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Connecting up with Doug Jacquier

3 min read

In the beginning
Jacquier was running youth coffee shops and rock shows when a friend suggested he take up a social work degree.

“I focused on community development work, including the community recovery from the Ash Wednesday bushfires in Victoria. I also took an active role in the early years of public broadcasting. I spent ten years in public welfare management in the difficult areas of youth offending and child protection, before a stint running a staff development enterprise,” he says.

“I moved to the Kimberley region of WA in the late 1990s and worked with Aboriginal communities on developing sustainable business plans in areas like tourism and this reinforced my desire to make a contribution to the not-for-profit sector as a whole in a more formal way. I was therefore delighted when I was offered the CEO’s job with CISA (now Connecting Up Australia) in 2000 and I’ve been here ever since.”

Connecting Up
From the beginning of information technology, Jacquier says Connecting Up were educating the local not-for-profit (NFP) sector in the use of electronic databases and the web to increase their productivity and to communicate more effectively.

“Increasingly we were being asked by other organisations to help them out with their technology issues and this gradually evolved into formal IT consultancy services and providing technology information on our website,” he says.

The website gradually became a national resource and in 2004 the company convened the first national Connecting Up Conference. Staging the event was a huge risk for the small organisation and while they expected 100 people, they were overwhelmed when 270 turned up from all over Australia. And the numbers have continued to rise with 320 attending last year’s event in Brisbane.

“We have known for some time that our long-term survival depended on carving out a role at the national level. That was reinforced when we led the consortium that completed the Commonwealth-funded National Nonprofit ICT Coalition consultancy in 2006.”

Citing the lack of any comprehensive database of the NFP sector as a major challenge, Jacquier says this has made it difficult for them to spread the word about the services they offer. However they are slowly growing their list through word of mouth and online social networks.

Going abroad
In 2004, the Connecting Up Board again made what Jacquier describes as “a courageous strategic decision, to invest in linking the organisation with other not-for-profits with similar aims in the UK and the US”. During that year he attended his first UK conference on NFP technology organised by NFP Lasa, and met with representatives of two of the key NFP technology organisations, NTEN and TechSoup in the US.

“In NTEN we recognised a model that would be a great fit with the aims of Connecting Up conferences, and in the TechSoup technology donation program we saw the sustainable model we’d been seeking over many years of see-saw government grants and living hand-to-mouth.”

Many meetings, emails and phone calls later, Connecting Up were well positioned when TechSoup began looking for partners for its TechSoup Global expansion program. A formal agreement was signed in 2006 and the program was launched in 2007. Since then Connecting Up has channelled donations from Microsoft, Cisco and other donors to over 2,500 organisations, delivering some $30 million in savings in vital software and hardware. In July last year the group further expanded the DonorTec program with the launch of TechSoup New Zealand.

Biggest challenges
Resistance to change from within the sector, as well as a lack of government support are just some of the barriers Jacquier says are hindering the creation of a more tech-savvy, communicative and productive third sector in Australia.

“The sector is often held back by the false belief that somehow technology and the ‘real’ work of the sector are chalk and cheese, when all the evidence suggests otherwise,” says Jacquier. “As just one example, we had an organisation tell us the other day that the technology upgrade we facilitated had allowed them to serve over 400 new clients.”

The lack of consistent government support for the sector, especially at the Commonwealth Government level, is also cause for concern, says Jacquier, with too much support for “flavour of the month projects” rather than a “systematic program that can make a multi-year contribution.”

“The Commonwealth Government has set aside millions to support the Clean Business Australia scheme to make businesses more environmentally and climate change friendly, but nowhere in sight is a ‘Clean Not-For-Profit Australia’ scheme?” he questions.

“The challenge facing all of Australia is to graduate from our current ‘fraudband’ internet architecture to a true high-speed broadband network available Australia-wide, especially in rural and remote areas,” says Jacquier. “But what we also need is ‘meeting points’ between the sector, government, business and philanthropy. Much of this can be done online and we are working towards rolling out social web tools to help this happen.

“We need to link philanthropic money to social objectives, government policy to on-the-ground action, and the third sector to the resources that will grow their capacity, to help business, government and philanthropy make a real difference to the lives of Australians.”

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