Community Culture

There’s something special about working and socialising with your neighbours that encourages sharing the load, writes Carolyn Boyd.

When he’s not surfing, Peter Fowler can be found hard at work at the accounting practice he became partner in at just 26. Working in the idyllic Australian coastal towns of Ballina and Byron Bay, Fowler’s motto is a version of the old French saying:

“We work to live, we don’t live to work.”

The desire to balance out work and life is a key driver for Fowler to contribute to the community that he lives in by providing free or very cheap advice to some not-for-profits.

“The whole firm does it — it’s just a matter of giving something back to the community,” says Fowler, who is head of strategic advice at Collins Hume, a five-partner practice with offices in Byron Bay and Ballina in northern New South Wales.

The work Fowler and his colleagues do for the organisations makes a big difference.

“For not-for-profits, really knowing their numbers will help their boards make more informed decisions,” Fowler says. “A lot of the board members are volunteers and might not have a lot of financial training or acumen.”

Fowler recognises that sharing his expertise with local organisations benefits both parties.

“Our area is a small community in comparison with the city, so most people know our firm in some way,” he says. “What we give back to the community is going to come back to us.”

While helping out in a small community makes good business sense, it also provides a personal boost to Fowler and his colleagues. “I like helping people — it makes me feel good because I’m all about lifestyle,” says the 34-year-old.

Organisations that Fowler’s firm helps include local surf clubs, sporting groups, disability services and school associations.

Being a smaller community, many of the staff at Collins Hume are also involved in the groups at a social and recreational level.

As well as being a CPA, Fowler is completing a Masters of Business Administration at Southern Cross University in Lismore. His broad skills enable him to give not just financial guidance, but also strategic planning and marketing tips.

For some organisations, making their cause better known in the wider community could be best done through events, for others it might be via the local newspaper or social media channels. “Every organisation is a little bit different,” Fowler says. “A soccer club is going to be totally different to a disability service.”

Aside from hands-on work with not-for-profits, Fowler’s firm donates money to global causes through an organisation called B1G1. The funds that Collins Hume gives are used for projects such as providing meals, books and education supplies for children in need, low-interest loans and environmental protection for endangered rainforest areas.


Wheels on fire

When Peter Fowler read about a young boy in his community whose much-wanted present from Santa – a shiny new bike – had been crushed by a falling tree just weeks after Christmas, he didn’t hesitate to jump in and help.

Fowler got in touch with a local store and arranged for a new bike to be ordered for the 10-year-old.

The bike shop owner chipped in by providing a bicycle below cost price and Fowler paid the rest.

“I emailed the local newspaper editor and said ‘please tell the parents of this boy that there is a new bike waiting over at the cycle shop and they can take their pick’,” Fowler says. “I just felt bad for the kid because the brand new bike he got for Christmas was trashed a couple of weeks later.”

Fowler had hoped to make the donation anonymously, but the local newspaper had other ideas. It arranged for him and the child to meet as the family wanted to say thanks. Unbeknownst to Fowler, they also had a photographer on hand to capture the moment.

“I was a little bit embarrassed by it all,” Fowler says. “You don’t do it for the exposure. I just wanted to help.”

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INTHEBLACK is Australasia’s highest circulating business and finance magazine*. The magazine features interviews with strategic business leaders from Australia and the rest of the world, in addition to in-depth practical analysis of technical issues.

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