Pioneering program celebrates 30 years of making a difference

Clockwise, from top left, Jenny Green, a class from 1986, Mark Lyons, Christian Sorenson and Jenny Onyx (left).  Photo-collage: Joel Terwilliger

Clockwise, from top left, Jenny Green, a class from 1986, Mark Lyons, Christian Sorenson and Jenny Onyx (left). Photo-collage: Joel Terwilliger

In summary: 
  • The UTS Business School program now known as the Master of Not-for-Profit and Social Enterprise began life in 1986 as the Community Management Program at the then Kuring-gai College of Advanced Education
  • Co-founded by Mark Lyons and Jennifer Onyx, it was the first accredited, tertiary-level management program for non-profits in Australia and since has graduated more than 1000 social justice leaders

Australia's longest-running university program for not-for-profit managers is marking its 30th anniversary, having armed hundreds of people with the skills needed to make a difference in the challenging NFP sector.

"Since it began three decades ago, this pioneering program has graduated more than 1000 social justice leaders, people who are making an incredible impact across the sector," says Associate Professor Bronwen Dalton, Coordinator of the Not-for-Profit and Community Management Program at UTS Business School.

"From the CEOs of Australia's largest charities to the front-line workers on the ground, our exceptional graduates devote their lives to making social change happen, every day."

Current students in the new Master of Not-for-Profit and Social Enterprise program. Picture by Wulandri Putri Current students in the new Master of Not-for-Profit and Social Enterprise program. Picture by Wulandri Putri

The UTS Business School program now known as the Master of Not-for-Profit and Social Enterprise began life in 1986 as the Community Management Program at the then Kuring-gai College of Advanced Education.

Co-founded by Mark Lyons and Jennifer Onyx, it was the first accredited, tertiary-level management program for non-profits in Australia.

Emeritus Professor Onyx says of the students she worked with in those early days: "I was totally in awe of the way ordinary citizens came together collaboratively to identify their common needs, to plan services to meet those needs … and then the way all players co-operated to actually make these infant projects come to fruition.

"Many of those original projects and organisations are now, 30 years later, multimillion-dollar, non-profit community businesses, community centres and hubs for local development."

Today, the Australian NFP sector includes an estimated 700,000 organisations, accounting for 9.3 per cent of Australian jobs, says Associate Professor Dalton. A further 4 million people are volunteers.

Collectively, NFPs account for nearly 5 per cent of Australia's economic activity – more than major industries such as defence and agriculture.

Dr Jenny Green, who recently retired as Program Director of the Postgraduate Community Management Program, says she learned as much from her NFP students – if not more – as she gave them.

"In a way, much of this course has been about validating their extraordinary commitment to a higher cause," she says. "This cause is one that [we all] subscribe to: that societies must ultimately be judged on how they treat their most disadvantaged." 

The Chief Executive of Settlement Services International, Violet Roumeliotis, who graduated from the program in 2011, says: "My Master's degree has informed the way I think and work in allowing me to apply innovative and creative thinking around leadership and management.

"It provided me with the tools and curiosity required to build expansive networks and contacts, collaborations and partnerships and to think big and think positive.

"The course fostered many great professional friendships and I am still in close contact with a number of my fellow graduates. We have provided a lot of peer mentoring and support to each other and worked collaboratively on projects."

The Director of social care sector service provider Zakumi, Marika Kontellis, is an alumnus of the Class of 1994. "Things did not always seem fair to me and I was always speaking up about it," she recalls. "One day I thought it best I do more than speak up. With the support of the late Professor Mark Lyons, I did some research that demonstrated that good community organisations do more than just deliver on government contracts – they exist to facilitate and support social change."

Current student Christian Sorenson is undertaking the graduate certificate in NFP and Social Enterprise Management, and has since transitioned to the NFP sector with a recent appointment at Mission Australia and continues his support of social causes – in particular MS, a condition his wife was diagnosed with in 2014.

Master's student Linda Castellazzi is also using the program to help her move into the NFP sector, working to set up the Sydney chapter of the American organisation Miracle Messages, which works to reconcile homeless people and their families.

"I decided to work in this area because I see around me too much injustice," she says. "I want to make a difference and help others. UTS gave me the possibility of having deep conversations with people who share the same ideals."

Associate Professor Dalton says the alumni and students of the NFP program are exemplars of UTS's commitment to social justice.

"They dedicate their lives to championing social causes and giving a voice to and addressing the needs of marginalised, under-served, and under-represented populations across Australia and internationally," she says.

"Their efforts and unwavering commitment to bringing about a more civil society and advocating for the values we hold dear – such as equality, justice, and human rights – are worthy of celebration."

The 30th anniversary of the NFP program is being marked on December 8 at a joint event with UTS:Shopfront, which is celebrating 20 years of facilitating collaboration between UTS and the community sector.

Hear the voices of those who have taken part in the #UTSSocialJusticeMemories campaign, which was created by UTS Student Joel Terwilliger to celebrate and commemorate contributions to change from staff and current and former students of the NFP program here.

Learn more about the Master of Not-for-Profit and Social Enterprise Management here.