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Ethical investments, Foodhub money and PULP: USU Board August Recap

Unprecedented demand for Foodhub has given rise to the need for extra funding amid efforts towards ethical investment and cheers over PULP Magazine’s first edition.

Yesterday, while munching on vegan spring rolls, safe (and dry) from the rainy clouds just outside the Holme Building, the University of Sydney Union (USU) Board convened over a small feast to discuss pressing issues affecting USyd’s largest (and wealthiest) student organisation. 

Strong financial performance 

A steady flow of new members, sustained demand for campus food outlets and a packed event schedule produced a substantial surplus of $350,000 higher than had been forecasted for the period, according to Finance Director Rebecca Sahni. However, that performance is partly attributable to “the [staff] positions that could not be filled” according to Sahni, echoing shortages of casual labour across the country throughout winter.

Despite the significant turnover, USU CEO Andrew Mills flagged a number of emerging issues surrounding the nation’s economic outlook, citing the Reserve Bank of Australia’s (RBA) forecasting inflation rates hitting 7 per cent by December, looming British and American recessions and Australia’s low unemployment levels as reasons for caution. 

He also welcomed the Albanese government’s move to implement 10-days paid domestic violence leave to all workers including casual staff.

“So that will be a big step forward for local organisations,” said Mills. “For us, we’re very happy to see that and we do have formal arrangements already in place doing this and we do see cases of this [need for domestic violence leave] happening.” 

Mills also paid a nod to Honi’s eulogy on the Holme Building’s bygone rainbow-coloured cereal cylinders

Extra $20,000 to support SRC x USU Foodhub’s pace 

Discussions then turned to the additional money needed to sustain the operation of Foodhub, a program established earlier this semester between the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) and the USU. 

The SRC x USU Foodhub is located on Level 4 of the Wentworth Building adjacent to the International Student Lounge (ISL). It provides free essential groceries, ready-to-eat meals and personal hygiene products on a demand-driven basis with support from Foodbank NSW & ACT. 

According to USU President Cole Scott-Curwood, the joint initiative has been met with unexpectedly high demand. 

“In my conversations with the SRC, it’s become clear that what we’ve budgeted to support Foodhub is insufficient for the demand that we’ve been experiencing,” Scott-Curwood said. 

In response, he submitted that $20,000 be set aside to help support Foodhub so that the program can continue on its current trajectory, adding that the final funding number is being discussed with USU management and SRC executives. 

A brief moment of confusion ensued when Senate-appointed Board Director David Wright intervened to clarify procedural rules surrounding the proposed $20,000 for Foodhub. 

“I would prefer to see something come to the Board to say that management has approved the $20,000 because it’s their delegation,” Wright told Scott-Curwood. 

Similarly, fellow Board Director and Ethnocultural portfolio holder Naz Sharifi quizzed Scott-Curwood on Foodhub’s viability should funding dry up.

Responding to Sharifi, Scott-Curwood hoped that USyd would be generous in its consideration of the organisation’s Foodhub funding request. 

“The desirable outcome is that the University [recognises] the criticality of food security initiatives and would pick up the costs. There will of course be communication with the SRC on how Foodhub is supported, it’s an important initiative that’s had more demand than anticipated,” he said.

Later on, following a question for clarification from Honi on Foodhub’s fate should the $20,000 not eventuate, he said that the funding is secure and would not be drawn into hypotheticals otherwise. 

“We have the $20,000. I would not prefer to speculate on what would happen if we didn’t have money because I think the key thing is that we’ve allocated the funds. It means that we’ve got money to secure [Foodhub] for the rest of the year.”

Efforts towards ethical investments 

In his report to the Board, Honorary Treasurer David Zhu delved into the Board’s ongoing efforts to revamp its investment strategies and portfolios to align with public expectations and ethical guidelines. 

“I can’t go too much into details due to sensitivities on this but we have progressed quite successfully on our request for a proposal presentation to our Investment Manager so that will hopefully be passed by this Board very soon,” Zhu said.

These efforts trace back to two months ago when Zhu’s predecessor Honorary Treasurer Ben Hines updated the Board on its efforts to diversify its investment portfolios, following an Honi investigation into the Board’s ties to non-renewable interests in its investments. 

“This is something that will not only meet our financial objectives in giving our members the value they deserve but also putting forward those values in industry,” Zhu said. 

Congratulations on the print edition of PULP Magazine 

Cheers were heard across the floor when the topic of PULP Magazine arrived, with a visibly enthused Isla Mowbray proverbially leaping up to promote the revamped student publication to her colleagues.

“The final product is incredibly rewarding for everyone involved in the wider community and the USU at large. I’m really happy to see what they’ve come up with,” Mowbray told the room.  

“I love to see that creative hub [PULP Magazine] and the potential of the whole team.” 

The first edition of PULP Magazine is also available online and is headed by a 7-person editorial team consisting of Senior Editor Marlow Hurst, Editors Nandini Dhir, Harry Gay, Bonnie Huang, Ariana Haghighi, Patrick McKenzie and Rhea Thomas.

Portfolio holders’ updates 

Of the brief updates from the USU’s various portfolios, planning for collaborations with the SRC’s Rad Sex and Consent Week occupied Naz Sharifi’s time while Madhullikaa Singh was busy overseeing the USU’s programs for the upcoming International Festival . Meanwhile, Board Director Alexander Poirier expressed disappointment over the University’s historic exclusion of student organisations like the USU and SRC over longstanding criticism of USyd’s disability inclusivity and Disability Services from the latter. 

New Senate-appointed Board Director 

In other news, the roll of Board Directors changed with Alyssa White chosen to succeed Marie Leech as one of the Senate-appointed Directors aside from David Wright. White currently presides as Senior Manager for University Governance and Deputy Secretary to the Senate, reporting directly to the apex of USyd’s decision-making body. 

And with that, the meeting promptly moved in camera to consider confidential matters over work, health and safety (WHS) among others.