First New Gen event of 2022: Outcomes and reflections

By: Martin Green   |   Co-Chair of New Gen Committee at Philanthropy Australia

Last night, we had the rare privilege of coming together as a group to hear from a fascinating panel of philanthropic leaders, hosted at the home of New Gen Co-Chair Bella Wiggs. The first in-person New Gen event of its kind in quite some time kicked off with an enlightening conversation between Mike Gonski and Ian Thorpe, both board members of the ReachOut charity, who were later joined by Jack Heath, Philanthropy Australia’s CEO, who founded ReachOut in 1997, in order to leverage the growing power of the internet to prevent youth suicide.

Ian Thorpe, ReachOut. Image credit: ReachOut
Mike Gonski, ReachOut Image credit: ReachOut

They each shared powerful, personal stories of how they came to focus on the mental health challenges that so many of us face. Ian’s story of struggling deeply with anxiety and depression while standing up on the world stage and performing at the highest level illustrates one of the greatest issues we have faced when it comes to mental health – that these issues have been hidden, brave faces have been put on and nothing has been discussed. Meanwhile, millions are suffering in silos, alienated and feeling as though these are problems that they alone face. And on top of that, we were told, 79 percent of young people who require treatment will not seek it. ReachOut provides self-help information, peer-support programs and referral tools. 

Mike spoke of how he saw ReachOut as in its infancy, despite being 25 years into its work, because of the great technological opportunity ahead. Through their work at ReachOut, Ian and Mike seek to find solutions to the scalability problem of mental health support. At current rates, we need another $75 billion over the next ten years to sustain our support levels, and it is not sustainable.

We heard how the government has not given enough to mental health, and that’s where philanthropy comes in. Mike told the story of his philanthropic journey, beginning with the early days of New Gen. Philanthropy Australia approached Mike 11 years ago to help put together a group of young people with access to capital in an attempt to build a community and leverage those connections to create great change. They created a safe space for young people to be vulnerable and grow and find themselves in philanthropy, and perhaps the most remarkable outcome for members of that group, Mike noticed, is that they were never more animated or happy than when discussing their philanthropic work, the people they worked with and the programs being developed with their help. This close-knit group of early New Gen members has been able to have a huge impact through their collaborations, and gained so much personally from doing so.

Drawing interesting parallels between ReachOut and New Gen, too, the evening emphasised the importance of shared experience with like-minded people, and the bravery that can come from vulnerability in a safe space. Other ideas of note, we need to look at charity like we do business – to be free to take risks on amazing people, and spread that risk over a number of individuals, because in doing so, the return is always far outsizes the investment. Not to be overly prescriptive and focus on reporting and outcomes, but to invest in capacity building with untied funding – to find great people and let them do great work. Focus on a few projects, and spend time getting to know them – become a voice at the table and become an advocate, using your time and energy as well as money. And note, if you can save the government money, they will listen.

Jack shared that during his time at ReachOut he learned, if you give people the tools, they will put the pieces back together themselves, and that advice seems to go across so much of what we do. The sky is the limit when we use our power to build supportive ecosystems and shared spaces to make change.

Apr. 08, 2022

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