Grattan Institute: The philanthropy behind powerful systems change advocacy

Fri, 3 Nov 2023

At Philanthropy Australia’s Philanthropy Meets Parliament Summit in Canberra last week, Danielle Wood, outgoing Grattan Institute CEO, reviewed some of the outstanding outcomes the independent public policy think tank has achieved in one of our case studies illustrating effective collaboration with government. Danielle is departing Grattan Institute to become the first woman to head the Productivity Commission. This article on Grattan Institute’s achievements was published in our Inspiring Stories of Giving publication, which was launched at the Summit. 

In the eyes of many, Grattan Institute has been Australia’s most influential public policy institute since it opened its doors in 2009. The institute operates with only limited resources – about 30 staff – but has been able to influence governments to make significant reforms right across portfolios, making a large contribution to the wellbeing of the Australian people. 

A key to Grattan’s influence has been its independence – it does not accept ongoing funds from government, nor does it do consultancy work.  This means it is free to undertake analysis and recommend the bold and challenging reforms Australia needs, working in the public interest and free from vested interests. 

The financing of this work has been a classic case of government and philanthropy working in partnership to achieve much more than government could achieve on its own. An initial endowment of $35 million was provided by the Federal and Victorian governments, BHP and National Australia Bank. Since then, philanthropy has amplified what Grattan can achieve in a range of ways. 

Grattan’s CEO Danielle Wood says: “Grattan Institute, with relatively limited investment, has been able to influence governments to make important reforms that deliver substantial shifts in some of society’s big systems – such as our schools, childcare, migration and tax systems. 

“It’s a great illustration of how investing in independent advocacy can be one of the most powerful and cost-effective ways for philanthropy to achieve systems change.” 

Philanthropic support for Grattan

Philanthropy has been critical to what Grattan has achieved. Support from philanthropic funders such as the Susan McKinnon Foundation, the Third Link Growth Fund, and the Trawalla Foundation, among others, help support around 30% of Grattan’s operating costs.  

Another 7% comes from individual donations. Grattan’s corporate affiliate program accounts for another 4%. These sources of funds allow Grattan to continue to fund its core research and policy analysis work.  

Grattan works in a range of ways: 

  • Grattan influences reform through programs of work in key areas of public policy, such as health and aged care; education; economic policy; transport and cities; energy and climate change; budgets and government; migration and the labour market. 
  • It typically produces around 15-18 major research reports each year, making the case for reforms in key areas of public policy. 
  • Grattan routinely holds more than 1,000 meetings with stakeholders a year, notably with government ministers, advisers, and officials, to discuss and promote policy reform. 
  • It works to influence public opinion, particularly through engagement in the media, where it publishes about 150 opinion articles and attracts more than 30,000 media mentions each year.  

Grattan has been a key influence in a suite of reforms. For example: 

  • The Federal Government’s 2022 $5.4 billion cheaper childcare package was heavily influenced by Grattan’s 2020 report, ‘Cheaper childcare: A practical plan to boost female workforce participation’. The report showed the payoff would be an $11 billion-a-year increase in GDP from the boost to workforce participation – and $150,000 in higher lifetime earnings for the typical Australian mother. 
  • The Federal Government is making paid parental leave more gender-equal and expanding it to 26 weeks by 2026, including a use-it-or-lose-it component for each parent, in line with recommendations in Grattan’s 2021 report ‘Dad days: How more gender-equal parental leave would improve the lives of Australians families. The report found the reform would deliver greater parental satisfaction, improvements in child development, higher rates of workforce participation and greater economic security for women. 

Philanthropic support for specific projects: School tutoring for children at risk 

The Origin Foundation provided Grattan with $100,000 to examine whether remote schooling during the pandemic was likely to have a disproportionate impact on students from low-income families. It provided a further $85,000 to research how best to embed small-group tuition in all schools. Grattan’s recommendations in its two reports – ‘COVID Catch-up: Helping disadvantaged students close the equity gap’ (2020) and ‘Tackling under-achievement: Why Australia should embed high-quality small-group tuition in schools’ (2023) have since been highly influential. The NSW and Victorian Governments have so far allocated around $1.7 billion to small-group tutoring during 2021-to-2023 to help school students who are struggling with reading and maths.  

Philanthropic support for whole programs of work: Higher education, migration, and people with a disability  

Philanthropy has made possible whole programs of work, such as the support of the Myer Foundation for the highly successful higher education program, and the Scanlon Foundation for Grattan’s migration work program, which has helped shape the agenda on reforming skilled migration.  

In May 2023, Grattan announced that, through the support of the Summer Foundation, it would be launching a Disability Program. This work has the potential to help millions of Australians: 4.4 million people live with a disability and 1.4 million with a profound disability. It is a critical area of policy as government considers way to make the NDIS effective and sustainable. Ms Wood said: “Given the importance of the NDIS, and the need for greater policy leadership in the disability space, now is a great time for Grattan to bring its rigorous and practical approach to support better policy. 

“I am so grateful to the Summer Foundation, an organisation with a deep experience in disability research and policy, for supporting Grattan to launch this new program.” 

Other successful stories of how philanthropy is collaborating with government to further shared objectives that were brought to life at Summit included Bernadette Black AM’s work to overhaul Centrelink as a more positive and easy system for young parents to navigate. She relayed how it was based on her own personal experience. Her story was also shared in Inspiring Stories of Giving and on our website earlier in the year. The Summit also heard from Dr Georgie McClean, Executive Director, Development and Partnerships at Creative Australia, on where the organisation is headed under its new identity and the importance of philanthropy to arts sustainability, which was also reported in Philanthropy Weekly. The final Summit case study was a thoughtful reflection on what was learned from philanthropy’s bid to back the Yes vote for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum –and what work now lies ahead for philanthropic advocacy and collaboration in the First Nations’ space.