Melbourne Business School News SEMBA Class of 2003 celebrates 20 years of social impact

SEMBA Class of 2003 celebrates 20 years of social impact

What began as a class project during a trip to Europe has turned into a $1.25 million fund to support social impact initiatives at Melbourne Business School.


Graduates of the Senior Executive MBA Class of 2003 believe that people with a purpose can have a major impact on the community, especially when they act together and apply their business skills to more than just business.

It's something they would know, having established a major philanthropic fund at Melbourne Business School that has changed the lives of hundreds of people over the past two decades.

"The most rewarding thing is that pretty much everyone in the class participated," says Class of 2003 member and former KPMG partner Paul McDonald (pictured far-left above with fellow SEMBA 2003 Endowment Fund managers Jan Begg, Frank Zipfinger and Vicki Allen).

"It's the great power of getting a group together with one vision, plus the power of compounding, that has led us to where we are today."

A class reunion with a twist

Peter and his classmates celebrated the 20th anniversary of graduating from what was then called the Executive MBA at the Atheneum Club in Melbourne earlier this year – and they had a lot to celebrate.


Their philanthropic work began when members of the class banded together to contribute $25,000 to the Bratislava Business School in Slovakia during a visit as part of their studies in 2003.

"It was before Slovakia joined the European Union," recalled Paul's classmate Jan Begg, who is now a non-executive director of a major aged care provider and the Managing Director of digital governance consultants Azulin.

"We had an amazing professor teaching us, but the Bratislava school was part of a Russian-built university complex and didn’t even have a whiteboard.

"No toilet paper, no projector, barely a computer – but lots of brains, lovely people and great aspirations."

Moved by their experience, the Class raised enough money to buy the school a projector and computer and to assist four full-time MBA students to study for a term at an overseas university as part of the Melbourne Business School exchange program. It then decided to seek more projects to fund.

"At our five-year reunion, a group of us got together and thought, let's make this really big and go with $50,000 or $75,000," said Frank Zipfinger, a consultant and former Chairman at international law firm King & Wood Mallesons.

"That's when Melbourne Business School's endowment professionals got involved. And they said: 'Why don't you think bigger than that? What about $500,000? What's wrong with that number?'

"It worked like a treat. After a year, the participation level was incredible, and the School support was amazing. That $500,000 is now $1.25 million or so – after distributions totalling around $500,000 over the last 15 years – which is tremendous. If we'd done it on our own, we wouldn't have achieved that."


Two decades of social impact

Since it was established, the Class of 2003 Endowment Fund has supported a variety of initiatives, including providing MBA scholarships to leaders in the not-for-profit sector and helping to launch the MURRA Indigenous Business Leadership Program and the BioDesign Innovation program, where MBA and engineering students work with clinicians to create and commercialise new medical devices.

Everyone in the Class of 2003 has a favourite project that the fund has supported. But Vicki Allen, who is a non-executive director on a number of boards, has several. Among them is MURRA, which boasts more than 220 graduates since starting in 2012 with support from the Class of 2003.

"Being a seed funder of the MURRA program, to be involved with producing such an innovative program was fantastic. Quite a few of our class members have gone to their dinners to speak, and some have mentored the students," Vicki said.

This year, with the MURRA program continuing to grow and now delivered through the Dilin Duwa Centre for Indigenous Business, the Class of 2003 decided to provide $50,000 a year for the next three years to the program.

Vicki is also proud of the fund's support for developing leaders in the not-for-profit sector, where organisations such as Social Ventures Australia, Victorian Aboriginal Health Service and the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre have benefited from endowment fund money.

"It's been terrific to be able to build business skills into organisations that don't necessarily have them because people are often there because of their passion rather than their business expertise," she said.

"Then there's the innovative BioDesign program, helping students from different faculties develop interesting ideas that have an impact on medicine. It forces creativity that doesn't necessarily happen naturally. It’s been very nice to be able to support that."

Twenty years since its formation, the SEMBA Class of 2003 fund continues to provide opportunities for students to have a positive impact on the community through their studies.

In addition to the six-member Bliss-Flow team of BioDesign students, in 2023, the fund also supported the SEMBA Class of 2003 Scholarship, which allows a leader in the not-for-profit sector to study an MBA.

Jan-Clegg-and-SEMBA-Class-of-2003-Scholarship-winner-Cinnamon Evans-Melbourne-Business-School

Class of 2003 member Jan congratulated scholarship recipient Cinnamon Evans (above) at the recent Celebrating Excellence event for donors and scholars at the School, where Cinnamon, the CEO of environmental advocacy group CERES, is studying her Senior Executive MBA.

As representatives of their class's endowment fund, Paul, Jan, Frank and Vicki are proud of their classmates' generosity and the transformative impact it has had on so many people – and not just those who have received support.

"The fact that everyone in the class contributed is the reason we're all here tonight. We are also the beneficiaries of it because it gets us all together," Paul said.


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