Tenacity breeds success for Chinese charity

Building an aged-care facility is no mean feat for any business, so imagine the challenges for a not-for-profit organisation.

Despite the challenges that confronted the Chinese Australian Services Society (CASS) – a registered charity that provides social services to the East Asian community in Sydney – it has succeeded in overcoming them. The organisation’s aged-care facility is running at full capacity and is barely a year old.

“When we say we want to do something, we will try our best to make it happen,” says CASS’s Honorary Executive Director and Founding Chairman, Henry Pan.

This can-do attitude was behind CASS’s establishment 35 years ago. Its inception began a few years earlier when a small group of immigrants considered building and operating a childcare centre for their community. The federal government had implemented a multicultural policy and was encouraging different cultural communities to run social services.

Meeting challenges head-on                          

Although the group was only interested in setting up a childcare facility, the challenges were not that different from today.

“Back then, we tried to get funding support from the government,” Pan recalls. “However, we didn’t get very far, in a way, because our organisation was too new. We didn’t have the credentials for managing funds. Moreover, around the early ’80s the economic environment was not that good and government funding was difficult to get.”

Their application was rejected.

“We did not rest there,” Pan says. The group remained committed to the project and it was a matter of thinking of other ways to achieve it.

“We ended up with a primitive form of family-based day care,” Pan says. Volunteers ran a phone line where carers prepared to look after children in their homes would be paired with families searching for child care.

Less than five months later, the government department was so impressed with CASS’s enthusiasm that it invited the organisation to apply for funding, and it employed one worker.

By 1985, CASS was operating a childcare centre in Campsie, and it hasn’t looked back. It now serves more than 2,400 families a week through its multitude of services. It employs more than 240 people and is expected to post an annual turnover of $17 million this financial year.

In February 2015, CASS added an aged-care facility to its portfolio, a move that presented another challenge for the charity.

“The purchase of the land itself wasn’t really that difficult,” Pan recalls. The facility is built on five adjoining pieces of land, the first bought in 2002 through a bank loan supported by good management of cash flow and surplus from CASS’s operations. However, it was a different story when it came to funding the facility itself.

The total cost of the facility was $15.5 million, excluding the land; of that, the government provided a low-interest loan of $8.6 million. CASS needed a $6-million loan from the bank, which took a dim view of the organisation’s inexperience in running an aged-care facility.

“We used negotiation and argument to get that loan,” Pan laughs. CASS showed the bank it had a vigorous promotional plan to raise funds and showed that people in the community were supportive of its work.

“We had good financial performance for a few years and a history of showing that whenever we start a venture, it doesn’t take long for us to get a result. Of course, we didn’t have experience in aged-care facilities, but we were using other operations to show we were a capable group.”

The bank tried to reduce the amount of money it would lend, but CASS persevered and got what it needed. “It took almost 18 months, and at one stage we had to put in contingency measures to ensure we had enough cash flow,” Pan remembers.

The turf was turned in June 2013, and in February 2015 the facility was opened for business.

“We had very tight control and we were on the pulse to know how the money was spent, so one good result for the project was it came within budget,” Pan says. “We had a good team managing the project.”

Five months before the facility opened, CASS began promoting the service, and it knew then that it would have a full house. Rather than fill all the admissions at once, they were carried out in stages, and within four months of opening, the facility was operating at full capacity.

In August 2015 the facility won the Urban Development Institute of Australia NSW annual award for Seniors’ Aged Care Living.

The next challenge?

CASS is an approved provider for a wide range of social services and is looking at expanding into more of those areas, including providing community housing. “And we will definitely embark on another aged-care facility project,” Pan says.

It’s a far cry from the first community meeting that Pan attended all those years ago. “I never imagined our organisation would provide such a comprehensive range of services,” he says.

Written by Penelope Creed

The articles represent the views of the authors and not necessarily that of the Bank. You should seek independent professional advice before acting on any matters set out in the articles.


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