Local legacy to build community strength

Thu, 9 Sep 2021

When it comes to thinking about wills and legacies, it’s rare to find a 30-year-old who has already decided about what they will leave behind.

But Sarah Sheridan has perhaps an advantage over many – she knew Dr Christopher Baker and has been inspired to follow the path the late philanthropist charted not only with his research but most importantly, with his legacy to strengthen social justice within his community.

“I had the pleasure of working with Christopher through my work with the Inner North Community Foundation (in Melbourne),’’ Sarah explained. “And I was inspired by the way he used his own will to continue the great work he’d been doing.’’
Christopher’s own gift is about to be formally launched next week on Thursday, September 16, when the Inner North Community Foundation’s new flagship fund, the Bakers Dozen Social Justice Fund, announces its first grant recipients and auctions artwork.

The Fund was established through a legacy gift of $3.5m left by Christopher and his partner, Ms Kerri Hall, who passed away before Christopher. “Christopher and Kerri were passionate about the role of philanthropy in creating fairer and more inclusive communities, particularly for their Brunswick community in Melbourne’s Inner North,’’ Inner North Community Foundation Executive Officer Ben Rodgers said.

“Christopher knew that sometimes the biggest gift a person would make is the one they never got to see,’’ Ben said.
“He was passionate about the role of philanthropy in creating prosperous, connected, and cohesive communities, particularly for his community in Melbourne’s inner north. His life exemplified the values of integrity, generosity, and a commitment to social justice. Before he died last year, Christopher gave detailed attention to the aspirations and purpose of his fund, knowing he would be leaving this legacy for others to carry on.’’

For Sarah, Christopher’s example gave her an opportunity to consider how she could go on giving.
“As a young person involved in social enterprise and all of those different spaces, it’s really easy to be focussed on making the most of the present and doing all of that for impact but now being able to continue that work beyond my physical days is really exciting,’’ Sarah said. “And so simple as well.’’

Christopher was well-known in philanthropy. He was an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne (CSI Swinburne), a sub-fund holder with community foundations, a prolific donor to numerous charitable causes, and Chair of the Inner North Community Foundation that covers the Darebin, Moreland, and Yarra municipalities in Melbourne. His specialist research included charitable giving from estates and bequests and promoting diversity in philanthropy.

His doctoral thesis on estate transmission and post-mortem charitable giving in Australia was a pioneering analysis of gifts and wills. Christopher’s research has continued to inform initiatives to grow bequest giving and will continue to do so – having been cited most recently in Philanthropy Australia’s ‘Blueprint to Grow Structured Giving’ launched in April.

“Christopher thought deeply about his own structured giving, giving while living and also planning how his contribution would continue after his death,’’ Ben said.

After generous gifts to his family, through his estate he made gifts to:

The CERES Fund at the Inner North Community Foundation ($50,000)

  • The Say Their Name Fund at the Inner North Community Foundation ($50,000)
  • His sub-fund was ported from the Australian Communities Foundation to the Inner North Community Foundation just before he died, and established The Social Studio Fund, providing support for a refugee focused Charity (combined $250,000)
  • A gift to the Abbotsford Convent ($20,000)
  • The Inner North Community Foundation to establish the Bakers Dozen Social Justice Fund. (approx. $3,500,000)

Ben explained that establishing a philanthropic fund that would focus on addressing issues of social justice grew from Christopher and Kerri’s shared values and interests. Christopher was passionate about the contribution of private wealth for public good. Christopher was also keen to see local people involved in allocations from the new social justice fund. So, an Advisory Group* of local people has been convened to help steward establishment of the Fund.

The group helped define Social Justice as: 

  • Social justice is about fairness and opportunities for all to shape and participate in social, economic, civic, and cultural life.
  • A socially just society is one of diversity and belonging. It reduces entrenched inequities in the distribution of resources and rights, promotes healing and understanding between people, and recognises the strengths and leadership of those silenced by inequity.
  • Sustainable social justice also recognises the relationship between care for people and care for place.

Sarah found being part of the group defining those principles had been a welcome reminder of the contribution Christopher had made.

“I don’t think I’ve spoken so frequently about someone who’s passed in such a way that honours them,’’ Sarah said. “It’s been such a lovely process to be part of.’’
Sarah has now pledged 10 percent of her estate to the Inner North Community Foundation. “Once I got through the logistical pieces and what I wanted that to look like it, it was really straightforward,’’ Sarah said. She spoke to family and friends about her decision, knowing that discussions about “wills and legacies’’ were rare. “That’s also shifting the narrative about what our wills can be for and the opportunity that can exist in wills with gifts,’’ she said. “It’s really exciting to think about the transfer of wealth and how that can continue to add to generosity and impact.’’

Ben said that Christopher and Kerri hoped to inspire others to contribute to the capital base of the Fund, to have deeper impact. He said: “The sale of their artwork is one way to support this, and people can learn more by registering for the launch.’’

*Group is Distinguished Professor Josephine Barraket, Centre for Social Impact, Swinburne University, Maryum Chowdry, President, Sanad Foundation, Craig Kenny, Director, Inner North Community Foundation, Grace McQuilten, Director, The Social Studio, Carolyn Phiddian, Chair, Inner North Community Foundation, Ms Sarah Sheridan, Co-Founder, Clothing The Gap, Dr Genevieve Timmons, Paul Ramsay Foundation