GEOFF Booth is clearly passionate about education and leadership development, and the potential his new role as chairman of the Telstra Foundation gives to further this type of work.
As general manager of Telstra Country Wide during his 38 years at Telecom Australia and then Telstra, Mr Booth helped to extend the telecommunications giant’s fibre optic cables between remote communities in the Northern Territory, connecting individuals with communication – in many cases for the first time.
The importance of developing services to remote communities was not lost on him.
Mr Booth’s role as Telstra Foundation chairman will extend his capacity to work with communities in a philanthropic sense; and what he is most passionate about is developing leadership and education within remote communities.
The foundation has $4.5 million to disperse among communities – $1.2 million goes to community development in remote areas and indigenous leadership and education, and $750,000 goes to the Telstra Kids Fund, which distributes money to organisations Telstra staff are connected to through family and friends.
The rest of the funds go to what the foundation calls a ‘spotlight issue’, something the foundation decides is a current issue that needs attention.
Mr Booth said having such sums of money to give was one of the most exciting things about his new role.
“I don’t think people realise just how much difference you can make with an organisation the size of Telstra,” he said.
“That money, given to the board to decide where we place it, is definitely making a difference for kids and people across Australia, so being given the opportunity to be a part of it, and to chair it, is a wonderful privilege really.”
Mr Booth said working in a corporate philanthropic role was always on his mind, and since his retirement in June last year he decided the time was right to move into a board leadership role.
“I have got the time, and they have got the money,” he said.
He also has the skills, having worked in a senior executive role for many years at Telstra, and believes that if business people have the skills and capacity to work in the community sector, they should.
“If you have got the opportunity, you should be doing something about it,” Mr Booth said.
“You can’t just retire and sit on your hands, you have to throw your hands at something and this is a very worthy task, ambition, to chase.
“I think there are a lot of business people who have done very well out of Australia and Western Australia in particular, and there are a lot of wonderful philanthropists who stand out, but I think for business people who have done well there is an obligation to give back, not through your tax, through something more civic.
“If you have got the time and the resources and are aware of areas where you can make a difference, you should do it.
“In the business world you pick up skills and you should use them for the greater good if you have the opportunity.”
Mr Booth is hoping to direct his energy toward his passions through the myriad programs aimed at developing indigenous leadership the foundation supports.
“One of the conundrums is there is no one size or one approach (to indigenous issues); every community has to work with its own merits,” he said.