CHATTING on the phone to recently-retired ACON president Mark Orr, I’m trying to find out what he likes to do for fun.
“Is there a sports team you love? Are you a foodie?” I ask him.
[showads ad=MREC] Aside from tertiary, study Orr spends most of his spare time catching up with board members of other community organisations to compare notes and discuss how to do things better — proving his commitment to Sydney’s LGBTI community.
“I love our community so much,” he said.
“I wanted to help by stepping up and doing something and making the world a better place.
“My interest really is around our community and community organisations. I try and participate as much as I can.”
The self-confessed corporate governance nerd announced his decision to step down as president of ACON in November after eight years at the helm. The former convener of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, Justin Koonin, has replaced him.
“I love the organisation and I could’ve stayed longer,” Orr says.
“I feel good that ACON is in a good shape as an organisation in terms of Justin taking over as president.
“I think it is about good governance that organisations go through change at the board level and executive level periodically so they stay fresh and contemporary.”
For the past 30 years, health promotion organisation ACON has been specialising in HIV support and prevention and LGBTI health.
Under Orr’s watch it launched the Ending HIV campaign, moved its office to Elizabeth St in Sydney’s Surry Hills, established rapid HIV testing sites, underwent a brand overhaul and saw levels of condom use and STI testing rates increase significantly among men who have sex with men. There was also the giant pink condom at Sydney’s Hyde Park obelisk that grabbed headlines worldwide for its highly visible safe sex awareness campaign.
However, Orr is quick to ensure he does not take all the credit.
“It’s not just me,” he says.
“Some people say: ‘Mark Orr achieved X,Y and Z’. [But] I’m only one player of a whole team.”
Born and raised in suburban Brisbane, Orr discovered his love of community organisations when he moved to Sydney and became a member of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir.
“I like singing and I love singing in the choir. It was something I wanted to do when I moved to Sydney,” he says.
“Becoming part of the choir was about community which is important when you’re new to the city.”
It was through the relationships he built in the choir that he was eventually roped in to volunteer with one of city’s most famous organisations: the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. He was soon elected to the first board of the New Mardi Gras, the former name the organisation used after it bounced back from bankruptcy in the early 2000s.
“I had been on the board of Mardi Gras as the co-chair for 2004 and 2005,” Orr recalls.
“I ran into (former ACON chief executive) Stevie Clayton and she invited me to join the ACON board… I joined late in 2006. In February 2008 I was elected president.”
ACON has undergone some major changes during Orr’s tenure as president, such as introducing a progressive digital communication strategy.
“ACON’s expertise in social and digital media has been a major transition in how we engage people,” he says.
“Mark’s leadership over nearly eight years has been vital to ensuring that ACON is an open, agile and responsive organisation,” Parkhill says.
“His insightful understanding of community, and his skills and expertise in governance and risk management have not only served ACON well but also many of our partner organisations.
“We’re extremely grateful for the time, effort and expertise he has bestowed on ACON and our community.”
NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner echoes Parkhill’s sentiment.
“ACON is playing an important role in the implementation of the NSW Government’s HIV Strategy, which aims to virtually eliminate the transmission of HIV by 2020,” she says.
“I thank Mark Orr for his energetic leadership of ACON at this vital time — in particular, by increasing community engagement around the need to test often and stay safe.”
While the next chapter of Orr’s life still features him as a member of the organisation’s finance and audit committee, he says he genuinely doesn’t know what’s next.
“People think, ‘it’s not Mark Orr if you don’t know (what’s next)’, but I’d like to be involved in community organisations and I like to share that interest with others,” he says.
It’s getting to the end of our chat when Orr finally reveals he indulges his Netflix addiction in the little spare time he does have.
“I like series I can binge on, like House of Cards, The Falling, Orange is the New Black and Gotham,” he says.
“But most of my time is spent in the community, it keeps me very busy.”
**This article was first published in the January edition of the Star Observer, which is available now. Click here to find out where you can grab a copy in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.
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