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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 currently delivers services from 64 locations across New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. It also delivers post-adoption support and social leadership programs and consulting services nationally. It has 1000 staff, plus a volunteer force of about 700. More than 76,800 people were reached through The Benevolent Society's services, community programs and events in the 2012-2013 Financial Year. More than 630 people from business, government and non-profit organisations have taken part in their Social Leadership Australia programs. The current Chief Executive Officer is Joanne Toohey. The Chairman is Lisa Chung.
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.
On 8 May 1813, Edward Smith Hall, with five other 'like-minded 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 1817, now known as Westpac; and its first non-government newspaper, The Monitor, first published in 1826.
- 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 of Sydney's Central Station: 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: Society 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. The Benevolent Society launches a $10 million social benefit bond, also known as social impact bond, in partnership with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac.
- Cummins, C. J. (Cyril Joseph) (1971) The development of the Benevolent (Sydney) Asylum, 1788–1855, Department of Health, Sydney
- Ihde, Erin (2005) A Manifesto for New South Wales: Edward Smith Hall and the Sydney Monitor 1826–1840, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Victoria
- O'Brien, Anne (1988) Poverty's prison: the poor in New South Wales 1880-1918, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Victoria
- Rathbone, R. W. ( Ronald, William) (1994) 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
- Scifleet, Paul (1996) Guide to the records of the Benevolent Society of New South Wales, 1813–1995, 1st edn, Benevolent Society of New South Wales, Sydney