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Mark Valerio hasn't followed a typical accounting career – but he wouldn't have it any other way.
The assurance partner at PwC, Association of Children's Welfare Agencies (ACWA) board member, Chartered Accountant and father-of-three didn't start out at PwC with a plan to get involved in social issues but when an opportunity to work with a non-for-profit organisation came his way, he embraced the new and exciting challenge.
"It's really clarified how important having a purpose is in what you do," Mark said. "I'm extremely passionate and driven to support these guys."
Mark began his social responsibility journey by enrolling in the Observership Program1, a not-for-profit scheme that connects individuals wanting to make a difference with organisations that require the skills and expertise of people in other sectors.
"The path I ended up going down was to support vulnerable children, and I was lucky enough to be partnered with ACWA," he says. ACWA is NSW's peak body for non-government community service organisations, delivering valuable services to children, young people and their families2."
After serving as an observer on the ACWA board, it soon became clear to both the association and Mark that his years of working in professional services could be invaluable to them, so he agreed to be considered for appointment as an official director on the board. Two years later, he couldn't be happier with that decision.
"I feel like I am really helping ACWA," he says. "Part of their role is to advocate for children and young people who are vulnerable, so what I've been able to do is use some of my skills to help set up a risk management framework. They can now better anticipate any issues that come up, and are better prepared to mitigate those risks."
ACWA Deputy CEO, Wendy Foote credits Mark with "linking" the Association with other, like-minded professionals and organisations: "He has been so valuable, putting us in contact with other people who have a different focus within PwC, who can help us along our journey, and that in turn has meant we've been able to influence a broader range of stakeholders and that will create leverage for us when we are lobbying policy and decision makers in the government. He's a great facilitator."
Wendy notes Mark's role as an Observer on the ACWA board was used judiciously. "Part of Mark's skill is that he was able to sit back, watch and listen, which gave him time to figure out where his special contribution could fit," she says. "Mark has, in turn, gained insight into the particular challenges experienced by the not-for-profit sector and has become an advocate for the good work ACWA performs within his own workplace."
As a result, PwC has now updated their HR policy to name foster care as a form of leave available to staff. "That means the employees there are more likely to think about foster care as something they could legitimately do – this was a perfect pairing for an NGO and a corporate. We found that "sweet spot" where the goals of PwC and ACWA converged in a powerful way," Wendy says.
"PwC further evolved their own HR policies in line with their corporate values of diversity, and at the same time providing what I see as a potential "game changer" for the child welfare sector. This sweet spot is what we are looking for when we work with the corporate sector – there really can be a big multiplier effect in making social change."
However, that's not all Mark's doing for ACWA; as well as helping throw the annual state-wide foster care picnic, he's also taken it upon himself to streamline the board's reporting program, resulting in more meaningful board meetings.
"When the board directors all come together at the meeting, they're able to actually focus on organisational strategy, and not worry about information that is sometimes irrelevant to them," Mark explains.
Part of ACWA's mission is to provide effective leadership through the development and promotion of best practice for not-for-profit (NFP) organisations dedicated to helping at-risk children. Mark's main role in this is to ensure that such organisations are fully supported – so he is dedicated to equipping NFPs with the right tools, training and development to support at-risk children to the best of their ability and capacity.
"These organisations have the skills to help kids one-on-one while we are supporting and advocating for those kids. We're challenging the current gaps in the model to make sure that they receive the best education they can, and that foster care arrangements are stable. We have the bigger picture perspective, and eventually a big impact on these kids' lives. There is lots of work to do, but as a sector we are making progress," Mark says.
For Mark, the role has ingrained in him just how important it is to find value in the work you do: "I'm extremely passionate and driven, I offer support at any time of the day or night just because I want to, and I enjoy it. Having a purpose is a very valuable thing ACWA has given me."
Wendy says that having a corporate presence in the NFP sector brings a welcome change of perspective. Since Mark joined the board, ACWA has taken a fresh approach that is focused on evaluating the risks that are built into providing services in our sector in an objective way. On the technical side, Mark helped facilitate the production of a reporting dashboard so that ACWA can provide timely and accurate feedback to its members.
Another facet to his difference maker role is his assurance partner position at PwC. As an auditor and advisor to finance functions, Mark supports clients with internal and external audits and also leads engagement with both small and large clients, as they transform their finance function.
"I'm involved with supporting our clients, providing them insight and really helping them better manage all the challenges they face," Mark explains. "We also have a very strong push in terms of social impact – it's a big focus for the firm and I'm heavily involved in that."
Mark is proud of the contribution he has been able to make throughout his career so far: "I want more people to have the confidence to take a risk, and utilise all of their skills and experiences in the corporate world to help the community," he says. "Whether it's on boards or offering support, advice, or your time, I think people will be surprised what a positive impact they can make."