Leading Philanthropist 2020: The nurturing power of philanthropy

Tue, 17 Nov 2020

Philanthropy has always been part of Carol Schwartz’s life; she is the first to admit that it is a natural extension of everything she does. Her philanthropic work has, she says, helped her grow personally but its broader impact has been deep and wide across Australian society, from community engagement, the arts, across business, social justice and to gender equality.

Three years ago, the Aboriginal Justice Forum at Swan Hill unanimously endorsed the Woor-Dungin project’s call for reform and recommended that the government introduce spent convictions’ legislation.

But perhaps the key to understanding just how important philanthropy is to Carol, is to appreciate how she talks about it. In addition to the words that are often used to describe best-practice philanthropy, ‘entrepreneurial’, ‘transformative’ ‘impactful’, Carol has several of her own, ‘experimentation’, ‘thrilling’ and ‘nurturing’. Together these words speak to a bold and compassionate approach to philanthropy. Individually, each word points to something more personal, a profound engagement with the drivers for giving. But Carol says there’s plenty of evidence that others share her worldview.

“The philanthropic community is a very nurturing community and it goes it both ways,’’ she says. “Philanthropic involvement nurtures whatever you’re supporting, and vice versa.’’

She points to the Pathway to Politics Program for Women which she helped establish as a partnership between the Women’s Leadership Institute of Australia, the Trawalla Foundation and the University of Melbourne to support her point.

The Program, now in its fifth year, is designed to increase the number of women in politics by providing them with the skills and knowledge to become political leaders

It is just one of several initiatives that are central to Carol’s lifelong commitment to gender equality, and what is notable in this call to nurture women’s leadership and political skills is the response from those who take part.

“When I think about the impact that a program like ‘Pathways’ has on me personally, and the feedback that I get, the calls I get from participants, the on-going relationship, it’s very nurturing and affirming,’’ she says. “And that is inspiring and it’s thrilling.’’

The thrill comes from not only having an impact on people’s lives in a positive way but also the multiplier effect that goes with it. “They go back in to their communities feeling nurtured, feeling cared for, feeling supported and they go back with real and specific skills and they’re able to have an enormous impact on the tens, the hundreds and the thousands of people they interact with,’’ Carol says.

The Schwartz name has been associated with Australian philanthropy for more than 25 years. Carol and her husband Alan (a former chair of Philanthropy Australia) established the Trawalla Foundation with their four children in 2004. Carol is the Founding Chair of the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia, which was behind the Women for Media initiative to increase female representation in the news media and she is the Founding Chair of Our Community, an established and valued player in strengthening and resourcing community organisations. She was a board member of the Melbourne Comedy Festival, helped establish the Australian Womens Donor Network, was a founding Chair of Creative Partnerships Australia, a founding member of the Stella Prize, a major literary award celebrating women’s writing and has been on a number of boards across property, business and the arts. She is currently a Reserve Bank board member.

Carol now finds herself at a stage where her philanthropy reflects the years of experience and the accrued wisdom that comes with the journey. “The things we’re doing now through the Trawalla Foundation are the culmination of experimentation, if you like, through a lifetime – what works, what doesn’t work, where you get the most impact, what your priorities are, what is significant to you and I think it’s a combination because one leads to another,’’ she says. “And philanthropy has always been very much part of my life. My exposure to, and engagement with, philanthropic activity started when I was a child and it’s been very much a part of Alan’s and my life together. There is an awareness of community, a drive to create an engaged community; to be part of that community, and how we can help our society be the best it possibly can be.’’

One of the keys to understanding how Carol’s philanthropy works is to understand the entrepreneurial nature of her family. “Alan and I are never afraid to start things. If we see something that doesn’t exist, that we feel needs to exist, we just go ahead and do it. We find the best partners…It’s like trying anything you’ve never tried before, at times it can be quite daunting’’ she says. “But ‘daunting’ is not a reason for not doing it, especially if the impact can be life-changing.”

“Well, for me the exciting part of philanthropy is transformation,’’ Carol says. “And that’s why Alan and I have been so incredibly supportive of things like scholarships, which can be transformational for people’s lives. They can go back into their work place, and their communities and make such a huge difference. This is where the Pathways to Politics Program for Women has played such a huge role in our philanthropy.’’

And, this is where Carol’s deep personal commitment to an issue, a cause or an organisation reveals itself most powerfully. “When you have a love of humanity, and when you’re not only supporting an idea financially but you’re also supporting it with basically every bone in your body, and then you are watching it seed, grow and transform, well that is incredibly exciting and it is nurturing too,’’ Carol says. “It is a growth opportunity that philanthropy gives, not to just sign a cheque but to actually think about the way you can make a contribution that’s going to be incredibly meaningful for people and communities and ultimately the globe, that makes it so important and so worthwhile,’’

She acknowledges that no issue has been more important than gender equality on her philanthropic journey. “It touches everything that we do,’’ she says.

“It’s about women and men sharing, power, decision-making and leadership. I think if we lived in a world where the sharing of power, decision making and leadership was equal, we would be living in a very different world. It seems that no one disagrees with me on this. So, how do we progress it? What’s taking so long? What’s happening in our world that we can’t see that if we had equal representation of men and women in power that we would be living in a different, and I think a better, world. ‘’

Photo of Carol Schwarts (left), Dame Quentin Bryce (centre), and Professor Glyn Davis, CEO of the Paul Ramsay Foundation.
Photo of Carol Schwarts (left), Dame Quentin Bryce (centre), and Professor Glyn Davis, CEO of the Paul Ramsay Foundation.

Carol knows that progress has been slow. Others would call it glacial. The debate about more women on corporate boards and executive roles has been going on for more than a generation. “We’ve made very little inroads. And that’s because the institutional framework that surrounds the political and the corporate world is just so entrenched. Making breakthroughs is very difficult; changing the institutional frameworks around issues such as who takes on the duties of childcare, who has the domestic responsibilities – and COVID-19 has really highlighted that,’’ Carol says.

“Those sorts of societal and institutional frameworks are not broken down just because you create equality in numbers – they break down when you have decision-makers working together to reshape frameworks. Cultural and systemic change takes a very long time and that’s why getting women into leadership positions as quickly as we possibly can, is absolutely necessary as far I’m concerned.’’

Carol also believes in the fraternal power of philanthropy, to grow not only its value to the nation, but also to improve the way philanthropy works. “Keep talking and sharing good ideas”, she urges those who want to see more and better philanthropy in Australia.“Digital platforms that encourage online donations and crowdsourcing funding have been absolutely fabulous in democratising giving and I’ve always been of the view that anyone can be a philanthropist,’’ Carol says. “If you’re a lover of humanity and you want to make a difference, make a contribution, you can give $5, $10 to something that really matters to you, you’re part of a bigger movement, you actually get an enormous amount of leverage from that because if 100,000 people are giving $10, you’re part of a very significant movement and you can be proud of that.”

“That’s exciting for people. Not everyone necessarily calls themselves philanthropists, or see themselves in that role, but notwithstanding they’re contributing enormously to things that matter to them because there’s this view that to be a philanthropist you have to be Andrew Forrest or Melinda Gates – but I don’t think that’s right at all. Anyone who donates their time, money or talent to create a better world is a philanthropist, and I like to believe that most people would like to do that – create a better world.”