An update from the Readings Foundation

Established in 2009, the Readings Foundation assists Victorian organisations that support the development of literacy, community integration and the arts. Grants officer Gabrielle Williams talks to Readings managing director Mark Rubbo about the importance of giving back to the community.

Bookshops have long been associated with social justice, and Readings is committed to walking that walk of supporting its community. In 2009, Readings co-owner Mark Rubbo established the Readings Foundation, putting his money where his mouth is by donating 10% of all Readings profits to the foundation. On 2 February this year, Mark had the privilege of handing over $146,700 in grants to a range of Melbourne organisations (see a full list below). I took the opportunity to ask Mark a few questions about the foundation, and what it means to him.

Gabrielle Williams: As a privately owned company, every cent of profits goes to you and your business partner. But you have both chosen to donate 10% to the Readings Foundation each year. Tell me why you decided to do that?

Mark Rubbo: When I first bought Readings Bookshop (from the former owners, whose name was, appropriately, Reading), we would have university students coming in to the shop and wanting to put up share house notices. To be honest, sometimes they were kind of annoying about it, so I decided to charge them for the privilege, and donate the fee to a charity. The foundation grew from that.

A few years ago I suggested to my business partner that we donate 10% of our profits and start up a formal foundation with a structured grants process, instead of the ad hoc arrangement we had at that time. We are both really proud of the work the Readings Foundation supports, and it’s now an important part of the Readings ethos.


Pictured (L-R): Jonathan Chee from Banksia Gardens Community Service with Mark Rubbo

What sort of responsibility do you believe organisations have towards those in our community who are less fortunate?

Corporate responsibility is something that I see being shirked by a number of big organisations, and I don’t think it’s okay. The fact is, the old saying ‘with great privilege comes great responsibility’ is truer now than it’s probably ever been. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is rising, and the thing is, we have the capacity to put our hands in our pockets and change that. Every person only has a certain amount of money they need to live a happy life. To give money to other people is an honour and is good for the soul. I highly recommend it.

On the 2 February, you invited this year’s Melbourne-based grant recipients to come in to the Readings head office to receive their money in person. Tell me how it felt meeting the recipients and handing over the money.

It was energising and inspiring, hearing all the amazing work people are doing in the non-profit sector. Some of the organisations we’ve dealt with before, and I know what a great job they do, but some of the organisations we’d had no prior dealings with.

One of the organisations we haven’t worked with before was Parkville College, which provides education to young people who are, or have been, detained in custody. Meeting them was a highlight. They brought in one of the teachers and one of the students, and to hear the way they structure their programmes to inspire learning was terrific. The student they brought in has even written a graphic novel, a copy of which he gave us as a present. He travels an hour and a half each morning to attend school – a journey that involves a bus ride, train ride and tram trip. He has to leave home at 7.30 every morning in order to get to school by 9. And apparently he’s always one of the first to arrive. The passion he has for his education is firmly the result of the teaching at Parkville College.


Pictured (L-R): Mark with Broedy Fielding, Vikki Steenveld and Jess Craggs from Parkville College

Everyone knows that retail has taken a hammering from online shopping over the past few years. But you still persist in keeping the foundation going. Why is that?

Because it’s important. Because I believe in it. And actually, for many Readings staff and customers, the fact that we have the Readings Foundation is as important to them as it is to me. And that’s one thing I want to point out – it isn’t just me that donates to the foundation. Anyone who gets a book wrapped is asked if they want to give a donation. We also have some private donors who contribute. The foundation is a joint effort of all the members of the Readings community.

Readings celebrates its 50th birthday in March, and the Readings Foundation is 10 years old this year. What an amazing thing it must be, to look back over your life and see what you’ve achieved. Congratulations Mark, and thanks for your time.


Pictured (L-R): Mark with Jenny Johns and Yirgalem Frezghi from Church of All Nations

The organisations that were awarded grants for 2019 are:

Find out more about these organisations and the amazing work they do here.