Mark's stars aligned for McAuley

November 2015 

Heart, head and history might crudely describe Mark Birrell’s contribution to McAuley Community Services for Women’s Board. He marries his excellent business knowledge and impressive corporate experience with a compassion for the women and children who use the services and an understanding of the mission of the Sisters of Mercy who founded the service decades ago and who educated his two daughters.

Mark, who has 30 years of finance experience in large and medium sized corporate organisations including board experience, general management and as a chief financial officer, joined the Board in January 2014 on the recommendation of a former member Barbara Hingston. She must have put forward a compelling case as Mark was at the time President of an Old Collegians Football Club and immersed in the business world.

“The stars aligned and most importantly – it was a chance to learn and gauge a greater understanding and appreciation of a community situation that at that time and in my world, I had absolutely no appreciation for. I was going to participate in providing my skills in an environment I knew nothing about!” he said.

While he knew little about the services, policies and funding issues involving a place like McAuley Community Services for Women, Mark was intimate with business models and the need to generate revenue and remain sustainable.

“I saw McAuley Community Services for Women as a service business that needed to generate revenue. It does not need to reduce its expense and produce large profits, indeed it needs to grow its revenue base, spend its money on real value services and break even or have a sound ongoing surplus. It must expand its services as our true stakeholders are those it services, sadly those that are subject to family violence and homelessness,” Mark said.

“One of my skills is being able to get people thinking about alternative ways to raise the capital that is needed, and connect with those in the community, ‘the good guys’ as I refer to them, who without question will support the not for profit charities.”

Two years down the track Mark has already been part of massive growth and development at McAuley Community Services for Women and believes he and other Board members work hard to ‘balance the books’, but remain innovative in service delivery.

“I am more interested in controlled growth than limitation of thinking, I have that …’it can be done attitude, so let’s now discover how many ways are available to us to actually do it’,” he said.

Mark’s two years on the Board have also been a ‘heart’ experience, as he has gained a greater understanding of the work of McAuley Community Services for Women and for the women who come to our services for safety and support. He wants to be part of the team that expands the reach of the organisation into the community.

The demand for services is increasing and McAuley Community Services for Women must grow to meet that demand, so it’s reach into the community must also grow in order to raise awareness and the necessary support. Mark has high hopes that the organisation is up to the challenge, but questions the support of governments.

“Sadly there does not seem to be a lack of requests from the community for our services. The threat is a lack of capacity to supply these resources and support. As well, the biggest threat that I perceive is that the leaders of this country don’t appear to appreciate these devastating issues and their impact on society. Nor do they seek to address the ‘why of it all’ and put in place both human and financial resource to support those that have devoted their life to ensure and implement these support services,” he said.

So after two years serving an organisation he knew little about, but is now working hard to develop and secure into the future, Mark sums it up in three words - heart, soul and justice. And that’s enough to keep him working with McAuley Community Services for Women for some time to come.