Summary & Recommendation
The Uniting Business Network (UBN) is no longer viable. The cancellation of the first scheduled event for 2015 triggered this stocktake.
Lauren Harkness (the recently engaged UBN Event Manager), Heather Morgan (immediate past UBN Facilitator), and I (Chairperson of the UBN Committee) do not see any prospect of attracting the numbers of attendees needed to attain financial viability by 30 June 2015, the deadline set for UBN by the Sydney North Presbytery (SNP).
Accordingly I recommended that the UBN Committee and the SNP Business Committee resolve as follows:
- to finalise the contract with LH Event Management with the scheduled payment for February ($1300) as the final payment, and to thank Lauren for her efforts;
- to thank Heather Morgan for her outstanding efforts in sustaining UBN over a three year period;
- to thank members of the UBN committee and others over the years who have supported UBN activities and organisation;
- to ask the Committee to wind up UBN affairs (website, records, etc.,) and
- to urge the Committee and others interested to continue with occasional informal meals as a forum for discussion of business and spirituality issues and for exploring new opportunities.
Current Status of UBN
SNP decided in 2014 that its budget allocation for the UBN would be the last which subsidised the activity, achievement of a self-sustaining status being essential by 30 June 2015. A budget for the year of $9900 was allocated.
The UBN Committee, for the SNP Business Committee, contracted Lauren Harkness (LH Event Management) to organise events at North Sydney and Macquarie in a new style and format. Lauren, a younger member of the Uniting Church, operates an event management business. The immediate objective for UBN was to attract a younger cohort of members active in business and the professions, primarily in the North Sydney and Macquarie areas.
The first event scheduled for 25 February at North Sydney and featuring Rev Graham Long of Wayside Chapel as the guest speaker, was cancelled due to inadequate response. Only nine people registered, all members of the Committee or their family except for two, neither of whom were from the North Sydney business cohort. This outcome was despite wider than usual advertisement, a new venue and a switch from lunchtime to a convenient early-evening time.
Lauren, Heather Morgan and I met on 26 February to review the viability of continuing with the planned program in the light of the contract for the first half of 2015.
Some of the factors we consider are playing into this situation are:
- increasing time pressure in modern business;
- competing professional and social interests;
- inability to engage younger people actively involved in business or professional life in the work of the Committee, the majority of UBN attendees now being people retired from business and professional life or nearing retirement;
- a broader change in the spirit of the age as it impacts on matters of religion, spirituality, volunteerism and life, ie the zeitgeist is shifting;
Brief Review of UBN history
A review of the trajectory of UBN hitherto may be worthwhile. It commenced in the early 2000s at the initiative of Sean McSharry, then Chair of SNP, as an informal lunch at a North Sydney pub to talk over matters of business and faith for a handful of people involved in business and ‘church’.
It then expanded to become a light monthly luncheon at the Australian Institute of Management (AIM) Building on Pacific Highway, North Sydney. A facilitator active in business circles was engaged to arrange the events and organise speakers and venues. This proceeded well for several years with attendances typically between 15 and 25 and a wide range of people speaking. A second facilitator was less engaged with business circles and the range of speakers became more restricted, frequently drawn from people in the service of the Uniting Church. Numbers began to fall to the point that on one occasion in 2011 only two people came in addition to the speaker. Several informal ‘reviews’ in this period reached the conclusion that UBN was a worthwhile activity for SNP to support, but that it needed a new direction and more purposeful guidance.
A UBN committee was formed under the auspices of the SNP Business Committee and it proceeded to advertise the position of Facilitator. Mrs Heather Morgan, a person with extensive background in the Uniting Church and good business contacts, was engaged at the beginning of 2012 for a two-year period. There were many achievements in this time:
- Attendance typically ranged from a dozen to thirty, with a core of about eight people supporting regularly;
- A range of community, business, professional and church speakers addressed the meetings;
- Many new contacts were made and the concept of networking among business colleagues was pursued;
- Several well-attended evening functions were held at North Sydney;
- Bi-monthly early-evening meetings in the Macquarie Park business area were commenced;
- A web site was established at part of the SNP website;
- The North Sydney venue was transferred from the AIM premises, with its impending relocation to the Sydney CBD, to the Mary McKillop Centre at North Sydney; and
- The Committee met regularly to assist in planning and promoting events.
In 2013 the SNP Business Committee agreed to continue supporting UBN, although it had not quite met its target of an average attendance of twenty per meeting. This was offset by a more reasonable pricing structure at the Mary McKillop Centre. But it began to become more difficult to attract people to the meetings at North Sydney and Macquarie, although there was no diminution in the quality of speakers or publicity.
The Committee engaged in a review process in the second half of 2014 and a range of marketing, organisational and strategic aspects were considered and a meeting was held with several people with marketing and organisational skills, including Lauren. The need to expand into the social media area was acknowledged, although there was limited capacity among committee members to engage in this way.
Heather tendered her resignation effective at the end of 2014 and suggested the Committee consider Ms Lauren Harkness to undertake the management task in 2015. Lauren submitted several proposals through LH Event Management. Finally she was contracted by the Committee to run events in the first half of 2015, with a clear understanding that no subsidy could be provided to UBN after June 2015.
Key underlying concepts of UBN throughout have been:\
- The Uniting Church no longer has a presence in North Sydney and the UBN represented an outreach to business and professional people in the North Sydney CBD;
- There are spiritual and ethical dimensions to business and professional life that warrant a discussion forum of a type which is rarely feasible in the context of normal church life;
- Many people realise that a life of commitment to God and spirituality extends beyond the world of weekly worship and fellowship and has a place in their work lives; and
- A gathering such as UBN provides opportunities for business and professional networking.
The Presbytery, the Business Committee, the UBN Committee and all who have generously given time to the UBN can feel they have achieved something worthwhile in the last decade or more of activity. Many people have been touched by UBN.
However, one of the key features of modern business and professional life is the ability to assess realistically our situation and the need for flexibility. It is time to move on to other activities. It is possible that informal discussions among UBN participants and others may yield some new approaches. It is certain that following generations will evolve new ways of relating their faith and philosophy of life to their daily activities. Deo volunte!
2 March 2015