Why we need to shift power in this critical time for our natural world

Amanda Martin OAM  Fri, 14 Apr 2023

Right now, our environment and climate face challenges of such scale and magnitude that at times it can feel overwhelming. But this moment we find ourselves in also holds enormous hope and possibility for shifting Australia’s trajectory towards a future where people and nature thrive. And philanthropists have a vital role to play. 

To make the most of our capacity to catalyse this needed change, those of us in the philanthropic community must apply a systems lens to the way we fund. We can’t do this without thinking deeply about power, which is why we’ve chosen the theme of AEGN’s annual conference in May: Building power, shifting power. 

This isn’t always comfortable territory for philanthropy, but it’s a discussion that’s gaining momentum, and one that is long overdue. Many in our membership agree, and we are looking forward to hearing from them directly as session moderators and panellists throughout the conference. They will be joined by experts and change-makers from academia, law, policymaking, venture capital, and the environmental NGOs that have been leading remarkable efforts in this sphere for decades. 

We’ll be exploring the topic of power from many different angles: 

  • Political power and how to galvanise elected representatives to take big and bold action to meet the scale of the challenges 
  • The power of money and why many philanthropists are choosing to spend down in this critical moment 
  • Cultural power and how considerations of justice and equity intersect with the economic and social factors driving environmental and climate harm 
  • Personal power and persuading others to give and act, including the role of being open and public about our philanthropy 
  • The power of narratives to shape reality 
  • The power dynamics between grant-makers and grant-seekers and how we can shift this to achieve better outcomes for all 
  • Empowering communities across the country who are at the forefront of the impacts of the dual climate and biodiversity crises. 

It’s a year of incredible opportunity for funders, with a referendum on an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament, a historic review of our nature laws, a bid for Australia to host a future UN Climate Change Conference and the adoption of a new global biodiversity framework. Philanthropy and our allies have the power to convert this potential into reality if we move with speed, ambition and discernment; and we must grapple with power in all its forms to do the job well. 

Now is the time to re-orient and recharge, and there’s great power in the collective. 

So, as Philanthropy Australia members, I invite you to join us for these important discussions. For nature and climate, there’s no time to waste. 

Amanda Martin OAM is the CEO of the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network (AEGN). AEGN’s annual conference will be held in Sydney on 3-4 May, with a number of pre-conference events on Tuesday 2 May. The AEGN conference is open to AEGN members, partners and grant-makers with an interest in environment who have capacity to give $25,000 or more annually to any issue (not just environment). More details can be found at https://www.aegn.org.au/event/2023-conference/