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A true Southbank luminary

12 Jul 2016

A true Southbank luminary Image

Acknowledged as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) on the Queen’s Birthday last month, Southbank resident Kenneth Harrison has led a visionary life of helping anyone and anything.

The Melburnian resident’s list of credentials and accomplishments is incredibly extensive and diverse, which is a reflection of his lust for life and giving to others.  

The long list, which stems from his days as a co-founding director of investment bank Collinsbank, includes leading roles on the boards of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Oxfam, the Royal Children’s Hospital, the Anaesthetists Foundation and the Australian Dental Association to name a few.

Starting out in the world of accountancy and finance banking, Ken’s first major role came as treasurer of Australian Airlines (now Qantas), before he decided to go his own way.

Having taken on a number of roles with major banks following his time at the airline, he said he and his business partner wanted to create a vehicle to invest their own energy and ideas into giving back.

“I remember almost to the day in 1985 we were sitting in his office in Collins St and he asked ‘Well if we’re going to do this what will we call it?” Ken said.  

“I was looking out the window at the time and here’s the sign for Collins St and it overlapped with Bank of Melbourne and it looked like Collinsbank.”

“The most rewarding part has been the ability to do the things you want to do, getting involved in philanthropy, working for organisations and not having to go there at nine and finish at seven at night.”

For 25 years now the pair has been running the investment bank, which has given Ken the time to do many incredible things.

Having worked as director of Oxfam for 15 years, Ken was also responsible for establishing the Ethical Investment Trust in partnership with the Bendigo Bank, which he described as “innovation through philanthropy”.

The idea behind the initiative was based on collecting interest off large investments, which is then distributed on to overseas aid projects.

Over 15 years, the trust has raised more than $10 million and a consulting group established through the initiative continues to work with the Australian Government on international aid programs.

“My approach to life is trying to bring innovation and something different, not just get out there and just raise money through traditional runs and so on. It’s to form businesses,” Ken said.

“It’s the approach. It’s about being positive and not saying ‘give us some money.’ It’s educating people about some really good causes and helping them understand why they should support it.”

He has taken this innovative approach to various other organisations since handing over the reigns at Oxfam, which have most notably included a role with the Royal Children’s Hospital and being chairman of the Royal Botanic Gardens.

As a self-confessed gardening enthusiast, Ken began his involvement with the Royal Botanic Gardens committee in 2012 and has already been an integral part of many exciting forthcoming upgrades (watch this space for more on that!).

Having lived in Southbank for 10 years, he said he had even tried to take his love for gardening to his apartment balcony over the years by building his own high-rise garden.

However, between his involvement at the gardens, owning a farm near Geelong as well as a chestnut farm in Bright, he said Southbank was central to all of his passions.

“I love Southbank but, as I said, being someone who really loves plants and botany and gardens, the frustration of trying to grow so many things on a 40sqm balcony is impossible!” he said.

“It’s great though because we walk around the inside of the tan as often as we can through the gardens so I keep an eye on how the gardens are going.”

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