by a scaffold of support given to us by a myriad of volunteers from ABV who have contributed to developing our grant applications, business case, future centre programs, community consultation events and have been there to supportively listen to us as we vented our frustrations.  

We are excited that, as a result of that assistance, the Cobargo Bushfire Resilience Centre was successful in securing funding under the BCRRF to undertake the Badja Forest Rd Fire Oral History Project in a unique partnership with the National Library of Australia. In July, our organisation received the news that we had also been successful in our application to the BLER fund to construct a Centre on our main street. The Centre is significant to the recovery project of the main street and its construction will return a beating heart to our community. Both of these projects have the capacity to affect the lives of community members for decades to come and we are grateful for the assistance ABV has provided to make this happen. Thank you.  

Rhonda Ayliffe  


Cobargo Bushfire Resilience Centre

After gaining its independence in 1968, the 1970s saw the small pacific island nation of Nauru enjoying the second highest GDP per capita in the world, generated from extensive phosphate mining. When the primary reserves were largely exhausted in the 90s, however, the country was left in an economic and environmental quagmire. The noughties saw significant investment to support economic recovery efforts through the Pacific Regional Assistance to Nauru, along with the development of Nauru’s commercial fishing industry, tapping into some of the richest fishing grounds in the Pacific. In recent times, the services sector connected with Australia’s Regional Processing Centre (RPC) for asylum seekers has replaced phosphate mining and manufacturing as the main source of growth.    

Today, Nauru is at a point of transition.1 High unemployment (38%)2 and an over reliance on the public sector for employment (64%)3, combined with the decline in phosphate mining and the activity associated with the RPC, highlights the imperative for Nauru to diversify its economy and create a sustainable future for its population of approximately 13,000 people. 

At the ‘Desperate Imagination’ meeting held by the President of Nauru in January 2020, Nauru Chamber of Commerce (NCC) President, Mr. Sean Oppenheimer, was invited to deliver a presentation to Nauru’s Ministers and Heads of Missions on the private sector development opportunities for Nauru. 

‘As a national priority, private sector development had become urgent, so prompt action needed to be taken,’ said Sean. ‘Nauru is now facing a moment of change, with a great opportunity to develop a vibrant private sector that can significantly contribute to resilient economic growth in Nauru.’ 

In February 2020, a conference call between Australian Business Volunteers (ABV), members of the NCC and a representative of DFAT Australia discussed how ABV might support and strengthen the work of the NCC and promote stronger government collaboration and private sector development.  

Since that initial call, the Nauru Chamber of Commerce and ABV, supported by the Australian High Commission in Nauru and UK High Commission in Solomon Islands, have worked in partnership to develop a Private Sector Development Road Map with the goal of supporting the development of a vibrant and inclusive private sector that contributes to sustainable economic development in Nauru.  

Cross-sector collaboration is central to achieving the Road Map’s goal. From the outset, the project sought to engage widely across government, public and private sectors, as well as community and regional stakeholders. The first step was to establish a Project Governance Group (PGG) to provide inputs and guidance on the stakeholder engagement activities and Road Map development. PGG members consisted of representatives from government, state-owned enterprises, private sector and the community. 

‘The Chamber aspires to foster cross-sector collaboration and the Road Map will advance private sector development in alignment with Nauru’s broader socioeconomic aims,’ said Sean Oppenheimer. 

Responding to the need for Nauru to develop new sources of economic growth and income, the subsequent co-design process involved the active participation of a wide range of stakeholders committed to the development of a practical Road Map that would support locally-led private sector growth, generating employment opportunities and promoting social inclusion. 

CEO Liz Mackinlay acknowledged that ABV has been privileged to walk alongside the Nauru Chamber of Commerce in the development of the Road Map. 

‘The Road Map is intended to be a practical, ‘living document’ that strengthens communities through business, and supports and promotes locally-led, private sector driven solutions, open collaboration across all sectors, as well as youth leadership and entrepreneurship,’ Liz said. ‘It is an important step towards developing a diversified, inclusive, and sustainable private sector and a resilient Nauruan economy into the future. The Chamber of Commerce Board and all who participated in the process showed creativity, enthusiasm and entrepreneurship.’  

The Road Map was developed through a collaborative stakeholder consultation process consisting of a document review (informed by the NCC and PGG members), a consensus building Delphi survey process with local and regional subject matter experts, micro, small and medium enterprise questionnaire and interviews as well as interviews with larger private enterprises, interviews with government representatives and a series of workshops with community and youth leaders. Out of these consultations, four key strategic development priorities emerged which formed the basis of a two-day co-design workshop with cross-sector stakeholders, mapping out practical activities, collaboration mechanisms and partnership opportunities.  

Although the COVID-19 global pandemic prevented ABV’s ability to travel to Nauru, it also strengthened the project’s locally-led approach, with ABV supporting the NCC to implement several key activities in-country, thereby building greater awareness of the NCC with stakeholders. These in-country activities were supported by online components including the Delphi survey and co-design workshop facilitated by ABV with in-country support from the NCC.  

The resulting Road Map has been designed in stages, with Stage 1 focusing on short-term priority development areas, with a view to medium and longer-term priorities being developed through subsequent stages of the Road Map. 

Moving forward, implementation of the Private Sector Development Road Map centres around working groups made up of cross-sector representatives, supported by the Nauru Chamber of Commerce, thereby promoting inclusive collaboration and shared accountability. It is anticipated that regular review cycles will be conducted (at least annually) to review progress and update activities and/or milestones as required.  

The first stage of the Nauru Private Sector Development Road Map was released in June 2021 and identified four priority areas: Fishing Sector; Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) Capacity Building; Sustainable Tourism; and Diverse Land Uses. 

One element of the Road Map is to generate business opportunities from Nauru’s new seaport and resurfaced airstrip.  The port construction project is jointly funded by the Government of Nauru, the Government of Australia, the Asian Development Bank and the Global Climate Fund to build a climate resilient sea transport hub for Nauru. Aside from reducing shipping costs, ensuring reliable shipment of food, medical supplies, fuel and other essentials, the project will open opportunities for the private sector in and around the new port facility. The airstrip resurfacing project funded by the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific will increase certainty for business owners and managers by increasing the safety for Nauru’s air transport for another two decades.

For more than forty years ABV has delivered intrinsic value to myriad volunteers, skilled business professionals, corporate partners, and the community organisations they have supported. Of course, the flow of benefits doesn’t stop there, and it is the lives of individuals and families at the very end of the support chain, that give true meaning and value to ABV’s work. 

One such beneficiary, and an inspiring success story, is Ms Loise Kondiak, a 30-year-old wife and mother of two children from Lihir Island. 

Along with raising her children and nurturing her family, Loise is the Sole Proprietor and Business Owner of Elai Limited and the Coordinator for Lihir Sustainable Development Program now Lihir Wide Program. 

Loise graduated from Pacific Adventists University in Port Moresby in 2014 and was subsequently employed at Puma Energy Limited. Her strong desire to return to her mother’s land and the opportunity to benefit from the Newcrest gold mine activity, prompted her to return to Lihir. 

In 2019, Loise came across posters on the notice boards in Londolovit town, which advertised the Apeketon Business Hub’s business development workshops. Clearly not one to shy away from hard work, Loise attended and completed the five-day Family Money Management Program (FMMP) and followed up with the five-day Your Enterprise Scheme (YES) Start Up training program delivered over two consecutive weeks. 

Loise described the YES Start Up workshop as an eye opener.  

‘The basic business skills and knowledge I gained from the YES Start Up course was a real awakening for me,’ Loise said. ‘The business model canvas gave me the basic tools and know-how and helped me to do business correctly. I finally found the solutions I needed for starting a business’.  

‘I continue to connect with Apeketon Business Hub for advice and support to strengthen my skills as well as the processes within my business. The Hub provides a centre of development and opportunities. It encourages and broadens my thoughts around business opportunities in the mine and externally, and I regularly bounce ideas off ABH staff.’ 


As a direct result of the workshops, Loise was able to prepare her business documents and applied for vendors and accreditation through Monadelphous for labour hire employees as storeman, blaster and boil makers. She also secured a business loan through Bank of South Pacific’s SME Loan program.  

The loan allowed Loise to purchase a brand new 15-seater bus, which is used for the business daily operations. And more importantly Loise now owns a four-bedroom house she built in her husband’s village with the profits from her business. 

Loise’s hard work and determination, with a little help from ABV, has given her and her family a life that she says has more meaning and satisfaction.  Loise acknowledged that her biggest support comes from the partnership she has with her husband Albert Silambe who is the Operations Manager at Elai Ltd and father of her two beautiful children.

International travel restrictions and border closures haven’t stopped ABV doing what it does best. On the contrary, the BSP Financial Group Limited (BSP, formerly Bank of South Pacific Limited) and ABV Mentoring Program has remained active in Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and the Cook Islands since the program was initiated in August 2019. 

The BSP’s program was designed to provide best practice mentoring by experienced and culturally aware mentors, with a particular focus on offshore leaders in the BSP’s Leadership and Management Development Program (LMDP).  

ABV mobilised its extensive registry of skilled business professional as mentors to support the leadership of capability development of banking professionals in the Pacific region. The approach to mentoring integrates international development theory and good practice mentoring according to the International Standards of Mentoring and Coaching Programmes (ISMCP). 

Ideally the BSP program would include sending SBPs to the designated country for two face-to-face sessions, followed up with remote sessions held at least monthly and delivered virtually. While travel restrictions have put a stop to in person sessions, virtual mentoring has continued to reap benefits for all concerned. 

The initial cohort of seven BSP leaders were matched in August 2019 and an additional three mentor-mentee relationships were established in April 2020. Throughout the important matching process, the mentees have driven much of the decision making around their participation. This included selecting a mentor from a range of potential profiles to ensure alignment of skills and experience required to meet the goals set by the mentee, through to establishing regularity and content of mentoring sessions. 

Mentee development objectives varied across the ten participants based on individual needs and levels of leadership experience. 

Based on BSP management’s decision to extend their Leadership and Management Development Program to four years for those currently participating in the program, and ABV’s achievement of tangible outcomes for mentees in 2019/20, it was agreed in October 2020 to continue mentoring throughout 2021.  

The broad development themes included management and leadership skills and competencies, project management skills, organisational and personal efficiency, business effectiveness, strategic and innovative thinking, networking and increased confidence in communication, public speaking, team and customer engagement. 

Allowing for an unmet desire to connect in person, overwhelmingly positive feedback from BSP staff is testimony to the success of the program to date. 

The program really motivates and encourages me to become more successful in the future as a leader. It not only applies to the workplace, but it covers every aspect of life. 

This mentoring program has been a very good tool. My mentor is clearly a compassionate and professional person who is insightful and respectful and has taken care to focus on my needs and development and being flexible to my timing and requests. To me, this is important and speaks volumes on the quality of the mentors that ABV has provided.  My mentor is … someone I feel strongly that I can trust. 

I enjoy the way the program is currently run, and patiently await such a time as I might be able to meet my mentor in person so she is able to see in action some of the suggestions we have brainstormed now in action, and get a holistic look at my workplace and work environment which might offer more insights into changes if any I can make to improve on my efficiency and outputs to make a positive impact. 

ABV skilled business professional Evelyn Moolenburgh is mentor to two of BSP’s women leaders in Solomon Islands and Tonga, Joyce and Anaise. While Eveyln was able to meet Joyce in person, her relationship with Anaise has been built over Zoom. The two modes of delivery come with their own challenges and benefits. 

‘I spent a week with Joyce in 2019 getting to know her lifestyle, her island and her work life and colleagues,’ Evelyn explained. ‘Not having met Anaise in person, it has taken longer and more deliberate effort to understand her world and context over Zoom. You can’t just see a picture of her life and ask a question for clarity.’   

Fortunately, the shared commitments of mentor and mentees have overcome the tyranny of distance and resulted in positive outcomes for all. 

‘I love working with the women in the pacific islands; you can inspire and show them that women can achieve anything,’ says Evelyn.  ‘One of my mentees has gone from, in her words, ‘being quiet’ to a confident Financial Manager who is ready to step up, and only in 12 months’. 

‘It is very exciting when they jump on zoom or a call and can’t wait to tell you about an achievement or a project that was successful.  It is rewarding to share that excitement. I hope they would say that the program has inspired them to achieve their goals and that they have developed a friend from Sydney’.

After 40 years sending skilled volunteers overseas to support communities in developing countries, Australian Business Volunteers (ABV) has reinvented its trusted delivery model to overcome global challenges and keep its promise to the people of Lihir in Papua New Guinea. 

Eighteen months after the global pandemic first shut down borders, restricted international travel and dramatically impacted the health and wellbeing of millions around the world, the Apeketon Business Hub on Lihir island has welcomed new clients and workshop participants following an extended hiatus from in person contact.  

First opened in 2019, the Business Hub offers a program of skill development workshops to aspiring and established small business operators in Lihir. It also provides clients with mentoring and consulting services available at the drop-in resource centre, sponsored by Newcrest LGL and delivered in partnership with ABV. 

The Hub currently services 70 registered businesses in the local Lihir community and, in its first year, delivered 13 custom-designed training programs to 144 participants. The doors were closed in March 2020, due to the global pandemic, which limited in-person contact and prevented international travel. 

Senior Program Manager, Henry Ume-Taule and Senior Project Officer, Betty Komes, provide the regular friendly faces on site and were delighted to return to Lihir in November 2020. However, ABV’s skilled business professionals, who donate their time and skills to deliver workshops, have, until recently, been unable to deliver the programs.  

Henry acknowledged the trying times and said he was happy to return to Lihir and reconnect with the community.  

‘We’ve been able to maintain virtual connections with community since the pandemic arrived, but it’s great to get back to Lihir and meet in person again, to re-connect with local operators, and to continue working with our previous graduates as well as new workshop participants.’ said Henry. 

CEO Liz Mackinlay committed ABV to keeping its promise to the Lihir community: to support them to create sustainable business and employment opportunities for their communities.  

‘During this time of uncertainty, ABV dedicated volunteer Skilled Business Professionals and staff revamped the workshops and created a dynamic blended delivery model that includes fresh, new video content, face-to-face facilitation, the introduction of virtual volunteers and the maintenance of essential digital connections,’ said Liz. 

“The new model allows us to support business development through effective and empowered local staff with support virtually from our team in Australia – a combination of volunteers and staff.  We’re 100% able to support business development despite border closures with our new model, which we’re delighted to be able to do in our 40th year”.  

The revamped Your Enterprise Scheme (YES) Start Up workshop was the first of the new blended model. Delivered in September 2021, the workshop combined digital technology and onsite contact to ensure that it remained informative and instructive as well as interactive and engaging for all participants, volunteers, and staff. 

Lihirian businessman Jackery Bachavien took part in the September workshop and found the program very relevant.  

‘Although I have been running my business for several years, it brought me back to understand the basic of business and has put me on the right course,’ Jackery told the Project team. ‘The facilitators presented the course excellently using face to face interaction, group activities and experts over the video link, giving me a multiple sources of information. I wish I had attended this course before I started by business.’ 


The Family Money Management Program (FMMP) is another core skills development workshop delivered by ABV through the Apeketon Business Hub.  

In late 2020, a pilot program of a modified FMMP was created with PNG micro-financiers Savi Money Plus. ABV Program Manager Henry Ume-Taule delivered the new iteration of FMMP to 12 staff from Solar Solutions Ltd in Lae and Port Moresby. 

The two classroom days, normally consecutive, were delivered one week apart, as were the two half-day 1:1 mentoring sessions. This suited the business operations as it limited the amount of time staff were out of the office.  

The mentoring sessions allowed for open and honest discussions as participants shared their real-time financial challenges. While this may also be emotionally challenging, participants found it very useful. Participants leave with a clear and measurable financial goal and the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve it. 

Henry Ume-Taule hailed the pilot a success and is looking forward to further developments with a range of potential clients. 

‘It was great to see PNG businesses invest time and resources to bring financial literacy to their workforce,’ said Henry. ‘This will add great value for Savi Moni Limited and Solar Solution as their staff build discipline around money management. A happy workforce free from financial burden is a workforce that will deliver beyond expectations.’ 

Some of the comments from Solar Solutions staff who took part in the Savi Money FMMP. 

“I want to start a trade store in my place of residence, but I didn’t know how” 

“I am a single mother and with this knowledge I see my savings growing with the additional income to take care of my loan and expenses” 

“I now count my money every day over internet banking, and this enables me to discipline myself not to spend unnecessarily at will. 

“My dream to contribute to my new family home in Lae is now achievable –  

thank you ABV for this program” 

 Special Olympics Australia (SOA) is part of a global inclusion movement using sport, health education and leadership programs every day around the world to end discrimination against and empower people with intellectual disabilities.  

Not to be confused with the Paralympics, which is for elite athletes, Special Olympics is a year-round, multi sports program for people with intellectual disabilities. SOA’s volunteers create accessible sports training, coaching and competition opportunities, which are offered week-in and week-out in local communities throughout Australia.  

NAB is currently the Principal Partner of Special Olympics Australia. 

During NAB’s Community Strategy Challenge with Special Olympics, held in July 2020, ABV facilitated a review of the organisation’s  business model, structure, processes and income streams with SOA staff and NAB volunteers. The aim for the team was to identify options and approaches for SOA to: 

  1. better position themselves as thought leaders, 
  1. increase their recurring revenue streams, and funding reserves, and; 
  1. better target, recruit and retain young people with an intellectual disability in their programs 

Following an extensive SWOT analysis and an examination of the current strategic direction, SOA’s business model was aligned to grow its core revenue and become a thought leader within the intellectual disability sector. 

This resulted in the expansion of the value proposition centred around athletes, the creation of a value proposition for volunteers (coaches, teachers, parents) and the introduction of new channels to deliver programs. 

These new initiatives are to be supported by a revitalised marketing strategy focused on targeted communication and creating brand awareness and a funding strategy supported by a clear value proposition for corporate partners and government grants. 

At the close of the group’s final presentation, Special Olympics Australia CEO, Corene Strauss expressed her overwhelming gratitude for the incredible work and talent that have contributed to the Community Strategy Challenge and its final report.  

‘This has been an incredible experience and way beyond what I expected,’ Corene said. ‘It’s revealing and also tells me as a leader, that we are on the right path and not alone in this journey. I cannot thank you enough.’ 

Post-challenge feedback from NAB’s participating staff included admiration for Special Olympics Australia, appreciation for ABV staff’s facilitation skills and commitment, and pride in NAB’s initiatives to support the community. Staff also acknowledged learning new skills that they would take back to their ‘day jobs’.  

The skilled volunteering program is a great way for NAB to give back to the community and support NFPs. I am very proud of the social enterprises that NAB supports in the community 

One of the highlights of the year for me 

I learnt how to approach problems differently and to allow time to brainstorm with colleagues rather than trying to jump in and solve a problem 

I picked up some amazing facilitation skills and have a deeper conceptual understanding of how to create a high performing team environment 

It was a great experience working with a cross-skilled team from all parts of NAB to see the talent and experience within NAB and to learn from others that you normally don't get a chance to work with. 

We spent a long time in discovery and learning before starting to work to solve the problem and this was invaluable not just for the project but in building my understanding and appreciation for the issues faced by NFPs in today’s economic and political climate.

 In an environment of heightened public awareness and astuteness, the Peter Parker Principle - with great power comes great responsibility - has never been more relevant for multi-national corporations and small businesses alike. 

As one of the ‘Big Four’ and Australia’s largest business bank, NAB leads the way in social impact, inclusivity, and social innovation. Its three-pronged approach to community investment focuses on Philanthropy, Social Impact, and the creation of Shared Value through leveraging core assets and expertise. NAB aligns its Social Impact strategy with its core business operations to ensure authentic and measurable change. It puts its customers at the centre of everything it does and leverages its strengths as a bank, a major employer, and an active member of the community to create sustainable social impact. 

Through an innovative partnership with ABV, NAB is honouring its commitment to making a positive and sustainable impact on the lives of its customers, people, shareholders, communities, and the environment that they operate in. 

Established in 2017, the NAB Skilled Volunteering Program (SVP) is the result of a co-design workshop that involved ABV and representatives from NAB’s Social Impact team and its Talent/People Team. 

The workshop looked at how best to motivate, reward and engage employees across the NAB business while creating social impact for not-for-profits and social enterprises in Australia. It delivered agreed outcomes, expectations, and recommendations that incorporated elements of NAB’s capability development framework as well as its corporate values and behaviors. 

Now in its fourth year, the Skilled Volunteering Program continues to deliver an enviable triple benefit. It enhances the skills and experience of participating NAB staff, builds capacity and capability within the community organisation, not-for-profit or social enterprise that it partners with, and contributes to NAB’s strategic drive to deliver measurable and sustainable social impact. 

At the core of NAB’s Skilled Volunteering Program is a six phase NAB Community Strategy Challenge, which places NAB employees into a facilitated immersive project with a social enterprise or not-for-profit, where they share relevant knowledge and skills to assist the enterprise to solve agreed business challenges.  

The immersive nature of the program allows NAB staff to step out of their regular comfort zones and walk in the shoes of charitable organisations for a two-week period. Due to restrictions stemming from the current pandemic, recent programs have been delivered virtually over a three-week period. 

Once NAB and ABV agree on a community partner, the CEO of ABV and the community partner meet to confirm alignment and ensure that desired outcomes will add genuine value. ABV’s facilitator works closely with the community partner to scope the business challenge to be solved and agree suitable timeframes for the project. 

The immersive challenge then follows a process of Exploration and Discovery, Creativity and Design, Collating and Collaboration and the final phase of Reflection and Celebration. This process is based on design-thinking approaches and incorporates reflective learning throughout. Participants are encouraged and supported to acquire, develop and improve their leadership skills and capabilities through co-facilitation and collaborative teamwork. The difference between this approach and a typical project sprint is that the experience is intensively facilitated, and personal learning journeys are supported. ABV aims for a transformative experience for employees, while delivering relevant and valuable solutions for the community partner. It’s not uncommon to received positive feedback espousing professional and personal awakenings gained during the challenges. 

The results speak for themselves with an average participant net promoter score of more than 90. (Net Promoter Scores are globally benchmarked and assess participant program satisfaction with a number -100 to +100.) 

Over the years the NAB Skilled Volunteering Program has successfully delivered measurable outcomes with seven community partners and built a growing alumni of more than 50 NAB employees. Previous beneficiaries include bushfire-affected communities in Cobargo; victims of domestic violence supported by Two Good Co. who deliver meals to shelters; and women, girls and families accessing micro-financing through Good Shepherd. The outcomes for community partners range from strategy plans to process improvement mapping to customer experience design and business case development. 

NAB’s Head of Strategic Giving, Laura Cochrane acknowledged the generous benefits that flow from the NAB Skilled Volunteering Program. “We are building a skilled volunteering program with Australian Business Volunteers that has triple impact. It benefits the community, NAB colleagues individually and NAB as an organisation, Cochrane said. “With 40 years of experience, ABV has superior facilitation skills and exceptional management of our volunteers. Together, we are creating sustainable social change.” 

Most recently, the NAB Skilled Volunteering Program has worked with Special Olympics Australia, and the Committee for Ballarat with Beyond Zero Emissions.  


Established in 2005, the Committee for Ballarat (C4B) investigates and advocates for outcomes that will advance its vision for a thriving and vibrant regional community, recognised for its liveability, sustainability, and inclusiveness.  Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) is an internationally recognised climate change and energy think tank that shows through independent research and innovative solutions how Australia can prosper in a zero-emissions economy. BZE was supporting Committee for Ballarat to gain a better understanding of the types of projects and financial models that will attract financial investment. BZE has been working with communities, through their Zero Carbon Communities (ZCC) initiative, and their ZCC Investment Reference Group, to unlock barriers to place based zero emissions projects. 

This NAB Community Strategy Challenge brought the two organisations together to meet complementary aims. BZE goals from the NAB Community Strategy Challenge were to investigate a replicable and scalable funding model for other regional areas to use when moving to renewable energy. The Committee’s goals from the NAB Community Strategy Challenge were to understand how to reduce industrial emissions with a broader goal to reach zero emissions for the region.  

In order to determine what steps Ballarat’s industrial community could follow to transition to renewable electricity, and how this model could be replicated, the Challenge followed a three-step process. Over the course of the Challenge, participants from NAB, C4B, BZE and ABV explored Ballarat’s electricity opportunities and challenges as well as current emissions, usage, and costs. This led to the definition of key goals and the identification of potential solutions. Due to the technical complexity of the issue and the short timeframes for analysis, a key recommendation for C4B was to apply for feasibility funding, as future actions would require engagement of experts to inform the decisions and plan implementation. 

The sheer complexity of Australia’s energy sector, combined with the short timeframe did not appear to detract from the opportunities for learning and development of other knowledge and skills required to deliver positive outcomes. 

Feedback from BZE included the following comment, which best summarises the challenges and positive outcomes. ‘The NAB team did amazingly well in getting their heads around many complex problems and confidently presented what they determined as relevant, yet broad solutions. The project was ultimately very successful in encouraging the Committee for Ballarat to undertake work that they would not have otherwise started or known how to. They are far ahead than they were prior to the program, and it has brought their membership closer together. BZE has been fortunate to first-hand observe this multi-stakeholder approach and assess its effectiveness.’ 

The Committee for Ballarat also acknowledged the ‘great opportunity to engage diverse thought, skills and knowledge, with objectivity and critique’. 

Post-challenge feedback included acknowledgement and gratitude for ABV Program Director, Naomi Toole’s professionalism, facilitation skills, enthusiasm, motivation, and organisation.  

As with previous challenges, participating NAB staff were grateful for the opportunity. 

I learnt a huge amount about an area of interest to me that sits well outside my day job. I found this a stimulating and rewarding opportunity. 

There is a great sense of gratitude from the immersion sponsor for the value they received, but it goes just as much the other way, and it is a privilege to receive the benefit of their knowledge and experience to explore their topic. 

The experience exceeded my expectations – I gained skills that are applicable to my current role at NAB, but also learned a huge amount about renewable energy plus the way that businesses outside of NAB work.

The Black Summer bushfire season was exceptional in many ways. The fires, which impacted every state and territory in Australia, scorched more than 46 million acres of land, destroyed almost 10,000 buildings including 3,500 homes, killed an estimated 480 million mammals, birds and reptiles, and resulted in the deaths of at least 34 Australians. While recovery costs are expected to surpass $4 billion, the economic impact is more likely to top$100 billion. 

Cobargo certainly received its 15 minutes of international fame and attracted the ongoing support of ABV, its corporate partners and volunteers. However, the unfortunate reality is that Cobargo is one of myriad communities across the country that needed support. In fact, almost two years after the fire season, small communities across Australia are still reeling from the natural disaster and remain in a state of traumatic disrepair. They have, according to community voices, been left behind. 

Enter George Barrett, an experienced community development professional who joined ABV as Senior Program Manager for Southern NSW in May 2021 made possible by the NSW government Resilience NSW Bushfire Community Resilience and Recovery funding.  

‘My only experience of the fires was when the smoke arrived in the city (Sydney) and while I wanted to help where I could, training to become a firefighter was not an option,’ George says. ‘I’d initially discussed an international role with Liz Mackinlay but when the Program Manager opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance.’ 

George’s responsibilities include rolling out the Community-led Disaster Recovery and Resilience Building program that was built and piloted in Cobargo. Specifically, George has been tasked with supporting communities across four local government areas (Bega Valley, Eurobodalla, Queanbeyan-Palerang and Snowy Valleys). He is currently walking alongside communities in Kiah, Towamba, Wonboyn and Eurobodalla. 

While George had worked with rural and disadvantaged communities in the past, he faced a massive learning curve on arrival into a region he knew little about. Conversely, these forgotten communities had little if any knowledge or experience with ABV. 

‘Many of these communities are quite alternative and purposively located ‘off the grid’, beyond the last electricity pole,’ George explains. ‘These are localities more than townships. A general store. A 12km stretch of road. A caravan park or a few holiday rentals. And many of them had lost everything; 80-100% loss of property!’ 

At the core of George’s greatest challenge was the need to build connections and trust - for him to find and connect with local community leaders, government representatives, disaster agencies and recovery officers.  

‘Quite often I would end up being directed to speak with the local Fire Captain. And although those individuals were exhausted and traumatised, or even hospitalised with PTSD, they were, at the end of the day, the heroes of many communities,’ George recalls. ‘I also spent a lot of time cold calling or on social media, trying to find out who the local leaders were, posting on their personal pages, or dropping into a relevant feed to offer support or foster connection.’ 

Much like the diverse groups that formed hugely productive partnerships in Cobargo, George found himself connecting otherwise disparate local individuals, organisations and councils with each other to solve the community challenges in a unified manner. 

And just like Cobargo, and in fact much of ABV’s work, it was compassion, empathy and objectivity that proved to be among the most valuable attributes for building connections. 

‘I was struck by the personal experiences that people were prepared to share openly. The level of trauma was often overwhelming but the resilience and gratitude that they showed was quite humbling for me.’ 

Within a very short time frame, and restricted through lockdowns, George managed to build strong connections, link volunteers with appropriate organisations and, based on identified needs in the communities, bring corporate partner Arup – a global advisory, design planning and engineering firm – to the table.  NAB’s ongoing support to ABV’s bushfire recovery work underpins the work George is doing and enhances the BCRRF funding. 

George and the communities of Southern NSW have an extremely busy and challenging year ahead. Regional lockdowns during the pandemic have played havoc with the best laid plans.  

Priority projects include the Lower Towamba Recovery Group’s application for funding to rebuild Mustering Ground Rd, Wonboyn Lake Ratepayers Association need to install a 130-metre pedestrian walkway adjacent to the local caravan park, and the rebuilding of the Kiah Community Hall. None of these projects are simple. For example, before the Kiah Community Hall can be rebuilt an off-ramp road is required to gain access to the site. Each of the multi-million-dollar projects will require intensive support from ABV’s highly skilled volunteers, drawn from the community and our corporate partners. For example, Arup’s expertise will be needed to pull together detailed project plans, advise on engineering challenges and provide technical advice.  

Suffice to say, the task at hand is daunting. The rebuilds and recovery projects will take years to accomplish. And once the build is complete, business development and continuity expertise will be required to ensure ongoing viability for commercial enterprises as well as community resilience building.  

The piloting of ABV’s Community-led Disaster Recovery and Resilience Building program in Cobargo has contributed to putting that community on a clear path to rebuilding and recovery. Thanks to the efforts of George, NAB, Arup, volunteers and the communities themselves, communities across four LGAs in Southern NSW can also look forward to a brighter future. However, these positive futures must be tempered with the fact that there are other localities and communities across NSW and Victoria that have ‘been left behind’.  

It will take huge commitments from governments, corporate partners, volunteers and locals to recover from disasters and build community resilience. With Summer around the corner and the global challenge of mitigating the effects of climate change, many communities remain on tenterhooks. ABV remains poised to walk alongside these communities and provide the skilled hands and feet necessary to support the head and heart.

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