How a live collective giving event became a powerful antidote to prevailing negativity

By: Lisa Cotton   |   Co-Founder and CEO, The Funding Network

On the very evening that the US election result stunned the world, 150 shell-shocked corporate heavyweights gathered in the vast foyer of Clayton Utz’s citadel in Sydney’s Bligh Street. They weren’t seeking legal advice.

They came to participate in The Funding Network’s live crowd-funding event on diversity and social inclusion.

An air of disbelief hung heavy in the room as guests pointed out the irony of the evening’s themes, while they reflected on the role that immigration and diversity played in Donald Trump’s victory.

They spoke of the stunned silence and the sense of palpable hopelessness that was evident on the streets, and how many were questioning political morality and the vagaries of human nature.

But as the evening progressed and The Funding Network event unfolded, the guests were surprised and delighted to find that it became a powerful antidote to the prevailing negativity. 

Right from the start of the event a powerful collective empathy was evident for the three projects pitching to the room on some of the hardest challenges facing our society: refugees, LGBTIQ and Indigenous youth unemployment.

In broken English, refugee and former leading Iranian restaurateur, Hamed spoke compellingly about his shattering dismay in not even being able to find a job here washing dishes. That is, until he stumbled across fledgling social enterprise Free to Feed, which runs pop-up cooking schools, and found meaningful employment and a way to help other asylum seekers and refugees break out of their isolation and open up opportunities.

Hamed told of his joy in seeing Australians come together under his guidance, as they created a six-course menu using authentic ingredients from his home country and his mother’s recipes, then feasted together on the fruits of their labour while breaking down all barriers.

Passionate Indigenous leader, Peter Cooley from First Hand Solutions, shared his story next. He and his team reconnect Indigenous youth to traditional culture by passing down knowledge and skills from elders through both their community programs and their social enterprise, Blak Markets.

Peter explained how culture forms the bedrock for social and economic participation for young people as he proudly embraced his protégée, Ashley Little, a single mother who has risen to become the manager of the Blak markets.

The final pitch came from leading corporate headhunter and founder of The Pinnacle Foundation, Sean Linkson. Pinnacle provides scholarships and mentors to 16-24 year old LGBTIQ students who suffer major life challenges arising from marginalisation because of their gender or sexual identity.

Sean pointed to the crushing discrimination and rejection suffered by many young LGBTIQ people from their families, communities or faiths and the often life-threatening damage this causes to their self-esteem and mental health.

One common result is the loss of the environment, money and support they need to keep up their studies. They are over 400% more likely to suicide. Dibbs, one of the foundation’s transgender scholarship alumni, captivated the room with his personal account of how Pinnacle’s assistance changed the course of his life.

As is the custom in TFN events, after their pitches, the presenters leave the room and the pledging starts. It began with a good-natured ribbing from a guest challenging the room to match his pledge for $500.

This sparked a contagious wave of collective giving, gently egged on by Master of Ceremony James Valentine. The pace picked up when another guest called his donation an “outrage tax” on the US election results. Others quickly followed his lead and expressed their pledges in denominations of the ‘tax’. The room rose to the occasion and the resultant wave of optimism swept aside the post-election pall.

When the presenters returned to hear the results, they couldn’t hide their joy as they saw that they had won the audience’s hearts and minds and surpassed all their targets, raising a total of more than $74,000 for the three projects.

The result vindicated a recent survey by Roy Morgan which reported that 91 per cent of Australians put the right to a ‘fair go’ at the top of their list of values, with most listing the need for rights to welfare, housing and indigenous reconciliation to make Australia fairer.

The evening personified that notion. It brought laughter and tears and great satisfaction from givers and receivers, but, more importantly, it showcased a deep-seated generosity and common humanity, more than capable of withstanding the tides of negativity prevailing over them.

Nov. 28, 2016

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