The 2017 Philanthropy Meets Parliament Summit brought funders, nonprofits and policy makers together for two days of inspiring keynotes, case studies and challenging conversations about philanthropy’s role in advocating for change.
Welcoming delegates to the sold-out Philanthropy Meets Parliament Summit, held September 11-12 in Canberra, Philanthropy Australia CEO, Sarah Davies, foreshadowed a two-day deep dive into philanthropy’s role in a modern democracy.
“We’re going to get into the mess of it and wrestle with it and get stuck into the issues and explore them,” Davies promised, and the two-day program, featuring funders, nonprofits, political representatives, policy makers and committed changemakers, delivered.
In an introductory address that set the tone for the Summit, Joe Skrzynski AO, from the Philanthropy Australia Council, outlined the untapped potential between philanthropy and government.
“Philanthropy has the potential to bring innovation and experimentation,” Skrzynski said. “It’s the seed capital, the kick-starter for innovation and we know that innovation is essential to the future sustainability of government programs.”
Acknowledging the “lurch towards populism” across the world, Skrzynski also underscored the value of advocacy and the role it plays in contemporary philanthropic practice, noting that advocacy is central to the purpose of charity.
The Hon Christian Porter MP, Minister for Social Services, gave the opening keynote, highlighting findings from Giving Australia’s Individual Giving and Volunteering Report and the Business Giving and Volunteering Report which were officially released that day.
Porter noted that individual giving reached $12.5 billion in 2016 and that businesses gave $17.5 billion in 2015-16, an increase of $14.2 billion over the course of a decade. He also said the Government recognised its role as a prime enabler of giving and called for increased “acknowledgement of good deeds” and the “need to encourage more virtue.”
The Minister also announced a new $835,000 initiative which will test the potential to use ‘nudge economics’ to grow giving. This initiative stems in part from a proposal put forward by Philanthropy Australia earlier this year. [Read the full speech here]
The Hon Dr Andrew Leigh MP, Shadow Minister for Charities and Not-for-Profits, addressed the Summit later that morning, receiving robust applause for his tribute to Susan Pascoe and “her steady leadership” which he said had been “integral to the early years of the ACNC.”
Leigh stressed the need for bipartisan support of the ACNC as well as recognition of the value of advocacy as “an important part of the work charities do.” [Read the full speech here]
In the “Understanding our Tumultuous Times” session, ABC Radio’s Tom Switzer pressed panellists Professor Helen Sullivan (ANU), John Daley (Grattan Institute), Karen Mahlab AM, and Misha Ketchell (The Conversation) for their views on the current state of world affairs. Fake news, diminished trust in government, hyper-partisan debates and the fragmentation of the media were hotly discussed.
“Philanthropists are in such a powerful, pivotal position,” Helen Sullivan said. “They are still trusted more than other institutions and can bridge social capital between groups.”
The growing divide “between rulers and the ruled” John Daley said, had led to the growing perception that “what’s being done is not being done in the public interest.”
“Politics is a rancorous business and democracy is not mean to be polite,” Daley continued.
“The public interest often has very few friends whereas vested interests have many.”
The Centre for Social Impact’s Professor Kristy Muir deftly handled late arrivals and multiple voting interruptions during the Parliamentary Perspectives on Philanthropy session which featured representatives from the minor parties: Rebekha Sharkie MP, Senator Rachel Siewert and Cathy McGowan AO MP.
The Summit’s special international guest, Daniel Lee from the Levi Strauss Foundation, pulled focus and won hundreds of admirers with his unapologetic defence of advocacy and rousing call to action.
"Advocacy fuels the power of justice,” Lee said. “If we are not fuelling the power of justice, then what the hell are we doing? It’s an indispensable part of the tool-chest of philanthropy.” [Read more coverage of Daniel Lee’s sessions here].
The ‘Clever Collaboration’ session showcased case studies from the newDemocracy Foundation, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Arts Queensland and the Colman Foundation’s support of Doveton College.
The day’s final session, ‘Social Innovation in Tumultuous Times’ asked Dr Tim Reddel (Department of Social Services), Jane Farmer (Swinburne University of Technology), Rob Koczkar (Social Ventures Australia) and Stacey Thomas (Fay Fuller Foundation) how funders respond to entrenched disadvantage and growing inequality.
“Philanthropy is in a position to trail-blaze and take risks,” Rob Koczkar stressed, while moderator Tessa Boyd Caine (Health Justice Australia) pointed out that “Innovation is not just about creating the new, but also re-inventing the old.”
Day One ended with delegate drinks in the Mural Hall of Parliament House and the launch of the Parliamentary Friends of Philanthropy group.
Day Two of the Summit sought to explore impact through advocacy and policy influence and Daniel Lee’s opening keynote delivered a compelling case based on the Levi Strauss Foundation’s 65 years of experience.
“Funding advocacy is the terrain of pioneers and innovators,” Lee said, stressing its suitability as a high-impact philanthropic lever during turbulent times.
Lee explained that 80 per cent of the Levi Strauss Foundation’s grants integrate advocacy approaches and implored delegates to see advocacy as “not a minefield of risk, but a garden of opportunity.”
Lee also participated in a spirited panel with Eric Beecher (Beecher Family Foundation), Cassandra Goldie (Australian Council for Social Service) and David Crosbie (Community Council for Australia).
Moderator, Maree Sidey, from Australian Communities Foundation, pointed out that advocacy “is not something you have to do on your own. It’s a partnership between nonprofits and philanthropists.”
Eric Beecher spoke of the success of the gambling harm documentary Ka-ching! and stressed that civic journalism, which desperately needed support, sits “at the very heart of democracy.”
Daniel Lee refuted the perception that embracing advocacy requires an extensive overhaul of existing grant programs. “It’s not true,” Lee said.
“All you need to do to get started is take the greatest leaders among your grantees and ask them ‘What more do you need?’ Start by trusting leaders.”
David Crosbie agreed. “If you’re really interested in achieving change, talk to people who share your values and purpose.”
“Back people, back organisations, don’t just buy a product,” Crosbie added.
Anne Robinson AM from Prolegis Lawyers assured funders that advocacy was a legitimate pursuit, saying that the historic reticence surrounding advocacy was “not so much a question of law, but politics.”
Robinson suggested there are three questions philanthropy must ask in supporting advocacy:
John Daley from the Grattan Institute unpacked the lessons of political economy, noting that “a good evidence base, patience and persistence are essential to advocacy.”
Tom Snow urged the crowd not to underestimate the power of personal stories and shared a video from the Australian Marriage Equality campaign that had the audience in tears [90 seconds – watch it here].
Mark Yettica-Paulson encapsulated his message in three words: “Give. Stand. Respect.”
“When you stand with something you’re showing your solidarity,” he explained. “And even when the arguments can be rough and vicious, you have to have respect.”
“We need to continue to lean in on the Indigenous issue even though it is vexing and challenging.”
The Summit’s last session featured four case studies of successful philanthropic funding of advocacy. John Spierings (Reichstein Foundation) outlined the Alliance for Gambling Reform, Meg Argyriou spoke about Climateworks, Malinda Wink (Shark Island Productions) shared details of Gayby Baby documentary film and social impact campaign and Jonathon Hunyor (Public Interest Advocacy Centre) detailed the Asylum Seeker Health Rights Project.
John Spierings reminded the audience of philanthropy’s often out-sized influence. “Philanthropy’s convening power, as a neutral but engaged player, can change dynamics.”
After two thought-provoking days of knowledge sharing and deep conversation, the Summit closed amid a prevailing spirit of not ‘if’ philanthropy in Australia should embrace advocacy, but a realisation that for the sake of social change, it can’t afford not to.
The 2017 Philanthropy Meets Parliament Summit wouldn’t have been possible without the support of our generous partners: Paul Ramsay Foundation, Social Ventures Australia, Susan McKinnon Foundation, Warakirri Asset Management and Teach for Australia.
Learn more about philanthropy and advocacy: The Power of Advocacy (a new resource from Philanthropy Australia about philanthropy funding advocacy).
Looking for more inspiration and the chance to contribute to place-based social change? Don’t miss the National Community Foundations Forum, October 17-19 (Melbourne).