• Inclusion is Good for Business

    19m 30s

    Dr Jeff Walkley is the National Disability & Diversity Manager with Belgravia Leisure, and CEO of the Belgravia Foundation. Over four decades, Jeff has made exemplary contributions in sport, inclusion, physical activity, physical education, and disability. He has created sustained improvements in sport, physical education and inclusion in Australia. His achievements have led to his advice being sought by government departments and national and state sport organisations. He has provided expert advice in legal proceedings related to inclusion, culminating in improved access to sport for girls and women.

Graphical summary and transcript


Look thanks everyone for the opportunity to speak to you today. I wish to alert you that I intend to be provocative, I have been in this sector working to increase opportunities for people who are marginalized for 4 decades.

It’s amazingly reluctant to change. But I think I’ve found a way. I wish to talk to you about what’s happened in the last 5 to 10 years in my life in my pursuit to create opportunities for those people who’ve been missing out.

So I’ll take you through that story and it may show you a way to achieve the outcomes you’ve been seeking for people with a disability.

The concept is inclusion is good for business. I work with an organization called Belgravia Leisure. It’s part of a Belgravia Group. The Belgravia Group is a half a billion dollar company. Belgravia Leisure contributes over $100 million dollars to that. Belgravia Leisure operates over 200 venues in Australia in New Zealand, and I’m the national disability and diversity manager with that organization.

They did not have a person in that role three years ago.

Importantly, Belgravia Leisure is a commercial company. It is not a states sporting organization, it is not a national sporting organization, it is not government. And what it is, is a new approach to inclusion which is working. And I’ll talk to you about how we’ve made it work.

But a little context about my life journey as well. You heard earlier in the day from Wayne. Who talked to us about his journey commencing in country New South Wales in a small high school. My journey is similar and I knew a Wayne in my local community. And when I got to the age of 11 or 12, this kid was always around at school. But never after school, on weekends, or during school holidays. He was absent. So I did inquire of my brother once, being the youngest of 4 siblings, where was Wayne? And my brother looked a me like only a brother can look at a younger brother, confirmed in his own mind what an idiot I was.

And he said to me, what’s his nickname? And I said, it’s Lone. And he said is why is that nickname Lone? And I said I’ve got no idea, and he said because he’s always alone.

Wayne has cerebral palsy, and he was unable to be included in the part of my life that I cherish and it was sport and physical activity. And from that day I thought, it’s just not right. And I’ll do something about it. Moving on I became a physical education teacher because I was amazed that people could get paid for doing that. And I enjoyed that for a few years, but I had sent myself on a journey to improve my skills to help those who needed to be included in sport. So I trained as a researcher and then worked as a researcher for 3 decades. During the latter part of that we were fortunate enough to have Belgravia Leisure come onto the campus and run the sports facilities. The sports facilities to that stage had become from a budgetary perspective deplorable. It was the deepest blackhole that an accountant could find.

The university had had enough, so the board had announced that an external operator would run the business. Within 6 years it was in the black. And I know that because I became chair of the board for that sports organization. I know the finance inside out, and I know that it was the inclusion programs that we created that tipped it into profit. I used to get the point of sale receipts after programs that we ran. I knew that we were increasing the percentage of earnings as a consequence of these programs and it created in me an idea.

So I then when finishing the university was taken by to lunch by the COO of Belgravia Leisure, and over lunch he said to me Jeff, what are you going to do now? And I said to him, Mecca, I know him by that name, not much for 6 or so months. But then I’m coming to work with you. He thought it was cheeky but he liked the notion and he said, what will you do? And I told him that I’d create good social outcomes in the communities in which they operated leisure centers at a profit. And he looked at me and said, we’ll talk.

6 months later I joined with him, gave him a business plan and said we can do this. So the way that we operate within Belgravia Leisure is really intriguing because what was being said earlier in the day is what we do. What is being said earlier in the day is what we do. Coming from a research background I bulked all of the information together to guide us on a process to make inclusion a priority for our organization. From the highest level, the owner is now a strong unequivocal supporter for inclusion for our organization. The CEO, the COO< all of the general managers, all of the state managers, all of the regional managers are strong advocates and supporters. I know that because people come tell me that they are in your corner, Jeff. As a consequence of that I then decided that we had the capacity to achieve excellence in inclusion access in leisure centers.

But we did this because we have evidence at the core of what we do. There’s a culture within our organization that without data there is no decision. And being a research trained person I understand and I use data to drive opportunities, to create inclusion and access. We have proof that we create outcomes that are desired in the communities in which we work, because we engage with those communities to identify through their contributions, what are their preferences, what are their priorities and their needs. And we worked and act as a conduit to link them to what we already offer, or we create what they need. And we’ve have done that innumerable times and as a consequence it’s led to high market share. And it’s led to good yield and commercial viability.

I can tell you by center, by state, by country the amount of money that we earn. I know inclusion is good for business. And this is a concept which is not typically considered within this pursuit to create equal opportunity for all Australians or all New Zealanders where we work.

We follow best practice frameworks, so the 7 pillars of inclusion and the principles of universal design. We bring together the best available information about how an organization should operate, is something we’ve achieved. Additionally the Victorian Active Aging Partnership have put together a framework in relation to how an organization should operate.

So we have outstanding leadership that is committed and prioritized inclusion. We have the policies. We have the resources. And we have the plans. We have committed staff. We have created a national access and inclusion leadership group which is distributed in the regions that we operate. We have leadership strength with all of our state managers. I also strategically and this was quite purposeful, but it was not my idea, it was the COO’s idea that when we created the Belgravia foundation, one of the general managers is the son of the owner of the company. And we talked with Alex and said that it would be an excellent idea if he became chair of the Belgravia Foundation. A full registered charitable organization within Australia.

So we were strategic. We have leadership, we have culture. But we also have programs that work. And we know they work because we collect information and we look at the things that people are seeking from those programs. We look at the things that are known to be barriers, that prevent their connection to programs and we investigate that. We collect the information, we aggregate it, we use the data to drive decisions. And it has allowed us then to be able to do things like this.

So, it’s crass, but I can show you the money.

And it creates sustainability. This is an important thing. A little side step to an event in my life 15 years ago. Running the Creating Sporting Chance Program we were shortlisted with 8 other groups to receive a state award in Victoria. I went to the event and I spoke with the other 7 groups. The event was organized in the March/April period and the award was for the proceeding year. Of the 8 different programs, short listed for the reward, related to inclusion, only one survived. And that was the Creating Sporting Chance Program, because I looked at the EFTAS receipts after programs and knew the money that was being made. All other 7 groups had failed. And they had failed because they didn’t plan for sustainability, which is based on the combination of social outcomes desired by a community and the financial viability.

So we were able to do that. Let me show you two examples, and remember we operate over 200 venues across Australia and New Zealand. Carcieri is in the regional northern area of New South Wales and it’s been one of our venues which has been enacting good work related to inclusion for a long time.

We didn’t have any data from 2015 for that year when we started with an inclusion coordinator. But by the end of 2016 we knew there were 115 people with a disability that were involved in programs being offered by that venue.

And this is only the people we were able to identify and only the value of the yield is included in that, we suspect that we underestimate by around 40 or 60%, the number of people with a disability. And I’m only speaking about disability in this example.

So we know we had combined through visitations of patrons and their families around 9,000 people. We got our modeling around what the typical spend is per visit and we know what the yield was from the programs, and in that year the profit, this is profit, this is after all costs was $23,000.

It’s no secret that we continue with that because from a commercial enterprises point of view, inclusion is good for business.

Let me show you another one I’m particularly proud of and it’s Culside Centenary Pool. Many Victorians probably don’t know about Culside Centenary Pool but Heritage Victoria have got their eye on it because it is so old it is amazing that it still exists. It has a covering which is cloth, held up by massive fans which inflate the cloth.

It’s a big balloon.

Now they have done an outstanding job, typical 50 meter pool, 30 centimeter lip, not accessible at all, but what they did within 18 months was to create a situation whereby people traveled to that venue and went past 6 other aquatic recreation centers. One of which is a brand spanking new $45 million dollar regional aquatic center. And why do they go past it? Because of the staff and the way that they enact inclusion. So from the data from that example took it from 12 to 132, it’s currently just over 180. When we did the calculations we know that that venue for that financial year, that calendar year was able to have profit of $28,000. That’s two of our venues.

So we convinced that inclusion is good for business. So convinced that the start of this year when I was doing was my succeed and grow, my annual report with the COO who I report to, we sat down and talked about how things were going halfway through the reporting period. We both agreed that things were going pretty well and I said but there’s something Mecca that I want to do. And I said I want to move from good to great and I want to achieve world’s best practice. We talked about how we would do that, and I said the first thing was to bring together a plan which was authenticated and validated by the key groups within Australia.

So we developed a plan and we asked and we were supported by the key groups as shown by the logos on the screen. We brought them together in Melbourne in the end of April of this year and that group gave us feedback, authenticated our plan, and give us validation.

It was important because I then was able to take it to the executive leadership team who make the decisions about dollars and they approved the plan for the next 5 years, and the resourcing implications are impressive. We will have an inclusion coordinator, this is a part-time role from one of the other roles within the leisure center, in all of our year-around venues by the end of this year. With my salary included and their salary included, it’s well over a million dollars commitment annually for staffing.

Additionally we decided that this year we would enact a national access and inclusion leadership group which also has a resource implication but we would also require—and this is the great thing about working in business—we can require staff to do things. And we have required and mandated by the 30th of September this year, they complete a 30 minute online training module related to inclusion, disability and leisure centers. We know that that training improves their understanding, knowledge and confidence, which collectively is that thing called attitude which is one of the 7 pillars of inclusion.

We did the research with 300 of our staff and looked at their knowledge, understanding and confidence before and after training and we know that it led to a significant improvement in those elements. So my organization was happy to authorize that the training was mandatory for all staff to be completed by the 30th of September this year, and if any of our casual staff arrived at work on the 1st of October and they went to login to work, it would come up and they would be denied work permission. We did it. We have nearly 5000 staff.

So, it was an example of the commitment of the organization, the culture of the organization to bring about a change. So our next plan is all of them will have a community development plan completed by the end of this month, the 31st of this month. What does that involve? Every one of them reaching out into the communities in which they operate to identify from all of the community stakeholders and organizations, what are the needs, preferences and priorities of that community that we can impact through leisure.

So the 5 year plan is a really powerful document for me. It’s given me to access to resources, it’s given me authority to maintain the momentum to move from good to great in relation to access and inclusion in leisure. Thanks for your time.