29 Aug

Women Who Inspire Us In 2014: Q&A with Alison Covington from Good360 Australia

Women Who Inspire Us In 2014: Q&A with Alison Covington from Good360 Australia

“Giving of any kind… taking an action… begins the process of change, and moves us to remember that we are part of a much greater universe.” ― Mbali Creazzo

The words ‘creating change’ and ‘taking action’ speaks volumes when describing Alison Covington.

With her tireless energy, unfaltering courage and determination, Alison the Founder and Managing Director of Good360 Australia is creating universal ripples by taking action and making changes in the world of corporate philanthropy.

Previously Alison has been a Director of multi-million dollar businesses, developed an enviable record for innovation; a reputation for raising standards, increasing profitability in loss-making companies and guiding them through the obstacles of major industry reform.

Alison’s successful business operations became a platform for her philanthropic ideals. She utilised her corporate expertise to benefit others and make a positive social difference. Innovative and creative, Alison always strives to not only consider all available alternatives to problem solving, but to ensure that – in so doing – she draws upon her creativity and ingenuity.

Alison is an inspiration as she builds Good360 Australia – she believes like recycling, product donation will become a habit. Good for business, good for charities and people and good for the environment.

We are thrilled to share with you ‘Women Who Inspire Us in 2014’ Q&A with Alison Covington, where we discuss tips on strategically creating a Startup company, the importance of creating habits for a cause and the love of chocolate truffles.

What was the deciding factor to give up your high profile and successful career working for multi-million dollar businesses to pursue a cause like Good360 Australia?
A nagging need to organise a country. By the time I discovered the system, Good360 had already been operating for 30 years and had distributed over $7bn in product to people in need. I just couldn’t let it go. If I didn’t step up and introduce Good360 to Australia and connect millions of dollars of excess product to people in need, it might be another 30 years before someone did.

What is Good360 and what were the main steps in founding the Australian arm?
Good360 is based on a simple idea: connecting companies that have excess goods to Australians in need.

In Australia we already have services that rescue excess food, like OzHarvest, Foodbank and SecondBite – but what about everything else? Vast quantities of non-perishable goods end up in landfill each year too. Companies and retailers really struggle with excess product and obsolescent stock, and they spend thousands on warehousing and moving around this perfectly usable stuff that they don’t want. There’s just so much – it’s everything from apparel, toys and manchester to personal care products, office supplies, household goods and much more.

Yet we can see that non-profits in Australia are struggling too. Grant Thornton’s Not for Profit Sector Survey 2013/2014 came out recently. It’s showed us that 80% of Australian non-profits are always looking for new sources of funding, whereas 40% can’t plan ahead for more than 12 months based on their current funding. We can see that non-profits really need a new model to get the resources they need. That’s where Good360 comes in. Our mission is to connect companies’ excess and obsolescent stock to non-profits who can use it to help people in need. We’re trying to change charitable giving itself by enabling greater levels of product philanthropy. It’s a big ambition, but we’re already making waves – and we want to invite Australia to watch our story unfold over the new few months, and be a part of it all.

When visiting the Good360 Australia website www.good360.org.au, the system appears quite easy. How can corporations and individuals get involved?
It’s very easy! The GivingPlace is what makes this whole vision work. It’s a central online platform where companies can donate their product, charities can request what they need, and the public can easily support they love.
All under one roof. By bringing together these three groups, we’re making charitable giving simpler, more efficient and more effective for all.

There’s really something for everyone: non-profits, companies and individuals. Non-profits can shop quickly for products they need with the GivingPlace’s simple and powerful search interface.

They can also create product wishlists to engage their supporters and crowdfund specific product requests. The GivingPlace also allows non-profits to share powerful stories, photos and videos to showcase their impact.

Companies will be able to upload product donations easily, and get an immediate response about whether their donations can be accepted. Then they’ll be able to see exactly where their products are being distributed and which non-profits they’re helping. Finally it’ll be easy for companies to generate measurable and shareable impact through the stories, pictures and videos that non-profits upload – they automatically appear on the company’s dashboard too!

And of course, individual donors can find all the causes they love under one roof. Your donation is going to go further, since donations through the GivingPlace are used to offset your selected charity’s administration and shipping fee for requested products. This means you’re directly enabling your favourite cause to receive the goods they need! You’ll also be able to count your impact through the stories, pictures and videos that charities upload, so you can see how many lives your donation changed.

Founding a new concept can carve many obstacles including educating in your case organisations on the bigger picture. What have you found to be the biggest challenges when beginning a Startup? Pioneering a new concept and being innovative does require a period of education. You have to learn to be nimble and do a lot with a little.  If you want to do something that’s never been done before, you have to expect that it will take time for everyone to catch up with your vision. Unfortunately I am not the most patient person in the world so it hasn’t always been the journey I wanted or expected. Now after a few years we can see that our vision and hard work is being recognised. We’ve reached a tipping point and now the light is turning on – suddenly you see that recognition in people’s eyes when they get you, they get the vision and now you have lift off. for Alisons article Part of creating the Good360 Australia concept has been to gain financial assistance. How hard has it been to raise funding for the project?
Challenging. But thankfully investors like Forming Circles consider triple bottom line criteria when measuring the organisation’s success and deciding when to invest. Forming Circles was founded by Renata Cooper as an ethical and social investment company, and Good360 is the redistribution of good for people and planet – a great match. We have been supported from the very beginning by Renata and she has encouraged our journey and helped us grow. Forming Circles have now pledged the final $100,000 required to complete the GivingPlace, a Social Impact Investment. This is significant because this technology will enable us to help thousands of non-profits source much needed product to save money and expand programs in their communities. At the same time, we’re also solving problems for business by creating an efficient distribution channel for unwanted and excess product. To top it all off, we’re also saving the environment! Forming Circles’ investment in Good360 is a leveraged investment that helps millions of people nationwide.

You have an advisory panel for Good360 Australia. What is their purpose and how has this helped create the foundation of the company? We have a very talented Advisory Panel and Renata Cooper sits on this Panel. In the early stages of any start-up it is crucial to surround yourself with industry experts who can guide you through many of the obstacles and challenges you will inevitably face. We have built a great team nicknamed ‘The League of Extraordinary Good’ – it includes our Board of Directors, Advisory Panel, pro-bono advisors and skilled volunteers who have all contributed to founding Good360 in Australia. They are game changers who are creating a legacy for future generations.

How do you feel one can change an action to become a positive habit?
We believe that product donation, like recycling, will become a habit. I like to tell my two young sons that by the time they are in the workplace, every employer will have a policy on product donation – a Good360 policy! They won’t be able to escape their mum, even at work (at big rolling of the eyes from the boys)! All jokes aside, imagine if every workplace automatically donated product, rather than that product sitting idle – or worse still, going to landfill. Imagine all the good this product could do to help Australians in need! It’s really everywhere – our product generally comes from retailers but most workplaces have office furniture, and hospitality can also generate a lot of product from hotels and restaurants.

What are some tips you can offer for people wanting to create a Startup company?

  1. Believe in yourself and trust your own instincts.
  2. Research and understand your market – Good360 made sense to me because it was innovative, efficient and didn’t replicate. Find what it is that you can absolutely stand by when your boundaries are being tested.
  3. It’s a hard road and always twice as long as you expect, so surround yourself with a network of people who will lift you up.
  4. If your start-up idea isn’t keeping you awake at night, if it isn’t the thing you can’t stop thinking about, think twice about doing it. You will need passion, energy and the determination of a mad person to get to lift off!

You have courageously made a significant difference in the world with your involvement in previous charitable and philanthropic work, and now with Good360 Australia. What is your five year goal both professionally and personally?
I am giving my age away now! In 2020 I would like to achieve a personal and business goal in one. I want to celebrate my 50th Birthday by gifting to Australia $500 million of product donations via the Good360 GivingPlace. This would give me great personal satisfaction knowing that by stepping up and deciding to make a difference we, ‘The League of Extraordinary Good’, have diverted $500million of much needed product to Australians in need. What an amazing 50th Birthday celebration achievement, especially when I know many people face that milestone with trepidation! I will be happy to face it head on, ready to tackle the next decade, because I have another secret goal for my 60th Birthday…

We know you love making chocolate truffles as it’s your expertise and we were lucky enough to sample them on many occasions when you’ve donated to the Written Portraits initiative. What other passions do you enjoy besides cooking amazing treats?
Interior design and renovating – or as my family like to say, ‘finger pointing and fluffing’. My husband, the love of my life and the man who completes me, is the doer and I’m the creative person. I love to come up with crazy ideas and he has to make them happen! I just stand there pointing, not listening to logic and he has to put up with my crazy, work miracles and implement the plan. After 21 years together this works – surprisingly we never fight and the end result looks great!

What are you top three favourite books and what is the best piece of advice you have been given?

  1. Oh the places you’ll go – Dr. Seuss I have always loved reading Dr Seuss to my children and I printed this quote for my boys’ office: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.”
  2. Giving – How each of us can change the World – Bill Clinton My dear friend Susan Wallis gave me this book. It’s a great read for anyone starting their philanthropic journey and it helps you understand we all have the ability to help within our own means.
  3. The Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook – Jennifer Graham I love to cook cakes and I only cook cakes from this book, no other recipe ever compares. Be warned, they make big quantities (freeze well) but they taste amazing and you will not stop at one. Don’t blame me if you develop an addiction!

The very best advice I ever received was from my Dad. He told me I could do anything I wanted to if I put my mind to it, that I lived in a time when girls had the same opportunities as boys, and I shouldn’t let anyone tell me differently. He told me to believe in myself, because that is half the battle. This conversation took place very randomly when I was 13, on the way to ballet one day in the VW. I was telling dad I might be a ballet teacher or mathematician when I grew up – and that was his response to me. Soon after, my dad passed away very suddenly aged 40 of a heart attack. I have spent the rest of my life trying to live by his advice. I back myself daily and was Managing Director of a male dominated industry by age 32. I was told at his funeral to live a life to make him proud. My hope is he would think that 13 year old who didn’t seem to listen to anything was actually listening that day.    

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