What’s in a name
A milestone for Audi Foundation and The Smith Family partnership.
The Smith Family CEO Doug Taylor, on the challenge of running one of the country’s most iconic not-for-profits, changing priorities and the ongoing partnership with the Audi Foundation.
19 May, 2023
As the first member of his family to obtain a tertiary education, Taylor knows full well how education can change the course of one’s life
It’s ironic that a name selected for its anonymity back in 1922, should now be one of the most well-known not-for-profits in the country. The Smith Family is not only immediately recognisable but has built a reputation for integrity and results through its educational programs aimed at helping young people to create better futures for themselves.
Heading up this Australian institution is Doug Taylor, CEO of The Smith Family since 2021, who brings to the role 25 years of experience in the social sector at both a national and international level. At a more personal level too Taylor is well qualified – as the first member of his family to obtain a tertiary education, he knows full well how education can change the course of one’s life and create opportunities that are often unimaginable for many young Australians.
“My whole professional working life and volunteering life has been in the social sector,” says Taylor.
“I started out working with people experiencing homelessness on the streets of inner-city Sydney and I have had a raft of different roles in the sector since then. What I love about this work is that I can bring my values and what’s personally important to me into my working space, which I feel very privileged to be able to do.”
Prior to joining The Smith Family, Doug was the Deputy Executive Director at Uniting NSW and ACT. Through this he gained considerable operational experience in managing large and complex organisations serving people experiencing disadvantage, including delivering disability, community care, early learning and education services. His passion in the sector is further enhanced through his Board appointments including Director of the Australian Centre for Social Innovation, Work Ventures, and Chair of Warakirri College – a school for disengaged young people in Western Sydney.
All this accumulated experience has created the perfect background for Taylor in his role driving the achievement of The Smith Family’s strategic goals for growth in reach and enhanced program effectiveness, which makes it so important to him as a means of a making a difference.
“With our focus on addressing educational inequality, we really do see education as a pathway out of poverty,” he says. “I see every child as capable and gifted and it’s the lottery of life in terms of the families that we’re born into which has a lot of bearing on things. We work with parents and carers who want the absolute best for their children but face real challenges around immediate needs and income. Couple that with not having had a great experience with education themselves, it just makes it harder for them to support their children with their learning – and they really want to do that.”
“With our focus on addressing educational inequality, we really do see education as a pathway out of poverty"
"Cost of living pressures on the low-income families we support often mean that a child’s educational needs simply can’t be prioritised”
Ever-changing pressures of life also impact communities and individuals in different ways, necessitating flexibility on the part of organisations like The Smith Family.
“All our families we support are low-income families and if you’re on a low fixed income often with government support, and prices are increasing for the basics – rent, food, transport – families must make impossible choices around where they use their funds. That makes life enormously challenging and can mean that a child’s educational needs simply can’t be prioritised.”
“There’s a lot of evidence around how parents and carers are skipping meals and cutting things out of their life that they can just no longer afford. Parents want to do the best for their children but it’s a really difficult time, with a lot of pressure on them.”
But while the enormity of the task at hand may be daunting, Taylor suggests that celebrating progress and sharing successes around impact and how their non-profit is making a difference certainly does buoy motivation.
“One of the great practices we have at The Smith Family is hearing from our alumni who’ve been through our program about the difference our work made in their life. It is just enormously motivating to hear their stories.”
With their objective squarely fixed on supporting the educational outcomes of young people while working closely with their schools and parents/carers, Taylor describes how a strong focus on evidence and outcomes through data ensures the organisation is on track for continued success.
“There have been big adaptions that we’ve made in this last two or three years that arose from some insights during the Covid pandemic,” he says.
“What became clear with remote learning and working from home, was that so many of our families didn’t have the technology or internet access required to support the child’s learning needs. We realised we needed to make digital access a core part (of our strategic plan) from that day forward. It’s not just a nice to have. Some 15 percent of the young people that we support don’t have a digitally connected laptop at home so we’re now working on a way to try and address that. By focusing on data, we’re learning and adapting to emerging needs.”
As well as digital access and education, Taylor cites that careers education is also a key issue facing young people. “When you consider that 70 percent of the families we’re supporting don’t have parents (or a wider family network) that are in employment, it means that what students learn about careers in school is incredibly important.”
“What became clear with remote learning and working from home, was that so many of our families didn’t have the technology or internet access required to support the child’s learning needs"
“At the moment we’re supporting nearly 60,000 students experiencing disadvantage across Australia through our Learning for Life program"
As the national funding partner for The Smith Family’s Work Inspiration program, the Audi Foundation Australia has worked with The Smith Family since the Foundation’s inception in 2017. In that time, the Audi Foundation has contributed a million dollars to The Smith Family, providing opportunities for students to learn about career pathways through the Audi dealership network through the successful scheme. It’s here that students can meet working people, see what a workplace looks like, get a feel for it and discover the different roles and opportunities within a business that aren’t necessarily apparent to young people.
And while The Smith Family celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2022,Taylor was conscious of ensuring it was less about a victory lap and more around their ambition to help more students.
“At the moment we’re supporting nearly 60,000 students experiencing disadvantage across Australia through our Learning for Life program and we’ve made a commitment to get that to 100,000 over the next five years,” he explains.
It’s an ambitious goal, but with the support of an incredible team and a network of thousands of volunteers, Doug Taylor is on a personal and professional quest to change the life trajectory for those without the means to do so. This after all was the founding principle of The Smith Family, when those five businessmen in 1922 adopted a simple, unassuming name for an organisation that has gone on to make a profound difference to so many.
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