-

A profile of a philanthropist 

Successful businesswoman, mother, wife, ‘Footy Lady’, philanthropist, inspiration, friend – there are many words we could use to describe Susan Alberti AC who has supported WEHI both as a donor and an advocate for over 25 years. But we thought it would be best to let Susan speak for herself, so we asked her some of our most burning questions.

What do you consider to be your biggest success? 

My biggest success was born from the tragedy of losing my husband and business partner Angelo in 1995.

I had some very difficult decisions to make in the midst of a period of grief, shock and mourning.

I had to make a decision about our company. The business (DANSU Group, an industrial and commercial builder and developer) at the time was employing more than 250 people, including many young people learning a trade through an apprenticeship.

I made, in those days, what was considered an unusual decision to keep the family construction business going and the rest, as they say, is history.

Naturally everyone says their biggest success in life is their family and friends and I am no different! Although life has not always been kind to me on those fronts. I lost Angelo to an accident, my only child Danielle to Type 1 diabetes, and recently lost my beloved Colin (my second husband) to cancer.

You’re a very successful businesswoman – what would you say have been the keys to your success? 

Persistence and never, ever, giving up!

If being the first woman to become a licenced builder in Victoria wasn’t enough evidence as to why persistence is the key to success, then the other highlight has been my role in establishing the elite Australian Rules competition for women, the AFLW.

It was a long-term dream of mine to create an elite women’s league which I was constantly told was all too hard, that we wouldn’t get the corporate support needed to sustain the competition and even that the girls weren’t good enough to feature on prime-time TV.

Well, we proved them all wrong!

With the birth of AFLW we’ve gone from an underfunded suburban league with a few loyal spectators, some great athletes and a spirit of ‘having a go’, to a nationally televised competition with full venues, outstanding corporate support, and great television ratings.

What have been your biggest barriers to success and how did you overcome or get around them? 

Barriers are a bit like glass ceilings, they exist to be broken down or smashed to pieces!

Whether it be dealing with family tragedies, the blokey construction industry, helping to establish the AFLW, or dealing with my own health problems along the way, persistence and perseverance is the key to success, supported by surrounding yourself with good people and seeking the best in the business to help get things done.

You’re an inspiration to many Australians (especially women who love footy)

Who has been your inspiration? Why?

There are two people who have had a significant impact on my life, who I have taken my inspiration from. The first is my father, who instilled in me my values and the difference between right and wrong. As a policeman based in Melbourne’s west, he also introduced me to the Footscray Football Club which I will be forever grateful for!

The second is the well-known actress, philanthropist and Type 1 diabetes advocate, the late Mary Tyler Moore. We met through the international Type I diabetes community and developed a close bond. She was the international chair of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and helped drive tens of millions of dollars in donations for better treatment, prevention and for finding a cure for Type 1 diabetes.

How did you first hear about WEHI? What inspired you to support WEHI? 

When my daughter Danielle was first diagnosed with diabetes in the 1980s, I literally went through the old-fashioned White Pages and rang every hospital and medical research facility in Melbourne. It was through that process, as an anxious mother looking for a sparkle of hope as to how I could help my daughter through her diagnosis, that I connected with Professor Len Harrison at WEHI, and we became close confidants, friends and collaborators.

What research do you support at WEHI, and why? 

Apart from my nearly four-decade long support for diabetes research with Professor Len Harrison at WEHI, I have also provided support for Professor Andrew Roberts AM and blood cancer research, Professor Peter Gibbs and bowel cancer research, as well as Professor Clare Scott AM and ovarian cancer research.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of supporting WEHI? 

It’s an internationally renowned medical research facility operating right here in Melbourne. I have met and been inspired by some of the brightest minds in research in my interactions with WEHI. And it’s not just in the immune health area, which is my particular passion. It’s across cancer research, development and healthy ageing, new medicines and advanced technology, and genome analysis where WEHI are leading the world.

Sue Alberti AC with Sir Gus Nossal
Above: L-R: Susan Alberti AC and Sir Gustav Nossal AC

Why do you think it’s important to support medical research?

I have been fortunate to have a small amount of success in my life which means I am able to support causes and institutions I believe in. WEHI is close to, if not at the top of my list!

You are a very generous philanthropist with a passion for a number of different causes.

What would you say to someone contemplating making a donation to WEHI?

Not only will your contribution make a difference, but it already is making a difference. WEHI is investing in state of the art research that is making a practical difference to people’s lives. For instance, WEHI has been involved in the screening of young people with a close family connection to type 1 diabetes. This means we are able to work on strategies to delay those at risk of developing the disease, while taking a longer term view in working out how some of these lessons can applied to preventing and curing the disease.

What do you hope to achieve in the future, through your support of WEHI?

WEHI aligns with the values of the Susan Alberti Medical Research Foundation and my passion of helping to deliver tomorrow’s medical discoveries, today. By making a donation to WEHI, no matter how big or small, you are supporting cutting-edge research.

How would you like to be remembered? 

Well, it is way too early to write my obituary, but I would like to be remembered as someone who ‘punched above their weight’, took the good with the bad, got on with life and sought to make a positive difference every single day on this planet.

Ways you can support WEHI

Sign up to our quarterly newsletter Illuminate

Find out about recent discoveries, community supporters and more.

Illuminate Summer 2023
View the current issue