Director, Maria Atkinson Consultancy Pty Ltd
Ms Maria Atkinson addressed graduates from the UTS Business School in the Great Hall, University of Technology, Sydney on Tuesday 1 October 2013, 5.30pm.
Our speaker today is Ms Maria Atkinson.
Maria is the Director of XO, a company focused on impact investments with the intention to generate measurable social and environmental impact alongside revenue growth and profitability.
In addition to her role at XO, Maria is also a philanthropist angel investor and a member of various Boards and advisory groups including: the Global Foundation, the St James Ethics Centre, the Business Advisory Board of the UTS Business School, the US Studies Centre Council of Advisors and an Ambassador for 1 Million Women, a community of women who are determined to make a difference about climate change.
Maria was also the founding CEO and co-founder of the Green Building Council of Australia, overseeing the development and launch of the Green Star environmental rating system for green buildings and an education program for building practitioners and policymakers.
She holds a Bachelor’s degree from UTS in Applied Science Environmental Biology and in 2009 she received the UTS Australia Alumni Award for ‘Excellence’. In January 2012, she was awarded a Member of the General Division of the Order of Australia for service to the construction and real estate sector, particularly as a leader and contributor to environmentally sustainable building development in Australia.
It gives me great pleasure to invite Ms Maria Atkinson to deliver the occasional address.
I also want to acknowledge the traditional owners of the ancestral land on which the Great Hall of UTS stands - the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and I wish to pay my respects - acknowledging our indigenous people as the first Australians and traditional custodians of knowledge for this place.
Presiding Chancellor Kelly, Vice Chancellor Booth, Faculty Deans, members and guests of the university, proud families and friends – and graduates.
Congratulations. You have graduated with the UTS brand – it’s a symbol of character.
Puff your chest out – UTS is different from the other universities, and you should care that it is.
UTS is known for its creativeness and thought leadership - but also for being practical and industry focused because it anticipates emerging themes and teaches integrative thinking by applying knowledge and learning in the broadest context.
UTS characters are:
Diversity – appreciate it – make it happen wherever you are.
Equality – It’s an Australian value - don’t let us loose it.
UTS characters also include taking social and environmental responsibility and giving through community leadership and service.
Embrace these characters and your personal attributes – take your whole-self to your job. Don’t compromise your values. Leave your job if you can’t be your whole-self.
My career started by deferring a science degree to go to TAFE, I got an apprenticeship, so I worked as a laboratory technician while I studied.
Then I went backpacking overseas and I saw the fragility of the natural environment I knew I wanted to study Environmental Science – the only University with that degree was UTS.
I travelled again – taking some time off from study - living and working overseas - waitressing and doing data-entry for minimum wage.
Over the six years that I studied at UTS I worked in university and school laboratories. In the twenty odd years since studying at UTS I have worked in the field – collected plants and animal droppings, called out to frogs in their own language, recorded environmental pollution and written reports that said less bad was OK – I knew that work wasn’t for me in the long-term. Then along came Sydney’s Olympic Games. After three months of interviews, I got the role as the Environment Manager for the Olympic Village. The project set new environmental standards - including being the largest solar suburb in the world.
After the Green Games I co-founded a not-for-profit, ‘The Green Building Council’, which rates commercial buildings giving the green ones a Green Star rating out of six stars.
I have sat on local, state, national and international boards and advisory councils - including the not-for-profit US Green Building Council Board which had an operating budget of over $100m. I have chaired United Nations and World Economic Forum committees – bringing people and ideas together from all around the world. I’ve met Bill Clinton a few times – even presented on a panel with Brad Pitt sitting in front of me.
I spent five years as a member of an ASX top 50 global CEO’s Executive Management Team - and I’m now investing in some start-up’s and advising governments and organisations.
I live a fortunate life.
I am currently working with UTS Business School to figure out how it can support social enterprise and impact investment – the new economy.
Our learning shouldn’t stop.
Most of my learning has been my personal evolution from a self-serving teenager to having a strong personal sense of possibility – a view that carries with it the power to change the world.
I hope you are always learning about things and yourself.
- Appreciate yourself as talented.
- Make a commitment to realise your full potential
- Determine what you stand for – what impact you want to have.
- Develop a worldview – it will guide your interaction with others
- Acquire the habit of updating all of this – regularly – daily!
Leave here with a commitment to acting ethically with integrity and when you have to ask ‘What should I do?’, consider the common good, fairness, the public interest, your professional obligations and your personal integrity.
Knowing what’s the right thing isn’t always easy – but it’s an important skill – so reach out to family, friends, mentors, coaches, even the St James Ethics Centre’s free call service ‘Ethi-call’ is there to help you.
And when you are ready – go global.
Because there are lots of parents in the room … I will add … go overseas but find your partner and bring them back – help us add to the talent pool of Australia!
And while you are overseas – stay connected to Australia through UTS.
Next year UTS Business School will have the spectacular Frank Gehry designed Dr Chau Chak Wing Building. It’s a shame you missed that – all the reason to come back and re-engage with UTS in the future!
MY SPECIALTY IS SUSTAINABILITY
Sustainability is healthy, diverse and productive over time. It's the same for the economy.
Sustainability is complex - environmental social and financial impacts, interactions - a system - it requires systems thinking.
Re-conceiving the intersection between society and corporate performance will require leaders and managers to develop new skills and knowledge:
The old narrow view of capitalism – where business only contributes to society by making a profit is - in my understanding as a sustainability specialist – just plain wrong. No company or organisation is self-contained. The success of every organisation is affected by the supporting organisations and infrastructure around it.
Our economy improves when people are healthier and better educated, when our environment is greener, when our air and waterways are clean, when people are paid what their work is worth - our economy improves when we care. Caring is taking responsibility, acting powerfully and courageously. You have to be strong to care***.
THE NEW ECONOMY – YOUR OPPORTUNITY
Roy Green said, “Australia needs a management skills upgrade - The business world of the future is yours to shape – a compelling opportunity but also a great responsibility”.
Business models that have been in place for a long time need to change – the good news is as business graduates you are in high demand!
We are in a new era.
We need a new economy and one of the pathways to get there is for our organisations to be gender balanced.
We need to take our traditional business thinking that’s been handed down to us – revisit it and reinvent it.
For-profit businesses are tackling social and environmental issues, charities are developing sustainable business models, and governments are forging market-based solutions for the delivery of services.
A different model of enterprise is emerging. You will hopefully contribute to this exciting change.
The ‘for-benefit’ organisation is emerging, and it’s reshaping the future of capitalism.
As for-benefit organisations continue to prove that they can balance economic, social, and environmental performance, demand will grow.
Take opportunities beyond your job – caring and learning comes from broadening your experiences.
In a rapidly evolving world, we all need to find ways to thrive among complexity and great change – sometimes this is stressful. Remember that you also have to take care of yourself.
Failure in science and engineering is positive because it gives understanding - breaking things or seeing system limits help us learn more about them. Learn through success and failure. Try to see the opportunity – the positive from life's journey and lessons.
We are all leaders – our lives are filled with leadership opportunities – any given day presents at least one opportunity to lead.
Congratulations and every good wish for your life’s journey.
*** modified from George Lakoff