CQUni Outstanding Alumnus says crisis a cue for mateship, diversity

Published:12 May 2020

(main picture) Sean O'Donnell and AVC (Victoria Region) Lara Carton at the CQUni Melbourne food bank.

CQUniversity staff and graduates have been rallying to support international students hard-hit by the COVID-19 crisis – and the team of volunteers includes 2020 Outstanding Alumnus and business executive Sean O’Donnell.

The IT industry leader said the global pandemic was taking the worst toll on already-vulnerable people, and that mateship should inspire Australians to support them.

“We’ve got to get better at looking after other people – that’s mateship, and that service to each other is what our whole community needs right now,” he said.

Mr O’Donnell joined other volunteers at CQUni Melbourne on Tuesday 5 May to unload five tonnes of food to help establish a campus food bank, available to nearly 3000 of CQUni’s international students living across the city.

The free initiative is supported by food rescue social enterprise SecondBite, a long-time social innovation partner for CQUniversity Melbourne.

The twice-weekly food bank allows students to stock up on frozen meals prepared from fresh by FareShare, delivered to campus along with fresh food from SecondBite.

Mr O’Donnell, who was named Outstanding Alumnus of the Year at CQUniversity’s Melbourne graduation in December 2019, said supporting international students across Australia was “essential”.

“We’ve invited these young people to leave their homes, to come to Australia and study in our great system, and our nation benefits massively from this huge sector,” he said.

“Now the crisis means it’s up to us to show them that we’re a caring community, and that we value them, that we value everyone who’s struggling with unemployment and uncertainty.”

While all CQUniversity classes were transitioned online from the start of Term 1, on Monday 23 March, the campus has remained open with social distancing protocols, to ensure students could access resources and support. Welfare provisions have included the food bank, computer and technical provisions, care packages for isolated new arrivals, and fee payment and flexible study plans.

A former Queenslander and current client executive at IBM, Mr O’Donnell completed his MBA with CQUniversity in 1996.

A champion of diversity throughout his career, he said our multicultural nation was key to Australia’s survival of the COVID-19 crisis.

“If you went into this crisis with a homogenous workforce, for instance, you’d be struggling, because the crisis impacts on similar people in the same way – whereas diversity means there’s a range of impacts, that make it easier to manage around, and to share the load,” he explained.

Associate Vice-Chancellor (Victoria Region) Lara Carton thanks Mr O’Donnell for his support, and said he was among more than 30 volunteers who made the food bank possible.

“We’ve also seen amazing financial generosity for students doing it tough, through our CQUniCares Emergency Grant Fund to assist students during these difficult times,” she said.

CQUni is the first university to partner with SecondBite to provide meals for its students, and nearly 500 signed up for the food relief at the Melbourne campus in the first fortnight.

Similar food initiatives have been rolled out across CQUni's biggest campuses in Brisbane, Sydney and Rockhampton.

CQUniversity Australia has 30,000 students nationally, at campuses and study centres across five states. Its partnerships with social enterprise are part of its role as Australia’s only Changemaker University, accredited by global social innovation network Ashoka U.