International Women's Day: Celebrating Women Philanthropists

Ask anyone not in the philanthropic sector to name Australia’s greatest philanthropists and the names they come up with will probably be along the lines of Andrew Forrest, Dick Smith or Richard Pratt. Most of these donors will have several things in common: they will tend to be very wealthy; they will be people who have attracted media attention for matters other than their philanthropy; and they will be men.

To commemorate this year’s International Women’s Day, we thought we would profile just two stories of Australian women’s philanthropy, one from the 19th century and one living philanthropist.

Louisa DaCosta

Very little is known about Louisa DaCosta, who arrived in Australia in 1840 from England with her brother Benjamin, who was also philanthropic. She only spent seven of her 91 years in Australia, but was clearly influenced by her experience here; while she returned to England in 1848, she continued to give to Australia - and particularly to South Australia - for the remaining fifty years of her life. On her death, the property she owned in South Australia was left for the establishment of a “Samaritan fund for convalescents”.

Today the Louisa DaCosta Trust provides financial assistance for people in need who are referred to the Trust by South Australian health care professionals, for unplanned illnesses and also for life long illnesses where Government support is not available. In the past five years, Louisa DaCosta’s legacy has provided over $1.4m in assisting public hospital patients in South Australia.

For more information: The Louisa DaCosta Trust

Fleur Spitzer

Fleur Spitzer’s father emigrated from Poland in the 1920s, and her Hungarian husband Vic arrived in Australia with his parents in 1939. Other relatives arrived from a racially divisive and war-torn Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, bringing stories of the injustices they faced there; coupled with the difficulties some of them faced in Australia, this increased Fleur’s awareness of the impact of racial discrimination, which later fed into her philanthropic work on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers.

Fleur was also involved in the women’s movement in the 1970s, and by 1990 she had developed a specific interest in the stereotypes and prejudices around women and ageing, seeing that the myths that older women were a drain on society were belied by the reality. Fleur established the Alma Unit for Women and Ageing at the University of Melbourne, a multidisciplinary research and teaching unit focusing on the health and well-being of women aged 65 years and over. While the Unit eventually folded, its influence has fed into work being carried out by other institutions including the healthy ageing unit at Monash University.

Fleur Spitzer’s other interests have included social justice and access to legal services. In 2003 she seed funded a pilot project, Access to Justice in the Modern Campaspe Region, to set up a community legal centre. Within two years, the State Government had offered ongoing funding for the centre.

What distinguishes Fleur Spitzer’s giving is that while the amounts given are not large in philanthropic terms, they are an example of how modest gifts, strategically directed, can provide a solid foundation which others can build on, and from which ongoing benefit can proceed.

Fleur Spitzer was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to women in the 1996 Queen’s Birthday Honours. She was recognised in particular for services to the ageing through the work of the Alma Unit.

More resources

For more information on Australian women philanthropists, a wonderful resource is In Her Gift: Women Philanthropists in Australian History.

For more information and to get involved in women’s philanthropy, here are some great resources.

  • The Australian Women Donor’s Network is an education-focused not-for-profit organisation that advocates for gender-sensitive practice within the social investment and grant-making sector, and for a greater philanthropic investment in women and girls. Their website includes an online showcase of projects.
  • The Victorian Women’s Trust is a Victorian foundation which invests in women & girls for positive social change, researches issues which affect their lives, creates opportunities that spark ideas, engagement & debate, advocates for reforms that improve conditions for women & girls, and make sure the public record better reflects their contribution and impact.
  • The Sydney Women’s Fund, a sub-fund of the Sydney Community Foundation, brings together women who act as donors and activists. It aims to create and grow a wave of philanthropy to improve the lives of women and girls in Sydney by growing women’s philanthropy, increasing social change philanthropy in the community. identifying and promoting projects for investment, and serving as a voice for women and girls.

Philanthropy Australia’s free downloadable resources for getting involved in philanthropy include:

You may also be interested in our workshops and seminars.

Mar. 08, 2012

 Tags: stories, research & information, general

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