2016 was my first year as Chair of the Origin Foundation. It has been a year of learning for me. Meeting partners and viewing their programs, meeting the deeply-committed people working in education, and, of course, talking with young people.

Reflecting on the year, I am more optimistic than pessimistic. I started out the year with the same knowledge base as the general public on educational achievement in Australia. We are all brought up short when reading the seemingly endless headlines about poor performance of Australian school children in international tests. The reports on continuing gaps in educational achievement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children. The imbalance between education outcomes in rural and regional Australia compared with metropolitan centres.

I end the year with a deeper appreciation that there are growing pockets of success that get very little public exposure.

Dr Chris Sarra and his mantra of “High Expectations” is making an impact. His Stronger Smarter Institute is now reaching out to 36,000 Indigenous children. Jack Manning-Bancroft introduced me to a great group of kids in the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience. Participants in AIME are completing Years 10 and 12 at better than the national average.

If teachers are a key to improved performance then the National Exceptional Teachers for Disadvantaged Schools program, which is now operating in six universities, will each year be producing hundreds of highly-qualified teachers making an impact on thousands of children’s lives.

The Smith Family’s Let’s Count program got the recognition and financial support it deserved from Federal and State Governments to expand and hopefully become sustainable.

The evaluation showed that children have no disposition against mathematics. In fact they love becoming involved with maths concepts in the pre-school years. It is later that they lose interest for some reason.

I am not denying there are problems in the Australian education system. But I have discovered that the situation is not irredeemable. The national discourse on education needs to be leavened with some of the success stories so we get a more complete picture. It is for this reason I commend to you the Origin Foundation’s Knowledge Hub and website which seek to provide a platform for telling some of the success stories.

Additional Resources

The Origin Foundation continues to give millions of dollars a year. Because we are a long-term funder this often means we cannot provide support to new programs. This can give rise to the misconception that we are reducing our financial commitments. Nothing could be further from the truth. Origin, through its Foundation, continues to believe in the value of education and injected another $5 million into the corpus in 2016. This additional sum will be used to fund the Grant King Scholarships for Indigenous undergraduates studying STEM subjects. Grant retired this year as Managing Director of Origin Energy after a long and successful tenure. Grant was one of the key proponents for the creation of the Origin Foundation in 2010. He has been, and will continue to be, an active member of the Origin Foundation Board.

Whilst I have learnt a lot from meeting many of our partners, I have also gained much knowledge from my colleagues on the Origin Foundation Board. All give of their time, and expertise, freely, and I acknowledge their contribution.

I would also like to acknowledge the small Origin Foundation team, and the hundreds of Origin employees who engage with the Foundation as volunteers, or through the matched-giving program which benefits scores of charities. Their generosity of spirit makes me proud to be associated not just with the Foundation, but with Origin.


This year’s annual review takes a closer look at the scholarships which the Origin Foundation funds.

These vary from support for a young person pursuing trade training in a regional town, through to attendance at some of the world’s most prestigious universities.

It is always satisfying to see a young person making the most of their attributes and achieving success. But the individual scholarships are part of a broader strategy. Humans learn in many ways. Formal education is of primary importance, but humans also learn through modelling others. It is the positive impact of role models that interests us and why we invest in scholarships.

There is a body of research on the topic, but, when boiled down, our interpretation is that young people are unlikely to listen to authority figures. The “like” generation will view a message from someone resembling them.

So our theory of change is that a young person in danger of disengaging from education, or females recoiling from STEM subjects, will be swayed by other young people. Role models with convincing back stories which are authentic.

The need for authenticity is why for us, we place no greater or lesser value on the type of further education being pursued. Not everyone wants, or needs, a degree to succeed.

Scholars’ stories are important in building the aspirations and dreams of others. Who couldn’t be inspired by the young boy who intuitively understands education is the passport from a small rural community to the top of his profession via a Masters at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Scholar stories can debunk stereotyping: The female scientist, Kate Griffiths, who defies the ‘geek’ label because she is also an AFL umpire.

The education system is preparing young people for jobs that do not yet exist. Indeed many will invent their own jobs in the future. If this is to be an exciting challenge, rather than a daunting threat, then young people can only benefit from seeing how some of their peers are equipping themselves through education to cope.

So I hope you find the stories of some of our scholars in this review as inspiring as we do, and that you share them with young people in your circle of influence.

Distribution amount 2015/16
Grants Program
Give Time (Volunteering)
Give 2 (Matched Giving)

Distribution amount since our inception in 2010
Grants Program
Give Time (Volunteering)
Give 2 (Matched Giving)

Breakdown of 2015/16 grant program funding by focus area:
Capacity-building in the NFP sector
Equality of educational opportunity: rural and regional
Gender equality in STEM
Equality of education opportunity: Indigenous
our Grants ProGram

Our Grants Program supports education initiatives that aim to achieve the following outcomes:

  • Greater gender diversity in STEM education
  • Educational attainment by children marginalised because they are Indigenous, or live in rural and remote areas
  • Increased professionalism and productivity in the Not-for-Profit sector, through professional training and development

Once again this year we have seen extraordinary work being undertaken by our partners across these focus areas. This year’s review will focus specifically on the individuals who are achieving in education through a range of scholarships we are proud to support.


Enabling tomorrow's leaders

The General Sir John Monash Foundation is widely regarded as one of Australia’s most prestigious postgraduate scholarship programs. They recognise leadership capability, academic excellence, and the potential to contribute to Australia’s future. Scholarships are awarded to outstanding Australian graduates to enable them to study for a Masters or Doctoral degree at the world’s best universities.

Our Foundation has been proudly supporting the educational goals of these talented individuals in the fields of Sustainability and Engineering. To date we have funded six scholars. Half are female.

Whilst highly talented and committed, the John Monash scholars are not always privately-educated or from privileged backgrounds. Take the young boy from a small Tasmanian town of less than 400 people, whose childhood horizons barely extended beyond the hills of the valley. The local employment options were limited to a coal mine and forestry, and even a journey to Melbourne was considered a grand adventure. Thankfully, Chris Lowe’s local high school teachers saw his potential and challenged him beyond the curriculum.

Chris went on to study engineering at the Australian Defence Force Academy, where he was exposed to cutting edge research. Just a few years later, Chris was deployed to Afghanistan. Whilst in the war zone, he successfully applied for the Origin Foundation John Monash scholarship, which took him to Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston to study for a Masters of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Today, Chris is back in Canberra, applying his skills to make unmanned aviation an everyday part of Australian Defence Force operations.

Chris, who is now Squadron Leader, believes “education is the key that will open the door to a world of opportunity – just walk through and see where it will take you.”

Emma Howard agrees. She’s our 2016 John Monash scholar and just beginning her PhD in climate change at Oxford University in England.

Emma’s research will focus on a region around Africa where the impact of climate change is predicted to be most heavily felt, before returning to Australia to apply her learning to local climates.

When she started studying pure mathematics at university, Emma worried she’d consigned herself “to a life of obscure abstraction”. Now, tackling the massive challenge of understanding the mechanisms of climate change, her work has never felt more real or relevant.

“If you’re keen on starting something new, don’t worry too much about where you’ll end up. If you work hard and learn some skills, you’ll be surprised by where you can go.”
Emma Howard

Meet all our John Monash scholars.

Removing barriers for country students

Dyslexia couldn’t deter Sarah Marcon from achieving top marks to study maths and statistics at Sydney University. But she did face other hurdles getting to university. Growing up in the regional town of Griffith, NSW, only a minority of young people go on to tertiary study. “One of the hardest things we have to do is move a large distance to get university qualifications,” Sarah said.

“When the population of the uni you’re going to is double the population of your home town, it’s a whole new world,” she said.

Laura Taylor, like Sarah, had to relocate from regional NSW to pursue tertiary study.

Laura has always been good at maths and science and wanted to look for a practical way to apply those skills. She took a gap year after high school and spent time volunteering in Borneo. It was there she saw, first-hand, the positive impact engineering can have on communities, from water management to public health.

Laura is outnumbered by boys four to one in her engineering course at Australian National University, but she’s not worried. She’s used to being in the minority in her preferred subjects and says it only makes her more determined to do well. She says the cost of living away from home can be hard to keep up with, though.

Compared with their metropolitan peers, country students like Sarah and Laura face greater barriers when it comes to accessing further education and training. Through our partnership with Country Education Foundation, we’re helping young people in regional and rural Australia to overcome some of the financial obstacles associated with realising their education goals.

“The support I am receiving is so helpful in every way; it gives me a home away from home and lots of academic encouragement” said Sarah.

Children with ice block

Creating rural education leaders

One way to tackle the underperformance of students in regional and rural areas is to ensure their schools are led by the best principals.

Principals in these communities have greater and different challenges to those in cities. Distance, isolation and resourcing all provide unique challenges.

Shaun Kanowski is the Principal of Allora State School, in south east Queensland. He’s one of a select group of educators from regional schools around Australia to complete the country’s first postgraduate degree in rural leadership, developed by Flinders University and Principals Australia Institute. Our Foundation has funded the first cohort of 20 rural education leaders to undertake the Masters degree.

Mr Kanowski’s research project focused on principal health and wellbeing. He said the course has armed him with the skills to take on rural issues in new and creative ways.

Bernadette Warburton from Red Cliffs Secondary College in Mildura is a fellow graduate. She said: "As a professional it gives me a chance to develop my leadership skills further, and it will also be beneficial for the staff. Being in a rural area, the opportunities are much more limited than for those in the city."

Capacity building for a stronger community

Australia’s Not-For-Profit sector performs a vital role in our society, making a positive difference to the lives of the people and communities it supports. But now, more than ever, more is expected from the sector in terms of performance and social impact.

To live up to these expectations the sector needs more resources and enhanced capabilities. The Productivity Commission, in its Contribution of the Not-For-Profit Sector Report, suggested greater investment in training and development.

One of the ways our Foundation responded to this challenge was to establish, in a world-first, the Professional Scholarship in Non-Profit Leadership, in partnership with the Australian-American Fulbright Commission.

Launched in 2011, the scholarship provides an opportunity for an emerging leader in the NFP sector to undertake a program of research and professional development in the U.S. Our 2016 scholar, Hichem Demortier is a disaster relief specialist and our sixth Fulright scholar.

Hichem came to Australia in 2009 after working in community development and health projects in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. He is currently Director of Strategy and Corporate Services at the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre (NCCTRC) in Darwin, the government agency responsible for Australia’s health emergency response. It was established by the Federal Government in the wake of the 2002 Bali bombings.

Hichem is using his scholarship to study leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School and is establishing formal relationships between the U.S. institution and NCCTRC. This partnership will help position Northern Australia as the regional centre for health and emergency response in the Asia-Pacific region - the most disaster-prone region in the world.

Meet our Fulbright scholars.

Read the report: LEARNING FOR A PURPOSE: Researching Social Return on Education and Training for NFPs READ MORE
Give Time VolUnTeeRing ProGram

Our volunteering program aims to deliver value to Origin Foundation grant partners, and to provide opportunities for Origin employees to connect with the community.

During 2015/16, one in six employees volunteered in a range of activities, some of which required specific skills and expertise in data analysis, mapping, and engineering, and others which simply required a willing pair of hands to help restore endangered native habitat. In total, over 6,000 hours of employee time was ‘given back’ to the community.

1 in 6 Origin employees volunteered in 2015/16

We are now able to offer more opportunities for regional employees to engage with our program. Some of our more popular activities give employees the opportunity to inspire school students, particularly where these students are faced with some form of disadvantage. Humanitarian workshops designed by Engineers Without Borders were delivered in regional locations, from Biloela in rural Queensland to the Hunter Valley Region in NSW. Hundreds of students from Beacon Foundation schools in outer metropolitan areas visited Origin’s offices this year, to gain valuable insights into the workplace.

In the lead-up to Christmas, over 250 Origin volunteers packed and delivered toys and groceries, worked in Oxfam shops around the country, and served meals to those in need.

75% of our volunteers tell us that volunteering increased their awareness of wider social issues and increased their pride in working at Origin.

More than 6,000 hours volunteered to the community

Katherine Prideaux is a Tax Manager in Origin’s Adelaide office. She said: “Volunteering gave me time to reflect on the purpose of the Origin Foundation and how it contributes to creating a positive, caring and helpful culture at work. It also showed me the importance of putting yourself in the place of another, seeing the world through their eyes - skills which can be used in our day-to-day roles.”

Our managers are increasingly supportive of the volunteering program, and we have worked closely with them to overcome operational barriers, scheduling events to avoid their busiest periods. And over 90% of managers who approved volunteer requests believe that volunteering develops skills and competencies useful to Origin, including adaptability, teamwork, communication, leadership, planning, organisation, and networking.

Give2 Matched GivIng ProGram

Employees engage with our matched giving program through payroll deductions, one-off individual donations or contributing to team fundraising events.

During 2015/16, 1 in 4 employees participated in the workplace giving program, supporting organised events such as Movember, World’s Greatest Shave and Oxfam Trailwalker, as well as organising smaller activities.

Others prefer to set aside a small amount each week in aid of causes which have a very personal connection. Habitat for Humanity, Oxfam and The Salvation Army received the highest total dollar amount over the year.

1 in 4 employees participated in our workplace giving program

Origin employees gave $337,296 through our Give Time program in 2015/16. When matched by the Foundation, more than $670,000 was distributed to Australian charities.

$670,000 distributed to the community
SpeCial EveNts for OriGin ParEnts

Our series of special events for Origin parents has become a regular feature in our internal engagement program. Again this year we drew upon the expertise within the Foundation partnership network, to share education-related knowledge and resources with Origin parents and carers.

Surviving and thriving in the teenage years

Leaving childhood behind and growing into young adults is a time of great biological and emotional upheaval for teenagers, and can be a time of great angst for parents. Many have wondered, at some point, what is going on in their teenager’s brain. Origin parents are no different.

We engaged Dr Sue Roffey, education psychologist, author and academic, to develop a bespoke seminar on the topic of ‘how to survive and thrive in the teenage years’ for employees in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane.

Dr Roffey helped us understand the science, asked us to reflect on our own parenting styles and provided practical advice on how to foster the best relationship with our current or future teens.

The topic generated much interest amongst Origin employees. 96% of participants found the session “very valuable” and 98% said are “very likely” to recommend to their colleagues.

Can you spot a ‘good’ school?

When it comes to schools, we are literally spoilt for choice in Australia: public vs. private; comprehensive vs. specialist; single sex vs. co-ed... the list goes on. But what really makes a good primary or secondary school and how do you go about choosing the right one for your child?

That’s what Origin parents were eager to understand when education expert Chris Bonnor AM shared his insights on what good schools do, and don’t look like.

As a retired school principal, Director of Big Picture Education Australia, education writer, advocate and author of several books, Chris Bonnor knows a thing or two about schools. His What Makes a Good School seminars, developed for Origin parents, challenged our thinking on what good schools really look like, dispelling some commonly-held myths.

Owing the success of these sessions in 2013, we invited Chris Bonnor to return again in late 2016. Hundreds of Origin parents, grandparents and carers have participated. Sarah Cullen, a Senior Manager in Sustainability Reporting, was one of them. "It was an overwhelming and emotional step sending my first child off to his first year of school. The advice and practical tips Chris gave us really helped to make the experience a positive and exciting one,” she said.