It was wonderful to see so many shareholders at our recent Shareholder Presentations across the country. Many of you have told us that a highlight of the events was hearing from our new Future Generation Global (FGG) social impact partners, who are working tirelessly to promote wellbeing and prevent mental ill-health in young Australians.
So, we thought it would be interesting to turn the tables on our partners to see what they thought of the events – and of you, our shareholders. After all, this was the first time that many of them had presented at an investor roadshow.
Lucy Thomas, co-founder and CEO at Project ROCKIT, an organisation that is uniting and mobilising Australian school students against bullying, admits it was a “markedly different” audience to the one they are used to. “But in a really positive way. I’m usually talking to school kids,” they laugh.
Lucy presented at the Sydney conference, alongside Future Generation CEO Caroline Gurney and Jacob Mitchell, founder of Antipodes Partners and one of Future Generation’s pro bono fund managers. “Hearing from Caroline and Jacob gave me a real insight into all the work that’s being done to enable us to extend our impact through Future Generation. I really learned a great deal.”
Ally Kelly, founder and chief executive of Mind Blank, says the Noosa conference gave her a unique opportunity to meet the shareholders behind Future Generation. “For me, from a personal perspective, it definitely brought the last jigsaw puzzle piece into place to be able to meet the people behind the social investment.”
This sentiment was shared by Stephen Carbone, founder and chief executive of Prevention United, who presented in Canberra. “It was great to be able to talk about our work to a group of people who ultimately are providing the money for the work we are doing.”
Stephen used the Canberra event to highlight the alarming rise in the rates of mental ill health, self-harm and suicide among young people. The latest National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing shows that 39.6 per cent of 16-24 year-olds had a 12-month mental disorder in 2020, up from 26.4 per cent in 2006. Even more worrying, almost 1 in every 2 female 16-24-year-olds are experiencing a mental health disorder.
“I think your shareholders were surprised, not that there was a problem, but by the scale of the problem,” Stephen says. “Actually, it’s no longer even a problem, it’s a crisis. Like everyone, your shareholders want to find solutions and they understand that to do that, we’ve got to get to the bottom of what is causing this crisis. They were very receptive to the idea that Future Generation Global is now working upstream to try to solve the problem.”
In July last year, Future Generation Global unveiled 14 new social impact partners, which work in the prevention and wellbeing space. The decision to fund this specific area was made for three key reasons.
First, the current focus on mental healthcare alone is not working, despite a steady increase in government expenditure on mental healthcare services over the past three decades.
Secondly, prevention is an area that has been largely neglected in mental health policy, despite evidence that prevention approaches are effective. Combined, Australian governments spend only around 1 per cent of their mental health budgets on prevention.
And thirdly, Australia has a strong track record of reducing the financial burden and human cost of many conditions – from skin cancer and heart disease to strokes and diabetes – by investing in prevention. Future Generation believes that by beginning to front-load more of our investment in mental health, similar advances can be made in the mental health space.
Ally says that, like Stephen, she also got the impression that the “penny has well and truly dropped” for shareholders as to why Future Generation Global has started funding prevention. A staunch and vocal advocate for suicide prevention, she founded Mind Blank to support people to develop vital life skills and to assist with the whole government’s Towards Zero Suicides program.
Ally says she was humbled by the “touching and frankly mind-blowing” stories that shareholders shared with her after she had presented in Noosa. “Multiple shareholders came up to me afterwards to say that suicide had touched their lives in some way,” she says. “Even though some of the shareholders who spoke to me were a bit older, they all had huge empathy and a real understanding of what young people are going through. Some of them said they wished this awareness and openness about mental health had existed when they were younger.”
Lucy, from Project ROCKIT, was also struck by how open shareholders were. “I had some really remarkable conversations over lunch. A lot of people were talking to me about their grandkids and how they were trying to navigate situations of online harm. It reinforced to me how much work we still have to do.”
Dr Addie Wooten, the CEO of Smiling Mind, who presented in Perth, also proved a magnet for shareholders after her presentation. “Quite a few of them came up to me to talk about mental health experiences that they, or their children, had gone through. There was a real openness and generosity and you could tell that they were proud of their choice to be part of a company that was giving back to social good.”
At the Perth conference, Ally explained to shareholders that everyone has a mental health, in much the same way as everyone has a physical health. “And we have to proactively look after our mental health, just as we do our physical health.”
The message really resonated with shareholders, with many asking Addie for practical tools and tips on how they could better look after their mental health. Many asked her to help them download the Smiling Mind app, which aims to equip young Australians with the skills needed to nurture their mental health and navigate challenges.
Meanwhile, across the country in Brisbane, Zoe Black, co-founder of Happy Paws Happy Hearts, had hearts melting at the Brisbane Convention Centre when she brought in some adorable puppies from her program as part of her presentation.
“It was really amazing to meet shareholders in person and to share our journey, particularly as Happy Paws Happy Hearts started out in Brisbane,” she says. “All your shareholders were really engaged and amazed by how much our reach has grown; we now have more than 450 participants in our programs.”
As part of its programs, Happy Paws Happy Hearts connects isolated Australians with rescue animals. Participants learn how to care for pets and native wildlife and prepare them for adoption or release back into the wild. Typically, participants struggle to leave the house, have high anxiety about meeting new people, believe that education or employment is unattainable and feel of ‘no use’ to others. Happy Paws Happy Hearts gives them a sense of pride and purpose, and their recovery process often mirrors that of the animals they help.
Now back to Stephen Carbone, whose Prevention United is striving for a world free from mental health – achieved through prevention, not treatment. Stephen says he was approached in Canberra by a shareholder, who was a retired teacher, after his presentation. “She’d worked with young people all her life and she was worried and puzzled by what’s going on in young people’s lives at the moment. I told her we all are, but that teachers and schools have an important role to play in this.”
Using this woman as an example, Stephen says that shareholders of all ages displayed concern about the youth mental health crisis. “Just because some shareholders are a bit older, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t engaged with the issue. They have children, grandchildren or they work with young people like this teacher did. I don’t think age comes into it. It is an issue that is relevant to all people because everyone knows someone affected by mental health.”
Lucy agrees. During the Sydney presentation, they asked the audience: “Who has kids?” “Who has grandkids?” And then, “OK, who was a kid at some point in time?”
“And you see everyone in the room eventually put their hand up,” they said. “And it just shows that everyone has a connection to the issues we are trying to address.”
In addition to Lucy, Ally, Stephen, Zoe and Addie, our shareholders around the country were also treated to presentations from Erin Faehrmann, CEO of Youth Opportunities; Scott Rankin CEO and founder of Big hART; and Bernard Galbally, CEO of Youth Live4Life.
We thank them all for their time and passion.