What is philanthropy’s responsibility to future generations?

Fri, 28 Apr 2023

Australia’s philanthropic sector continues to grapple with how it ensures funding decisions made today are fit for the future. At the same time, most young people still disproportionately ‘lack the networks to people in power, capital and safe environment’ to have their ideas and solutions to social and environmental issues backed, says Grace Vegesana, Climate and Racial Justice Director at the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.  

The Foundation for Young Australians, with help from partners Centre for Policy Development, EveryGen Network, Philanthropy Australia and Policy Innovation Hub, hosted a panel discussion on 20 April about how philanthropy can work with young people to design funding programs that create long-term impact. Special guest was Sophie Howe – the former first Future Generations Commissioner of Wales, who spoke about the importance of nationwide legislation that mandates governance for intergenerational equity, and to implement future generations thinking across all sectors of society.  

She told how Wales adopted a Well-being of Future Generations Act in 2015, which led to zero-waste approaches, reverse mentorship across levels of government and school councils, youth forums and youth parliaments. 

Sophie pointed out that because of short-termism embedded in election cycles and traditional reporting frameworks and cycles, we are not spending enough time trying to understand existential threats to future generations. It’s this type of outdated mindset that needs to be challenged by philanthropists who believe in investing in the projects and ideas driven by young people, she said.  

Facilitated by the Executive Director of the Next Generation Foundation, Courtney Miller, the panel talked about a variety of ways that philanthropy could better support young people’s vision of a better future. Suggestions included  

• challenging status dynamics entrenched by traditional fund to fund-seeker relationships, 

• engaging in meaningful reparations for intergenerational injustices 

• reverse mentorship  

• age diversity in governance environments  

• funding attendance for young people from rural, remote or diverse backgrounds to travel to cities for national or other events. 

It’s clear philanthropy must play a larger role in increasing youth engagement and shifting power to young people via the projects they fund. Panellists also pointed out that for too long conventional funding models have buckets for siloed focus areas, rather than looking at funding projects that are intersectional by nature. It is without surprise that having been raised in a deeply connected generation facing a multitude of crises in concert with one another, the ideas and solutions young people have typically address a cross-section of issues.  

The panellists gave a examples of other barriers to funding projects by young people, such as the administratively intensive process of writing grant applications, and the often lack of cultural, generational and relationship safety that inherently exist in formal philanthropic environments. These aren’t particularly conducive settings for young people to thrive and share their ideas from within, panellists suggested. 

Panellist Rulla Kelly-Mansell, a Tulampanga Kooparoona Niara man from northern Lutruwita (Tasmania), mental health charity founder and musician, powerfully reflected on the need for Voice, Treaty and Truth for Australia to truly make any headway in securing a better future for incoming generations. At such a pivotal time in the nation, philanthropy’s role in the referendum cannot be underestimated. Philanthropy Australia released a statement of support for the Voice to Parliament

With the need for philanthropy to play a larger role in supporting intergenerational equity is abundantly clear, the question remains if the sector is willing to use much more of its funding to back youth-led grassroots organisations. For those interested in learning more, The Foundation for Young Australians convene a Youth Engagement Funder Network and host a Youth Action Fund, drawing on some successful overseas examples of similar collaborative funding approaches to youth action, including the Funder’s Collective on Youth Organizing (FCYO), in the US. 

Reach out to Vicky Rouse at Foundation for Young Australians ([email protected]) to learn more. 


As the national peak body for the sector, Philanthropy Australia is committed to nurturing and supporting philanthropy leaders of the next generation. Our Next Generation of Giving Network (New Gen) is a manifestation of our belief in leaders of tomorrow. 

The New Gen Network connects new and emerging philanthropists in their 20s and 30s. It is for individuals in who want to make a difference, create relationships and learn from some of the most experienced philanthropists in Australia. New Gen has been part of Philanthropy Australia since 2012 and has incubated some of Australia’s leading young philanthropists and social entrepreneurs. The network includes next generation family members, young professionals, social entrepreneurs, philanthropic and corporate foundation staff and trustees.  

Find out more at www.philanthropy.org.au/membership or reach out to the New Gen Network lead below, if you are interested in being part of the community. 

New Generation of Giving Network Lead: 

Bella Conyngham 

Associate Engagement Manager (NSW & ACT) 

[email protected]