26/03/2014 - 16:00

Telethon institute targets state’s business sector

26/03/2014 - 16:00

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The Telethon Institute for Child Health Research is targeting philanthropists and the corporate sector under a new business model aimed at diversifying its revenue base.

Telethon institute targets state’s business sector
Jonathan Carapetis is leading the Telethon Institute into a new era beyond reliance on government grants. Photo: Attila Csaszar

The Telethon Institute for Child Health Research is targeting philanthropists and the corporate sector under a new business model aimed at diversifying its revenue base.

As part of the strategic shift away from reliance on government grants, the institute has also rebranded and changed its named to the Telethon Kids Institute.

Director Jonathan Carapetis said the new name and brand was intended to clarify the institute’s purpose and show its desire for collaboration with various stakeholders.

 “It’s really us showing that we’re coming out of our ivory towers, out of our labs and opening the doors to the community and partnerships to solve important problems,” Professor Carapetis said.

The new collaborative strategy is a significant shift from the traditional research institute model, under which researchers independently decide on research topics and judge success by the publication of findings.

Professor Carapetis said limited funding had resulted in a narrow focus set on a cycle of securing grants – meaning achieving real results had become a secondary objective.

“We all agree that we’re here to improve the health and wellbeing of children … but we realised that over time we have probably moved away from that focus on specific outcomes,” he said.

“Health researchers have always done research to improve health … but the system has forced people back into this very competitive environment that is focused on the next grant and the next publication.

“In the past a researcher would have based their entire research around receiving those grants; what I’m saying is that that’s not the way of the future.”

Professor Carapetis said the institute spent months preparing grant applications, despite knowing that more than 80 per cent of them were going to be rejected – a failure rate that had increased and which Professor Carapetis believed was a sign of things to come.

“The funding for research in this country is not growing like it has over the last 20 years, in fact it has plateaued and is starting to fall,” he said.

“At the same time we’ve got more researchers asking for a lot more money for every single grant.”

Professor Carapetis said philanthropic donors and corporations were the most likely to make up for the lack of growth in grants revenue, but they wanted to see results from investment.

The institute’s income from donations has been increasing in recent years; it was $7.7 million in 2012, up from $5.6 million in 2011.

In comparison, grants provided $8.2 million, or 22 per cent, of the institute’s $37.7 revenue for the 2012 calendar year.

Professor Carapetis said he was confident there was enough philanthropic and corporate sponsorship capacity in Western Australia to enable the revenue pool to grow and eventually overtake the contribution from grants.

“It has been increasing but it needs to be increasing at a much greater rate,” Professor Carapetis told Business News.

“The institute has had a high profile but it’s sort of limited to some of the larger corporations and the penetration is not necessarily that wide.

“We’re encouraged by the things that are starting to happen in Australia, but also particularly in this state.”

Professor Carapetis said WA had a strong culture of giving but much of that was anonymous – something he said needed to change to encourage more giving.

“The idea of significant philanthropists being much more willing to share what they’re doing is a good thing,” he said.

Professor Carapetis said the new collaborative approach would attract more interest from potential sponsors and donors, with negotiations already under way as a result of the shift in the institute’s branding.

The new business model will work through four research areas – chronic disease, early environment, brain and behaviour, and Aboriginal health – with each of those segments tasked with establishing a network of stakeholders.

Professor Carapetis said the institute was seeking to develop a methodology by which it could verify the efficacy of its research, and aimed to have this in place by 2017 in line with its 2013-17 strategic plan.

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