According to national peak body Philanthropy Australia, philanthropy is ‘a desire to improve the welfare of humanity through the giving of money, time, information, goods and services, influence and voice for community good’. Here, we speak to successful businesswoman and prolific philanthropist Dr Susan Alberti AO Hon LLD about how she gives…
Dr Susan Alberti
Name: Dr Susan Alberti AO Hon LLD
Business: Dansu (construction and property)
Foundation: Susan Alberti Medical Research Foundation (SAMRF)
- Australian of the Year Finalist, 1997 and 2009
- Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), 2007
- Member of the Order of Australia (AM), 1997
- National President, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation
- Foundation Chairman, St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research
- Board Member, Western Bulldogs (Footscray Football Club)
- Board Member, Western Health
Why is philanthropy so important to you?
My only child, Danielle, was quite tragically diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 12. Even more tragically, she died aged just 32. I support a range of philanthropic causes in addition to Type 1 diabetes, but it has been my passion since the day I learnt Danielle had developed this chronic, incurable disease over 30 years ago.
What is your mission?
My mission is to help find a cure for Type 1 diabetes by devoting a significant amount of my time and resources to supporting institutions and individuals involved in preventing, treating and finding a cure for diabetes.
Where you influenced by your parents or someone else to become philanthropically minded?
When I was a small child, we had very little in the way of extras in our family home in suburban Melbourne. We led a very happy but basic life: food on the table, strict discipline and a good education. I was constantly made aware of the needs of others by both of my parents, and by the values taught at the schools I attended – the local Catholic Primary School in Ashburton and, later, Siena Convent.
In about Grade Two, I recall our teachers speaking to us, instilling in my brother and I that there were people in many parts of world who needed help: like residents of countries in the Pacific, such as the Solomon Islands. My own father worked voluntarily for the St Vincent de Paul Society until his death at the age of 82 – he gave over 50 years of service to ‘Vinnies’.
I really do believe that philanthropy and charitable deeds start at home, in our formative years. If we can create a culture of giving early on in the lives of our children, then it will come naturally later on in life.
I really do believe that philanthropy and charitable deeds start at home, in our formative years.
Is there a philanthropist ‘out there’ who inspires you?
I’m inspired by Mary Tyler Moore, who I know personally through her role as International Chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and, of course, who wouldn’t be inspired by the work of Bill and Melinda Gates?
Given that you run a very successful business, how do you find the time to spend on philanthropy?
In my early years, it was difficult to find time in between running the family business and raising a family. But when Danielle was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, I tried to find out everything I could about the disease – and my involvement from then on became a real passion.
When you become passionate about a cause, you will find time to fit it into your schedule, no matter how busy you are. For me, now in 2012, philanthropy is as much a part of my daily commitments as my business interests are and, of course, my love and support of the Western Bulldogs (Footscray Football Club).
What advice would you give to others wanting to make a difference?
Get involved in a cause that you have a personal connection with because the feeling you experience when even a very minor breakthrough occurs is indescribable. As an example, I made a large donation to St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research (SVI) to support their groundbreaking islet transplant program. Islets live in the pancreas and for people with Type 1 diabetes, they actually stop producing insulin. Through collaboration with other researchers and institutions around Australia, we now have 18 former sufferers of Type 1 diabetes living insulin-free.
How do you inspire others to be philanthropic?
Through my actions, through the networking I do in the football, health and medical research and business communities, talking with people about my passion and (hopefully) inspiring them to consider using their skills and talents to support philanthropic causes.
Do you mentor any budding philanthropists?
I am particularly passionate about encouraging the next generation of philanthropists to donate their time and resources to supporting health and medical research in Australia. We live in such a wealthy country. It’s important for those that experience a degree of success to give something back.
How can they get started?
Attend a charitable event, support a cause, ask questions of your friends and colleagues about the causes they support and why. There are so many little and big things you can do to make a difference.
If you are happy to share, as an estimate, how much have you personally given in both time and money?
I would spend at least 40 hours each week attending to the various causes I support, or in my role as Chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, International Patron of JDRF International, Foundation Chairman of SVI and the many other honorary positions I hold. Financially, the contribution is significant too. Each year, I hold the Susan Alberti Medical Research Foundation Charitable Ball, which has raised millions for research into Type 1 diabetes.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us about philanthropy in general or your experiences?
I really enjoy giving. It’s a very important part of who I am. I’ve always done it and, as I mentioned, it was instilled in me at a very early age. I have been fortunate that success in my business career has allowed me to give back to the community through contributing to health and medical research.
How You Can Give
Find out more about Dr Alberti’s foundation by visiting the Susan Alberti Medical Research Foundation.
Kick up your heels at the annual SAMRF Signature Ball.
Philanthropy Australia’s Guide to Giving to understand more about giving your time and resources for public good.