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  • purposelypodcast

Leading a foundation helping older people, Denise Cosgrove

Welcoming Denise Cosgrove, CEO of Selwyn Foundation, to Purposely where she shares her organisation's mission to help vulnerable older people as well as her career and life journey.

Denise's leadership journey began early, as she navigated a successful career while raising two daughters as a young single mother. The only one of six siblings to attend university, Denise ventured to Otago University in New Zealand's South Island. There, she discovered a passion for acting and debating, which she credits for building the confidence that would later serve her well in business leadership roles. Denise maintains a strong commitment to health and wellness, exercising twice daily, abstaining from alcohol, and following a clean eating regimen.

Her career has spanned corporate, public, and charitable sectors in both New Zealand and Australia. In October 2022, Denise took the helm of The Selwyn Foundation, a well-established provider of retirement villages and aged care services in New Zealand. This appointment coincided with a significant shift in the Foundation's operational model, aimed at better supporting vulnerable elderly populations nationwide.

Central to this transformation was the sale of a substantial portion of the Foundation's retirement village capacity, including six villages and a commercial laundry. The proceeds from this sale, amounting to $200 million, formed an endowment fund that will enable the Foundation to dramatically increase its charitable giving.

Under Denise's leadership, the Foundation has set an ambitious goal of $100 million in charitable contributions over the next decade. This expanded support will reach beyond their retirement villages into the wider community, addressing critical issues affecting older people such as loneliness, social isolation, financial hardship, and lack of affordable housing. The organisation is committed to incorporating Tikanga Māori, Tikanga Pasifika, and Tikanga Pakeha principles to ensure culturally appropriate support.

While divesting some retirement village operations, the Foundation has retained ownership of its historic Selwyn Village in Auckland and Hansen Close in Birkenhead, continuing to provide innovative and affordable housing solutions for seniors.

Looking forward, the Selwyn Foundation aims to establish new partnerships targeting high-risk communities, including Māori and Pasifika populations. They also plan to leverage their expertise to influence policy decisions and advocate for issues crucial to older people's wellbeing.

Denise's impressive leadership career spans over three decades, with extensive CEO experience in large, complex operational businesses across New Zealand and Australia. Her focus has consistently been on achieving both social and commercial outcomes in the government and not-for-profit sectors.

Prior to joining Selwyn Foundation, Denise served as CEO of Presbyterian Support Northern (PSN) for five years, overseeing social, health, and disability services in New Zealand's upper North Island, including well-known brands such as Lifeline, Shine, Family Works, and Enliven.

Her previous executive roles include:

  • Chief Executive of the Victorian Work Cover Authority, Australia

  • General Manager (Claims Management and People & Business Services) at ACC

  • Assistant Auditor General (Strategy) at the Office of the Auditor-General

  • General Manager (Organisational Development and Communications) at Housing New Zealand Limited

Beyond her executive responsibilities, Denise serves on the boards of various NGOs and social enterprises. She is also a passionate advocate for New Zealand's contemporary art and design sector, with a particular interest in fostering new and emerging talent.


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