Bob Howarth with colleagues at the Institute of Peace and Democracy in Indonesia.
Bob Howarth with colleagues at the Institute of Peace and Democracy in Indonesia.

The unretiring Aussie Business Volunteer changing lives

WHEN Bob Howarth took early retirement in 2005 it opened a door to the challenges of life as an Australian Business Volunteer.

Today Bob, 71, lives on the Gold Coast and part-time on Moreton Island, that is when he is not on assignment through Australian Business Volunteers, a not-for-profit organisation whose priority is to place business professionals in short-term business-focused assignments.

Since retirement as managing director of News Limited's PNG Division Bob has completed nine assignments for ABV in Indonesia, Bali and PNG.

ABV began in 1981 when the Australian government sought to use the business skills and experience of newly retired Australian executives to strengthen businesses to contribute to the relief of poverty and increased wellbeing of communities in South-East Asia and the Pacific region.

Bob Howarth's volunteer experience began back in PNG when he heard that ABV was looking for someone experienced in colour and layout design in print media.

That was Bob Howarth to a T. Not that his horizons needed much expansion.

He'd worked in Hong Kong for nine years at South China Morning Post, at East Timor's Independent Daily and three years in PNG, had trained journalists from 1978 and was a part-time lecturer at Bond and Griffith Universities.

Bob's first assignment was in Bandung in West Java.

He taught in a university classroom on two different campuses, stirring up a lot of interest because of the laughter coming from the classroom.

He designed the classes to suit the requirements and situation.

"I teach from what I know, not from a book," he says.

He did two stints in Bandung and two at the Universitas Padjadjaran in Indonesia, in the process being "adopted" as a grandfather by four of his students, young women who now all work in the media in Jakart.

His next assignment was in Bali, at the Institute of Peace and Democracy where he instructed staff in designing a website.

He did three assignments in Bali and saw a different side of the country at the Udayana campus, which is totally funded by Australia.

There he met Bob Carr and Julie Bishop who were puzzled to find a lone Australian at the government institute.

The institute's mission is to tell countries such as Egypt, Myanmar, Tunisia and Fiji (which are all very interested) about the pathways Indonesia took from being a military dictatorship to a democracy.

His last assignment was with the Bank of PNG.

He rates his biggest impact as significantly improving the communication capacity of the Institute of Peace and Democracy, and "quiet diplomacy", in particular meeting with international leaders and diplomats during two Bali Democracy forums, an annual event aimed at development of democracy in the Asia-Pacific region.

But his biggest reward is to see the young people he taught succeed in the world of business.

"You can't put a price on that," Bob said.

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