Professor Rosemary Addis AM is steered by positive impact

The Faculty of Business and Economics is proud to announce the recent appointment of Professor Rosemary Addis AM as Enterprise Professor in impact, sustainability and innovation.

Professor Rosemary Addis’s career spans three decades and is primarily concerned with impact. “Everything we do has an impact,” she says, “it’s about understanding which impacts matter.” With a career traversing just about every sector – from practicing law in two hemispheres, leading federal government innovation, and heading up the strategy for global initiatives and market building, Prof Addis has returned to the University where she gained her own tertiary education with an eye to applying what she has learnt to shaping the next generation of leaders.

Woman smiling
Professor Rosemary Addis

Prof Addis says her foundations in law set her up for success. She completed her law degree (with first class honours) at the University of Melbourne in 1990 and went on to become an equity partner of Allens-Linklaters, one of Melbourne’s top-tier law firms. “Professional service firms are a great place to start your career,” she said. “I had a really fascinating practice where I was able to do a variety of client work across commercial and litigation and help client’s problem-solve, as well as pro bono work and gain experience in the management of the firm. In some ways, the rich opportunities that I had early in my career grew my appetite to explore other sectors.”

Prof Addis says she was fortunate to have a range of experience within the law. As the first female lawyer sent by the firm overseas, she spent several years in New York City in the 90s, where she was admitted to the NY bar and later worked for leading US firm, Kirkland & Ellis working on transactions from venture capital through to mergers and acquisitions. A combination of this international exposure, her growing curiosity, and her experiences working in global markets enhanced Prof Addis’s appetite to learn more. “I wanted to see how I could apply my skills differently. When you're in law, a lot of what you do is transactional and can be quite partisan in terms of the way you're negotiating or involved in disputes or transactions…I was curious to look at different ways of operating and explore how you could facilitate more generative strategic relationships.”

Her interest in the intersection between big public and social value goals and the private sector provided the building blocks for what was to come. “I'd always had a social justice bent and the idea that you could build that into corporate strategy to get better performance and better outcomes for a range of stakeholders made sense. The more I read and explored, the more sense it made.”

Seeing the untapped potential to deliver greater social impact in the corporate and finance sectors, long before the term “impact investing” was trending on Twitter, Prof Addis started to carve out a niche in Australia and globally as an expert in this field. “I started to see clearly that if we couldn't change how we finance social and environmental innovations, then we can talk about scaling solutions all we like, but it's not going to be possible.  There are real impediments to being able to drive things to scale; a lot of those are a function of the way resourcing works. At the same time, the challenges are more than governments and philanthropy alone can meet. And the more you focus on the potential of markets, the more you see opportunities that have been overlooked or mis-priced to bring together social, environmental and economic value.”

Prof Addis sitting on a panel for the US National Advisory Board on Impact Investing.

These ideas shaped Prof Addis’ first business started in 2003 and, while her work since has spanned sectoral boundaries, they have remained the central theme.

Being recruited to a senior leadership position at the Smith Family provided first-hand experience of the community sector. “I’ve always felt very passionate about educational opportunities…I think it's a huge game changer. Equity has always been a motivator for me, as well as integrity and excellence, so this was a great role from which to better understand barriers to opportunity.” Leading in the community sector was also an exercise in managing constraints, Prof Addis says. This experience gave her a new appreciation for the role of policy too. “I'd advised governments at very senior levels on different topics, including big privatisations, but hadn't had the experience of how you got a piece of social policy from concept to reality. I was curious to understand that because it seemed like an important piece of the puzzle.”

This curiosity led Prof Addis to a role in policy in the Victorian Premier’s Department when the Honourable John Brumby AO was Premier, which kicked off a period of six years she jokingly looks back on as her time as an ‘accidental bureaucrat’. “I was asked to run the National Reform Agenda into COAG. From that vantage point, I got a very interesting view across the different jurisdictions. We were looking at the whole of our federal system and how it worked and how it could work better.”

From there, Prof Addis was invited to move to the Federal Government in a role created to take advantage of her experience. As Social Innovation Strategist, she led pioneering work establishing new investment vehicles for social enterprise, incubating breakthrough solutions to entrenched issues of disadvantage and driving public sector innovation. “It was an incredible privilege and opportunity to shape policy outside business as usual.  This is where we really got to lay the foundations for what impact investment could be for Australia”.

That work was the trigger for Australia to be invited to contribute to a G8 taskforce that David Cameron (then UK Prime Minister) set up. The remit of this Taskforce was to see whether they could take the experience from the UK and elsewhere in the world to catalyse global markets for impact investment.  During the first G8 taskforce meeting it was decided every country would bring together a National Advisory Board (so-called) – with leaders from different sectors committed to driving impact investment forward. To ground that work, Prof Addis worked with colleagues to found Impact Investing Australia, an independent organisation dedicated to growing the opportunities for investments that deliver positive social and environmental impact alongside a financial return, since recognised by the industry as market builder of the year (2018 and 2020).

The  United Nations puts the Sustainable Development Goals up in lights.  Prof Addis advised the UN Development Programme on the strategy for SDG Impact designed to direct more capital to achievement of the goals
The United Nations puts the Sustainable Development Goals up in lights. Prof Addis advised the UN Development Programme on the strategy for SDG Impact designed to direct more capital to achievement of the goals.

Australia was the only country outside of the (then) G8 invited back in 2013 and is now a global network of 35+ countries with national bodies as part of a global steering group for impact investment, with another 30 or so countries looking at how they can participate.”  The work we led opened all sorts of doors for Australia as a go-to leader. “We had the opportunity to work with countries that I never could have imagined would call on us – a broad spectrum from New Zealand to Bangladesh, to South Korea, to Argentina, alongside the UK and the US.”

Prof Addis served as Executive Chair driving the impact market building agenda for the next seven years, throughout which she also led Australia’s engagement with the Global Steering Group for Impact Investment, the global organisation that grew out of the G8 effort. Her global work included and contributed to global market building shaping strategy for game changing initiatives such as the United Nations Development Programme’s SDG Impact and OECD’s impact initiative. Along the way, Prof. Addis has been recognised among the AFR/Westpac 100 Women of Influence in 2015, among top thought leaders by Women in Finance in 2017, with an AM in 2020 and, most recently as one of the inaugural Sorenson Global Impact Leaders, formed to recognise, elevate and amplify the contributions of those working to solve the world’s most pressing social and environmental problems.

Today, Prof Addis holds an ambassadorial role globally and at home and is turning her energy to the next frontier: integrating impact into what she refers to as 21st Century leadership and governance.

That includes co-founding global venture, Mondiale Impact, a practitioner-led partnership of trusted advisors working with leaders who are serious about impact and need to cut through the noise affecting their decisions and strategies. Her portfolio extends to an active Chairing role with women-led investment firm Sweef Capital and Climate Ready Australia 2030, and a non-executive board role with Indigenous Business Australia.

Prof Addis moderating a panel on the New Era of impact as part of GSG Leadership Meetings hosted in Turin May 2022.

Joining the Faculty of Business and Economics as an Enterprise Professorship was a very easy decision to make, Prof Addis says. “It’s really complementary and a great place to continue to connect global and local ideas and potential and tap into the energy of leaders to get behind impact as a key lever for a sustainable future.” Her goal over the next three years at the University is to see impact and sustainability more integrated in the agenda at every level, whether that's through research, teaching and the engagement and impact of the University.

“The key principle for me – the North Star – is that everything we do has an impact. And we need to understand which of these impacts matter the most. The idea that we can orient more activity through society with our choices, whether you're a consumer or business leader, towards things that have a positive impact, is very important to me,” she adds. “Universities have a key role as institutions within the community to be a beacon and building of understanding; to be an exemplar and the work done there holds critical insights to areas we can all do better.”

The Faculty leadership is excited about the perspective Prof Addis brings. Assoc Prof Brad Potter said, “We are absolutely thrilled to have Rosemary join us. It is critical that we understand and embrace the role the corporate and finance worlds can have in creating a brighter and more sustainable future. Rosemary brings a depth and breadth of experience, and an extensive array of regional and global networks that create so many fabulous opportunities. I can’t wait to see what we can achieve together.”

In a world where climate catastrophes, Covid-19 and global conflict continue to dominate our daily headlines, asked how she stays motivated to make a positive impact, Prof Addis simply replies: “What’s the alternative?”

Find Professor Addis at the University here