Role for a new kind of philanthropy in strengthening our democracy

By: Harriet McCallum   |   Executive Officer, Mannifera   |

Over the course of this tumultuous year, Australians have engaged with our political leaders and decision-makers on a daily basis. We were asked to prioritise the collective good over individual interests. Evidence has been driving some political responses (even superseding ideology on occasion) with important displays of bipartisanship that we have rarely seen this century. The questions that have kept turning over in my mind have been;

How do we galvanise Australians’ current levels of political engagement to demand a stronger, healthier and more representative democracy?

How does our respect for and reliance on scientific evidence speak of  the electorate’s hunger for our political leaders to make decisions based on independent, trusted sources free of vested interests?

How does our success of prioritising the collective good over individual interests reveal the public’s support for an economy that works for everyone?

These questions all connect to the core mission of Mannifera, a collective of Australian funders who seek to contribute to the task of defending and augmenting our democracy. Mannifera is a space for those in the philanthropic sector who seek to cultivate power-sharing partnerships with civil society organisations that work to restore public trust, transparency and fairness in democracy, increase the quality and diversity of our media and address the structural causes of increasing economic inequality across Australian society.

Mannifera members recognised that Australia cannot achieve a complete democracy without addressing our long history of colonisation, instating the rights and respecting the aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.  Mannifera is committed to listening to and learning from First Nations perspectives on the state of our democracy and economy with these perspectives informing funding decisions. We aspire for an inclusive economy with shared prosperity, greater equality in all public spheres with evidence-driven public policy that leads us to take urgent action in response to climate change.

In Mannifera’s first year of collective philanthropy we have funded and worked with ambitious and tenacious civil society partners using a range of effective advocacy approaches to champion a better democracy and fairer economy.

Mannifera has been the first major funder of key civil society organisations with core purposes of defending our democracy including; The Centre for Public Integrity, Australian Democracy Network and Digital Rights Watch.

The Centre for Public Integrity’s team and Board have worked tactically and tirelessly on an integrity reform agenda sharply focused on preventing corruption through a National Integrity Commission, highlighting and eliminating the undue influence of money in politics, protecting the integrity of our accountability institutions, including the significant budget cuts to the National Audit Office in 2020.

The Australian Democracy Network is building a broad and powerful national coalition advocating for a democracy in which civil society is robust and unhindered, public debate is informed, fair and diverse; citizens are engaged, government is clean, open and accountable and the wellbeing of people and the planet comes first.

Digital Rights Watch deliver strategic campaigns to protect Australians’ digital rights including our rights to privacy being upheld by governments, corporations and organisations, increased transparency, accountability and oversight of data-use and supporting strong and accountable journalism.

Mannifera funders were able to rapidly respond to support the Australian Associated Press transition to a viable not-for-profit entity and remain a vital part of the Australian media landscape, providing a crucial newswire service that underpins journalism and reporting across print, radio and other broadcast media.

Mannifera has been first funder to the First Nations Workers Alliance’s campaign to abolish the federal government’s punitive, heavy-handed and racially discriminatory Community Development Program in remote Aboriginal communities. Mannifera has contributed within a larger network of funders to national and urgent campaigns including the Uluru Statement and Raise the Rate. Other initiatives and organisations that Mannifera is partnering with include: The Democracy Project documentary (for release in mid-2021), the COVID-19 Rapid Advocacy Fund, Equality Australia and Original Power.

With collectivism and fairness at the heart of Mannifera’s mission, how we do philanthropy is as important as where the funding lands. Mannifera leverages the broader resources including knowledge, expertise and networks, of the collective and the civil society organisations we partner with. Mannifera is committed to the enquiry of what deep and long-lasting partnership between philanthropy and civil society can look like?

An example of this deliberative partnership work is the convening of monthly roundtable discussions with the CEOs and senior leaders of leading Australian think tanks, civil society organisations and philanthropies to aggregate the knowledge and networks of this forum and coordinate responses to the risks and opportunities created by the  COVID19-induced recession.

Over the last year, Australia’s national effort should be rewarded with progress towards transparency and fairness in democracy and a more inclusive economy. In 2021, a year where we face a federal election and critical budget decisions, Mannifera will work to build out its collective and deepen its partnerships with civil society. For what greater collective effort is there than the achievement of a thriving, healthy democracy and an economy that works for us all?

For more information about Mannifera please visit  or contact

Feb. 16, 2021

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