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4 min read

Corporate giving for educational equity: GHD Foundation

Profile of Australian Communities Foundation
Written by Australian Communities FoundationPosted on 7/12/2023

Professional services firm GHD has a long history of supporting local communities.

“Since GHD opened its doors in 1928, employees have been helping the community in different ways – from fundraising to volunteering and undertaking pro-bono work,” explains Jo Metcalfe, GHD Foundation Managing Director.

With 11,000 employees today across 160 offices worldwide, GHD has evolved from a small engineering office in Melbourne into a global industry leader, but its culture of giving back has never been stronger.

With increasing global challenges – pandemics, natural disasters, racial and economic inequity, and climate change – local community work no longer “seemed enough,” says Jo. In 2020, with the resources to do more, the firm established the GHD Foundation with support from ACF Advisory.

Australian Communities Foundation has been there for us since right after we began

“Australian Communities Foundation has been there for us since right after we began,” says Jo. “The services provided have helped us structure our operations, execute major grant rounds and develop a stronger understanding of how to partner and give in ways that are effective and considered.”

In this recent Q&A, Jo shares the story of how the GHD Foundation is continuing GHD’s legacy of corporate giving and enabling the organisation to take it to the next level for greater impact. 

GHD Managing Director Jo Metcalfe
GHD Foundation Managing Director Jo Metcalfe (centre) with grant partners from Teach for Australia.

Tell us about GHD Foundation’s focus on educational equity. How did you choose where to concentrate your efforts?

Our initial remit focused on the broad topics of communities, energy and water, but there was a sense that we were ‘boiling the ocean’ with the limited funds available to distribute. When reflecting on legacy, direction, and impact, we recognised that in a world with increasingly complex challenges, STEAM disciplines will be critical to develop new solutions.

STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, and the focus of our support is to widen access to education and careers in these areas. We know that greater diversity in these fields leads to innovative solutions that better serve the community.

We know that greater diversity leads to innovative solutions that better serve the community

This focus also gives the Foundation a platform to better connect the sector and our programs to our major donor GHD’s ‘engine room’ of technical expertise and passion.

How does GHD, the company, support the GHD Foundation?

GHD is the Foundation’s primary donor. Not only does the company donate 1 per cent of profits, but it also supports our operations in-kind so that all monetary donations go straight to our programs. GHD is a great source of knowledge and energy to fuel the Foundation’s working groups and program volunteering needs. Through their advocacy and personal donations, GHD and its employees are benefitting communities around the world.

What’s the most valuable lesson the Foundation has learned so far?

Two things have been vital – being strategic and connecting with others.

Going for systemic change and areas that multiply impact is important to us. For example, we can fund individual students and fund educators that reach many more.

Being such a young Foundation, we’ve found that the best way to learn is to connect. The ecosystem of relationships ranges from the 11,000 GHD employees to the team at Australian Communities Foundation, the education sector, other funders, peak bodies and the other charities we walk alongside. It’s the diverse views, points of collaboration and at times co-creation that help us stay strategic and targeted through new insights. It’s through these experiences that we grow.

Two things have been vital – being strategic and connecting with others

What advice would you offer to other organisations thinking about starting their own fund or foundation?

There will never be the perfect time, perfect place or perfect set of circumstances, but if you start with your ‘why’ and try to be humble and curious, there are limitless opportunities for more and better giving, and to make a difference to community. A colleague once said, “in giving, there is no blueprint,” and this is echoed in our own experience. To complement this exploration, we have found it’s important to engage with others who can help guide and advise along the way.

Looking ahead, what do you hope the Foundation ultimately achieves?

The hope is that, ultimately, we are able to help move the needle on STEAM education equity by being a well-known, established and trusted foundation supporting the spectrum of educational development – from research to program solutions, supporting systems change and breaking barriers to achieving real diversity in these fields.

Feature image: Students participating in an education program funded by the GHD Foundation.