CEO of Gandel Philanthropy, Vedran Drakulic, won the accolade at CEO Magazine’s 2019 Executive of the Year Awards.
Vedran Drakulic has led the Gandel Philanthropy since its inception in 2011. Since then, Australia’s largest private family foundation has distributed charitable grants exceeding A$100 million, and from 2017 to 2018 total donations grew from $15 to $17 million.
Vedran’s major achievements include the Pauline Gandel Children’s Gallery at Melbourne Museum and the Gandel Holocaust Education Conference, which drew 300 participants nationwide.
The other finalists included Zena Burgess from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Michael Hopkins of Master Builders ACT and Arabella Gibson of Gidget Foundation Australia.
In honour of his award, here’s a look back at an interview we did last year ahead of the same awards when Vedran was a finalist.
Vedran Drakulic has contributed much to Australian society since he left war-torn Bosnia in 1995 and arrived here as a refugee. Honoured with a Medal of the Order of Australia for his service to the community through charitable organisations in 2017, the CEO of Gandel Philanthropy is now a finalist in CEO Magazine’s 2018 Not-for-Profit Executive of the Year Award.
During the Bosnian War, Vedran worked for the International Red Cross as a logistics officer, interpreter, and press officer. He continued his work with the Red Cross in Australia and later worked for Oxfam Australia and RACV before joining Gandel Philanthropy, one of Australia’s largest private family foundations.
F&P asked Vedran some questions about philanthropy, working with nonprofits and leadership.
Philanthropy is growing in Australia but so is the number of causes, charities and social enterprises. How does Gandel Philanthropy approach decision-making regarding funding?
It is quite heartening to see the growth in philanthropy happening in Australia today, as well as the actual democratisation of giving, where anyone and everyone can join in and become a philanthropist. It is a trend that I believe will continue, as will the continued growth in the causes and the general need.
The issues of how to choose, who, where, for what and how much, are probably some of the most important, and also most challenging questions for any philanthropist, be they the donor, the administrator or indeed the facilitator. And there is no single answer to this, no ‘silver bullet’, as it were. Different philanthropic entities will decide in different ways, from those that are being very general, or very responsive, to those that are super-structured in their decision making, or with a very narrow focus.
In my view, it all comes down to going back to basics. For Gandel Philanthropy, which is very much a private family foundation, with a keen, direct and hands-on involvement of family members, the approach is two-fold. While there is a formal strategy in place, which clearly defines the areas of interest and causes that Gandel Philanthropy will seek to explore and potentially fund, there is also great flexibility to be responsive and take up other, emerging or pressing community issues and tackle those – especially those that may be close to the heart of family members.
Another element to the decision making is related to results. In today’s world, with a very strong emphasis on results and measuring impact, family members on the board are very much driven by such parameters. However, they also consciously apply the ‘using both the heart and the mind’ philosophy to giving. While crunching the numbers is often very important, being bold and brave and backing the sometimes-less-tangible ideas or causes is also looked upon favourably.
What advice to you have for nonprofits in this competitive environment?
It is always difficult to provide general advice, as very philanthropic entity is different, in its strategy, in its decision making, in cycles of operating and so on. There is a saying in the sector, “If you’ve met one foundation, you’ve met one foundation”…. My advice to NFPs is to do their homework. These days more and more foundations and trusts have publicly available annual reports, websites and other info. Make sure you understand what the organisation is involved in, within your own field of operations, who else they funded and for what, and you can possibly narrow down the ones that are more likely to fund you. When you are meeting a foundation representative, come prepared. We look you up, we research all the background info on the organisation that we are meeting – you should do the same…
Be in it for the long haul – don’t expect that you will get a grant quickly, or at first try – you might, but if you don’t that should not be the end of your efforts. Don’t be afraid to ask – and be persuasive. Show us you know what you are talking about and what you are trying to achieve. At our end, we see hundreds of approaches and applications, and we can quickly evaluate the chances of success – don’t fall at the first hurdle.
Finally, remember the most important thing in this: receiving a grant is only the start – organisations should put as much effort into maintaining the relationship (if not more!) as you did into successfully applying for funding.
Gandel Philanthropy believes more can be achieved by working in collaboration. What is an example of a partnership you’ve had with a nonprofit that has worked well and why.
That statement is something that our Chair, John Gandel AC, has always emphasised very strongly. We can indeed achieve much more by collaboration, joining forces and working in partnership – and not only with NFPs, but with other funders and stakeholders as well.
In recent years Gandel Philanthropy has entered into a number of partnerships and collaborations and by and large they have been successful and beneficial for all involved, especially those that are being assisted through the programs. I can mention two, which are very different in their nature. One is a straight out program supporting Indigenous people who are released from prison to recover and lead fulfilling lives. We partnered with The Torch, which is a small, Indigenous-led organsiation delivering an in-prison program for Indigenous people to get involved in art-related activities, to also offer post-release support and assistance. The program has been hugely successful and the demand is outstripping supply. Along the way other funding partners also came on board, such as Equity Trustees.
Another example is a fantastic collaboration on all sides – we teamed up with several funding partners to support a coalition of over 100 organisations that were seeking to convince Australian state governments to extend the out-of-home care support beyond the age of 18 to 21. The Home Stretch campaign has already seen success, most recently when the Victorian government announced it will trial the extension. This is an example of a very successful collaboration related to influencing policy decisions that could positively affect the lives of young people.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I guess my leadership style evolved over time, picking up ‘tips and tricks of trade’ along the way from colleagues, mentors and peers, and I expect it to continue to evolve. Having said that, my approach is one of leading by example and showing the way. I try to ensure we have a participative culture at Gandel Philanthropy, while at the same time always keeping my eyes on what we are trying to achieve – which is in our mission, to create a positive and lasting difference in people’s lives.
What are one or two important lessons you’ve learned about leadership over the years?
I had the privilege of having a number of great mentors in my career, including the late Jim Carlton AO, who was my boss at Australian Red Cross, and also my current Chair, John Gandel AC. They always provided sound advice and great guidance, especially when it comes to leadership. One of the things I learned early on from Jim was to never make assumptions, to be close to the team I am working with and to encourage growth in others. My current Chair taught me to talk less and listen more – still a work in progress! – to ensure I get the right people in the team, and that one continues learning for as long as they live!