2008 NSW Corporate Volunteer of the Year
Optus and its IT Commercial Director, Karen Carmichael, have been recognised for mobilising an exemplary Employee Volunteering program at one of Sydney's most disadvantaged schools, Lurnea High School.
The program, which is part of Optus' Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Program, gives students a professional development experience with Optus, well beyond what they would otherwise have access to. Through utilising her business contacts from 17 years with Optus, Karen was able to offer the students work experience far beyond the scope of their limited personal and school networks.
For some students, this represents their only tangible link to the corporate world due to difficult socio-economic circumstances, particularly for non-English speakers. "Some of them are in war-torn Iraq one day, and then they're in the middle of Liverpool … they can't speak English, they don't even know where they live," said Karen.
Karen brings in Optus staff to the school campus, so the students can interact and get to know established professionals. Students are then invited to visit the Optus facility in Ryde, where they are involved in substantial work experience programs. "We have had the students involved in the real life of Optus, not just looking in from the outside."
The Australian Business and Community Network (ABCN) developed the Partners in Learning program, which facilitated the union between Optus and Lurnea High School. CEO Carey Badcoe explained: "The project they did was absolutely fantastic and it was creative and it was clever and the students had lots of responsibility."
Badcoe said what singles out Karin Karen from the many other high profile volunteers who work with the ABCN (the board is made up of 12 CEOs from Australia's most prominent Corporations from Microsoft to the Commonwealth Bank), is that she continued her significant commitment despite being diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2006. Badcoe said: "The principle (of Lurnea High School) went and saw her in hospital. I mean that's how important she is … she really broke through the normal corporate-community barriers."
Karen has been given a good prognosis after completing chemotherapy and radiotherapy over the last 12 months. She was buoyed during her treatment by the strong support she received from the Lurnea High community, who made her aware of how big her volunteering commitment meant to the school. "The intellectually handicapped students made me a set of turbans when they found out my hair was going to fall out … how amazing is that?" effused Karen .
Karen attributes her achievements in Employee Volunteering and in turn CSR Optus' company-wide approach of generosity and gratitude. She also sang the praises of CEO Paul O'Sullivan, in his personal contribution to the field. She said: "If you've got it from the top and then you're surrounded by people who are quite dedicated to this sort of thing naturally anyway … the rest of it is just easy."