A heart of gold – Alan Young

Posted 23 Sep 2022
“It’s the patient who’s the preeminent person in this journey, they're the reason we do what we do” – Alan Young AM

In the boardroom of his stockbroking firm overlooking Victoria Square, Alan Young AM quips that he welcomes the day when the cancer centre he grew from the ground up becomes an art gallery, because the war on cancer would be won.

Realistic that “that will never happen”, the long-time chair of the Flinders Foundation says the end game is for South Australians to live healthier, happier and longer lives with the people they love.

It’s a powerfully simple statement spoken in earnest from a boy from Broken Hill with soft blue eyes and a heart of gold – a family man whose Ikigai, his reason for being, is to help the people who offer a beacon of hope and a path to healing in the patient journey.

His vision became reality 10 years ago with the opening of the Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer (FCIC), South Australia’s first integrated cancer centre combining world-class compassionate care and survivorship with groundbreaking prevention and early intervention research.

“It was driven by a passion, a vision and an obsession for our community to have happier and longer lives to spend with the people they love, that's the 30,000-foot level,”

“It’s the patient who’s the preeminent person in this journey, they're the reason we do what we do,” he says.

Laying the foundaitons

As co-founder of the Flinders Foundation, Mr Young has been instrumental in joining the forces of Flinders University’s sharpest scientific minds with Flinders Medical Centre’s leading health experts to “break the back” of one of humankind’s most insidious diseases.

It all began when a client invited him to Flinders “to have a look”.

At the time, the uniqueness of the Flinders footprint was its own worst enemy.

“The problem was you had a university, a hospital and research people who worked either for the hospital or the university, and some worked for both. And it was pretty hard to tell who was doing what.

“So my idea was very simple. Let’s establish, let’s found, a single foundation whose role it will be to fund health and medical research, patient care and medical teaching for the whole of the Flinders campus – the village that is the hospital and the university.

“And that's how we began.”

Strength in numbers

Just a few years after the Foundation was established, it spearheaded the massive $30 million fundraising campaign that – a decade later – eventuated in the opening of the four-storey FCIC in 2012, perched on a hill between the hospital and university.

“We know that all of those stakeholders together are much more powerful than they are alone.

“So we thought let's create a cancer centre which puts the researchers, the clinicians, the surgeons, the medical practitioners and the patients under the one roof.

“Let’s focus on the whole person and not just treat the disease because cancer is shockingly disruptive and can decimate a person's life so you need to treat the whole person, not just the disease.”

The first ship in the fleet

Housing the state’s first and only dosing machine – a milestone in precision medicine – along with Australia’s first survivorship program that’s now copied throughout the country, the FCIC represents a flagship model for integrated cancer care, research and wellness.

In the decade since the inception of FCIC, Flinders Foundation has funded 120 cancer-related projects totalling $40 million, including the build.

“We didn't just build a building, put some people in there and say, ‘off you go, we'll be back in 10 years to see how you're doing’.

“We’ve constantly funded and grown in our commitment to the process and it's not only spread throughout the Flinders village but beyond that to the rest of Adelaide.

Though the fight, he says, is far from over.

“I like to think of it as our first ship in a fleet.

“We built it, it works, we sailed it around the world and now we need to make it bigger or make more of them. One way or another. That's what we aim to do.”

Sliding doors

In the years preceding the FCIC’s completion, with the “bottom falling out of the economy” thanks to the Global Financial Crisis, the Foundation fought a tooth-and-nail fundraising battle.

“Once the GFC hit people were only focused on financial survival, they certainly didn't have the money or the inclination to be donating to just about anything.

“Whereas governments might have been worried if people were sick, now they were worried about how they going to survive financially. So it wasn't about beds, it was about bread.”

In a sliding door moment to top all sliding door moments, Mr Young was invited to dinner with former Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott. As luck would have it, they sat shoulder-to-shoulder in a serendipitous circumstance that would shape the future of cancer at Flinders.

“I leant over to him at one stage and said, ‘listen, I’ve got a problem, we want to build this cancer centre and I need you to give us $10 million and we'll raise the rest’.

FCIC turned out to be the only project funded for South Australia when the Federal budget was handed down the following year.

The State Government later contributed $5 million, with funds from Flinders University, the Australian Cancer Research Foundation, Cancer Council SA and millions of dollars of public donations enabling the building to rise from the ground.

Unsung heroes

A man who doesn’t dwell on the past, Mr Young reflects on the last decade of the Flinders success story with a mixture of selfless pride and admiration.

“I do sometimes ask myself, project-by-project, whether that time was well spent. Because you’ve only got so much time in your life, right?

“And I've got to say that my time at Flinders has been among the best spent time of my life and I’m very grateful for having had the opportunity to contribute.

“But I'm not the hero, the Foundation is not the hero. The heroes are the patients who go through this journey and the researchers and clinicians who work so hard to help others and put themselves at risk, as we saw in the recent pandemic.

“It's a special sort of person who does that, and the fact that I’ve been allowed to help them and work with them is an absolute privilege.”

Mr Alan Young AM, MSAA, SAFin, AFPA (Snr), FAICD, SIA (Aff), C.UnivFlin

Mr Alan Young AM, MSAA, SAFin, AFPA (Snr), FAICD, SIA (Aff), C.UnivFlin


Flinders Foundation

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