The ‘Accidental’ Leader

Sydney company director Chris Franks tackles her days at breakneck pace: it’s not unusual for her to speed from an early morning breakfast briefing to a board meeting in the CBD, then across town to consult with one or more of the many groups she advises, fielding phone calls, shooting off emails and maybe slotting in a mentoring session with a job seeker along the way, before heading off to chair a session of the Women In Development group in the evening. And she takes it all in her stride.

For Chris, a 35-year veteran of the volunteering and mutual sectors and a passionate CUFA Community Investor it all comes down to her leadership philosophy. “I’ve been around for quite a while,” she laughs, “but I think I became a leader in the field more by accident as one role led to another. I was brought up to believe that if you can, you should. I remember my Gran many years ago in the UK used to give to the travellers who came to her door. ‘You always help someone who needs helping. They don’t have a lot of money,’ she would say. Her view was even if it was only a little bit of money, you gave what you could.”

An expert in governance, financial management, fundraising and communications, Chris now uses her connections and experience forged over three decades to the maximum. “Those are the areas I can contribute most,” she explained. “I’ve never had heaps of money, but I have had a little time, and the thing I have learned is that you don’t have to give a lot in order to make a difference.”

Chris has been a supporter of CUFA since the early 90s – since being a director of Endeavour Credit Union, Australian National Credit Union and CUA. She contributed her fundraising skills to help frame and redesign the Village Entrepreneur program from the very beginning, and is now supporting her second Village Entrepreneur, Ms Thun Eon in Cambodia.

“I find it absolutely life changing to know that I am supporting and helping her take a step up, that her children are eating well and receiving an education.

“It’s a little window into another world …”

“It allows you to see how someone else lives – you see right inside their lives. And you realise that people in the developing world don’t have the choices and freedom we do – Ms Thun Eon can’t just go to the city and get a well-paid job. Living here in Australia we take that for granted.”

Chris’s view is that it’s always better to give someone a hand up than to take a welfare approach. “In my experience everyone in the whole world is proud,” she explained. “People don’t like charity in general. They like to feel that they have some pride and control in their lives. That’s why at CUFA we give people control over what they do. We don’t tell them they have to be a pig farmer or a chicken raiser – imagine if you were told what job you had to do.

“I’ve learned that people are far better off having the choice to determine their own futures. And furthermore that’s the way I can help that entire community: I am not just helping Thun – she becomes a centre of exchange and distribution. She buys the food from the food supplier for her animals and for her cake making, then she sells what she produces. She needs other people to help build her fences and grow the food.

And that helps those people look after themselves and their children, which then in turn helps the community become more prosperous. That is the beginning of economic development – not just in her village: it’s what makes the world go around. If you look at Australia and the world, there are more small businesses than big businesses. And that is what we are supporting.”

“It’s like child sponsorship on steroids!”

Chris is now looking forward to her next trip to Cambodia, and one of the stops on the way will be to go and meet her VE, Thun. “I want to thank HER for being part of the program, for having the courage to do something quite new, to be a leader in her community, to show others how it happens, and for being such a hard worker. It’s hard work bringing up a family as well as rearing her animals. I do the easy bit!” Chris exclaimed.

And in the future? “I’ll keep doing what I do. To see what I have the skills for and how I can contribute. I will remain a VE supporter. In fact I have left a gift in my will that can link into the CUFA bequest program. The plan is to give now, give later. Given our aim is to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030, it’s going to be a multigenerational task.

“I am happy to invest in the future.”

Chris Franks’ Top 5 reasons for supporting a Village Entrepreneur:

  • It’s such a little amount of money each month – a few cups of tea a week
  • You’ll gain a new friend, someone you have a real connection with
  • You’ll know exactly how your money is spent and how you are helping someone
  • You are not just supporting one person, but the economic development of an entire community
  • With VE, you don’t just give and walk away. You give value that continues for lifetimes.

Interested in visiting a Village Entrepreneur program? CUFA offers all our supporters this extraordinary opportunity to see the program in action. Connect with us now at

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