On Sunday, May 11 more than 140,000 women, men and children are expected to run or walk in the 17th Mother’s Day Classic in 86 towns and cities throughout Australia. By the end of that day the total funds raised for the National Breast Cancer Foundation research will probably pass the $25 million mark.
Back in 1998 when the then Cbus Fund Secretary and Women in Super founder, Mavis Robertson, returned from a US trip with the idea for a Mother’s Day run, nobody thought that such a massive event would be possible, least of all Louise Davidson, the woman entrusted with the task of bringing it to life.
“When the first event attracted 1800 participants in Melbourne and 1200 in Sydney. I was gobsmacked”, she told me. “No-one knew anything about fun runs. Maybe that was its strength. We positioned it as a family outing rather than a competition.”
To me the phenomenon of the Mother’s Day Classic is another example of the creative spirit and public-mindedness which has characterised so many of the initiatives generated by the industry superannuation movement over the past 30 years. But it is also the story of a remarkable achievement by one woman.
I met Louise when she became one of the early executives of Industry Fund Services in the role of Member Services Officer. I don’t think either of us had any idea of what that role entailed, but knowing that there would be millions of members of Industry Super funds and other not-for-profit funds, we reasoned that this would give rise to both a need and opportunity to provide a range of services.
Sadly, however, it was the death of her own mother from breast cancer that gave Louise the special qualification for taking on the voluntary post of National Co-ordinator of the Mother’s Day Classic.
Not only Women in Super, but the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees and many of the industry funds within the network rallied to the call to make this event something special.
HESTA, the super fund for health industry employees, had a special affinity with the cause and was highly influential in encouraging companies that provide services to super funds to become sponsors. When ME Bank came on board as major sponsor, Louise and her team of volunteers were able to add professional resources to the ongoing organisation and development of the event.
“A really interesting development has been the way in which volunteer committees have sprung up in provincial cities and far flung rural communities throughout Australia,” she said. “Each one strives to improve on their previous year’s effort or outperform a rival city in terms of fund raising.”
This year the focus will be on rivalry between ME Bank CEO Jamie McPhee and Paul Zahra, CEO of David Jones, not in terms of how fast they can run, but how much personal sponsorship they can garner for the cause.
After the birth of her second and third daughters (twins), Louise herself took to the track in the 4km run and I provoked her by offering to double my personal sponsorship if she could beat my (somewhat pedestrian) time. I knew my days were numbered when I noticed she was beginning to train for the event.
She is not a woman easily deflected from her goals and sure enough in 2011 at the top of Melbourne’s Anderson Street hill I watched, gasping like an apoplectic goldfish, as Louise sailed past, no doubt buoyed by the tens of thousands of others now shoulder to shoulder with her in this truly magnificent cause.
While today the latest shoe-tag technology and online personal result ranking by category is available, it continues to be the family-friendly nature of the event that holds its true competitive winning edge. It offers a walk as well as a run in each of the 4km and 8km categories, and a mass gathering in a park at the start and end of the events.
Breast cancer continues to be the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women. By 2020 it is projected that 17,120 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer every year in Australia. And while survival rates are improving as a result of the earlier detection and improved treatment facilitated by ongoing research, it is still the case that on average seven women die from breast cancer in this country every day.
According to Louise it is this very pervasiveness of the disease which has enabled the Mother’s Day Classic to be such an effective response. She says: “Everyone has been affected directly or indirectly by breast cancer and the Mother’s Day Classic allows them to do something positive by participating, volunteering, fund raising or just turning up to cheer.”
For the past 20 years Louise Davidson has managed to pursue a professional career while also combining child-raising with her work on behalf of Women in Super. She is currently ESG Investment Manager at Cbus, which means she has responsibility for the environmental, social and governance aspects of the building industry’s $26 billion superannuation fund.
She told me that “it’s a privilege to be able to immerse yourself in interesting work that will also make an important contribution to people’s future”.
Who can argue with that?
To register, donate or volunteer go to: www.mothersdayclassic.com.au
Garry Weaven is Chair of The New Daily Pty Ltd and of IFM Investors