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The Benevolent Society, founded by Edward Smith Hall in 1813, is Australia's first charity. It is an independent, non-religious, non-profit organisation which aims to help people overcome barriers preventing them from participating fully in society. Many of today's essential social services in Australia were pioneered by The Benevolent Society and since its earliest days it has advocated progressive, positive social change, and this legacy informs their work today.
The organisation delivers 145 services from 63 locations across NSW, Queensland, Victoria and the Northern Territory. It has a staff of 900, plus a volunteer force of about 800 people, who work together to support more than 41,000 people each year. More than 700 people and 200 organisations participate in The Benevolent Society's community development projects and more than 500 people from business, government and non-profit organisations have taken part in their Social Leadership Australia programs. The current CEO is Anne Hollonds, and the President is Sam Weiss
200 years celebration 
In 2013 The Benevolent Society will celebrate 200 years of bringing about lasting social change in Australia through building strong families and healthy communities. To operate successfully for 200 years is a landmark for any organisation, but for a charity it is perhaps even more significant considering non-profit organisations depend on the goodwill and support of individuals, the business community and government for their ongoing existence.
Celebrating 200 years of service will involve a range of activities throughout the year, and will provide an opportunity to educate and advocate, prompt debate, celebrate our past and inspire a powerful vision for the future.
The Benevolent Society meets the specific needs of individual people through direct support services, and also works with whole communities, connecting people across gender, age and cultural divides to create a renewed sense of optimism and belonging. Their programs and services are broadly grouped under five core areas of expertise:
- children and families (including domestic violence)
- community development
- mental health care
- social leadership
Social Leadership Australia (SLA) established by The Benevolent Society in 1998, designs and delivers a suite of leadership development programs that develop the capacity of individuals, organisations and communities to create lasting, positive change on entrenched issues. They offer three open programs for individuals including Sydney Leadership, Queensland Leadership and a four day Introduction to Adaptive Leadership intensive. They also work with organisations to develop and deliver customised programs to build internal leadership capacity. All their programs are based on an Adaptive Leadership approach developed by Professor Ron Heifetz at Harvard University. Adaptive leadership is about addressing systemic issues and is based on the understanding that any leader seeking to change others must also be prepared to change themselves.
On 8 May 1813 Edward Smith Hall, with five other gentlemen formed what was initially known as ‘the New South Wales Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Benevolence’ – the first organisation dedicated to doing universal good in Australia, and the humble beginnings of the organisation today known as The Benevolent Society.
Edward Smith Hall also helped establish the Bank of New South Wales - Australia’s first bank, founded in 1816, now known as Westpac; and its first non-government newspaper, “The Monitor”, first published in 1826.
Below are a few of The Benevolent Society's many achievements.
- 1813: First private organisation dedicated to ‘relieving the distressed’, meeting needs of the population far beyond the capacity of government, leading to the formalisation of ‘The Benevolent Society of NSW’ in 1818, with a broader purpose to ‘relieve the poor, the distressed, the aged, and the infirm’
- 1821: Benevolent Asylum opens on the site where Central Station now stands: a refuge for homeless older men, deserted women and children and the mentally ill
- 1862: Government takes responsibility for the care of men and the aged, due in part to the scale of demands for support and relief and subsequent overcrowding at the Asylum
- 1866: Part of the Benevolent Asylum designated exclusively as a ‘lying-in’ (maternity) hospital
- 1896: Our President, Sir Arthur Renwick, is a leading voice in the campaign for the Old Age Pension (introduced 1901)
- 1902: The Benevolent Society is incorporated by an Act of Parliament (NSW), and the first women directors appointed to the board
- 1905: Royal Hospital for Women: operated by the Benevolent Society until 1992, pioneering medical care for women and babies and ground breaking techniques such as ultrasound
- 1917: Scarba House, Bondi: welfare home for women and children
- 1964: First Village for the Aged: William Charlton Village, Allambie Heights
- 1999: Sydney Leadership Australia: transforming leadership thinking and practice
- 2002: Social Ventures Australia: investing in social change and supporting social entrepreneurs
- 2007: First Queensland service opens: North Gold Coast Early Years Centre (also a first for the State)
- 2009: Joint foundation of GoodStart to acquire the ABC Learning childcare centres
- 2011: Advocating change at a national level with the ‘Speak up for Kids’ and ‘Australians for Affordable Housing’ campaigns
- 2013: 200th anniversary
- Cummins, C. J. (Cyril Joseph), The development of the Benevolent (Sydney) Asylum, 1788–1855, Department of Health, Sydney, 1971, 21 pp.
- Rathbone, R. W. ( Ronald, William), A very present help: caring for Australians since 1813: the history of the Benevolent Society of New South Wales, State Library of New South Wales Press, Sydney, 1994, 237 pp.
- Scifleet, Paul, Guide to the records of the Benevolent Society of New South Wales, 1813–1995, 1st edn, Benevolent Society of New South Wales, Sydney, 1996, 140 pp.
- O'Brien, Anne, Poverty's prison: the poor in New South Wales 1880-1918, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Victoria, 1988, 256 pp.
- Ihde, Erin, A Manifesto for New South Wales: Edward Smith Hall and the Sydney Monitor 1826–1840, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Victoria, 2005, 313 pp.