Stories in philanthropy

Insights from the CEO - Australian Philanthropy Awards 2019

What are the stand-out ingredients of award-winning philanthropy? Is it the project? Is it the collaboration? Is it the impact? Philanthropy Australia CEO Sarah Davies provides her insights into the 2019 Australian Philanthropy Awards held recently in Sydney.

This is the fifth year we’ve been recognising and celebrating extraordinary achievements in Australian philanthropy. I can say with all honesty that the award nominations across all seven categories were exceptionally high, which made the selection panel’s job extremely difficult. What was fascinating – for me anyway – was reviewing the material for the recipients and trying to find patterns or themes that connected them all.

There was no pattern when it came to the amount of money. Good philanthropy is not about the money. Nor was there a pattern when it came to time: you will see that good philanthropy can respond quickly, immediately to an opportunity or a need; and good philanthropy can also ignore time where time is a constraint – it can play the long game over years, even decades.

But I did see four clear themes that linked them all: they were about attitude, approach, behaviour and practice and one magic ingredient that was nestled deep in all the recipients.

Learning was at the heart of each one – learning from community, learning from experience, with a commitment to learning together and willingness to change direction and approach.

Attitude was all about partnership. Collaboration, the whole being better and stronger than the sum of the parts, using the strengths and characteristics of the respective partners to work things out together.

Strategy was central to all seven award recipients – there was clear focus, deliberate intent, clarity about the desired change or creation of opportunity. They were intelligent, thoughtful, innovative.

There was real expert knowledge and expertise – both in terms of the area in which they were seeking change, but also on how to create that change. They all understood that their initiative was part of a bigger or broader ecosystem – they could see how they fitted into a bigger pattern and paid attention to the linkages and interconnections.

The magic ingredient – what they all had in spades – was inspiration and generosity (and I don’t mean money) – they all had courage and (depending on the award category), an inherent desire to build capacity, to help others do better, to give better and live better.

In short, our award recipients have all been selected for the impact and outcome of their work, their approaches to giving and their innovative ways of finding effective, elegant solutions. And they all give us a wallop of inspiration and energy to find our own way to do the same.

Best Small Grant

Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR) and the Barcoo Way Committee for the Barcoo Way Project.

Listening to the selection panel talk about this nomination, this is what I heard: “They took a problem most people would have said could not be solved”; “They embraced an issue that was locally identified, identified a way to address it; it was collaboration on steroids and the cherry on the cake – they delivered a totally replicable model!”

From a funder respective, the panel said this funder had the foresight to see what could be funded, that many would just never have seen.

Environmental Award

Melliodora Fund (and six other sub funds of the Australian Communities Foundation, plus 10 other funders since 2014) for The Change Agency Community Organising Fellowship.

What did the panel say about this one? “It had a significant and immediate impact, collaborating at its core, it is all about building capacity and it is self-perpetuating – mobilising scale.”

Genderwise Award

Atlassian Foundation International for Room to Read Australia.

The panel’s comment on this one recognised the innovative nature of the partnership – “enmeshed” is the word they used – for a multi-generation impact. And the funder went way beyond ‘just giving’…

Indigenous Philanthropy Award

Klein Family Foundation and Karrkad Kanjdji Trust for the Warddeken Daluk Ranger Program.

Here, the panel recognised the deep complexity of this work, the commitment to self-determination. But there was this one killer quote I have to share: ‘This work expands the nation’s vision to match the women’s resilience and work on country.’

International Philanthropy Award

Eve Kantor and Mark Wootton, the Kantor family through the Poola and Dara Foundations for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) Australia.

Oh boy – this is a ripper! Never again will we have the excuse that a problem too big to tackle; never again will be able to say, Australian philanthropy is small, how can we hope to solve a global problem – this is a text-book definition of the catalytic use of philanthropic funds. Commitment, vision and advocacy are these funders’ DNA. And I’m not sure we’ll ever have another Award nominee who has already been part of a Nobel Prize.

The Kantor family, through the Poola and Dara foundations has provided support over many years to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and they have been instrumental in its development and launch in Australia.

I just love how the philanthropic approach was described in the nomination: they provided “collegial, empowering and uncluttered support…they had confidence in the vision, capacity, persistence and ability to work together. They were engaged but humble, never demanding attention or meddlesome. It was about the work, not them. Their reporting requirements were simple, focussed and forward-looking; what was achieved, lessons learned, what might we have done differently and future plans.” That’s a philanthropy masterclass right there.

Best Large Grant

Dusseldorp Forum, Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation (VFFF) and Maranguka Backbone Community Organisation, Bourke (Auspiced by Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT) for Maranguka’s Justice Reinvestment Strategy.

You guys know that Philanthropy Australia’s purpose is ‘more and better philanthropy”. If I ever had to pick one example of Australian philanthropy that typified this purpose – this would be it. Full stop. It’s genius. And its genius because it uses all the characteristics of philanthropy to its fullest extent: starting with the principle that communities and people know best what they need and how to get it (“nothing about us without us”).

No constraints, no agendas, no time limits.

Exploiting the wisdom of crowds – all perspectives.

Freedom to take risks, break rules, ignore the standard approaches and models.

Understanding context and system – nothing takes place in a vacuum – understand the externalities and interdependencies.

Bring others with you – share the load, share the learning, share the achievements.

Build the trust that lets you be brave and honest.

But underpin this with rigour and strategy, don’t be afraid to test, prod, interrogate, evaluate, re-assess, communicate, clarify.

And then share – everything – the process, the tools, the data, the lessons, the outcomes, so other can use it all.

Leading philanthropist

Philip Bacon

This year’s recipient is a visionary philanthropist who leads with the principles of collaboration, measurement, prevention and sustainability to drive advocacy and support of grassroots philanthropy.

The recipient of this year’s award exemplifies a philanthropist who is both a giver and a leader. He is building a legacy of advancing art in Australia through targeted giving, leadership and encouragement of others. What I loved about this nomination was the distinct but symbiotic leadership and philanthropic characteristics.

He is known for his wise counsel, transformative and well-considered giving and his advocacy for public access. Everyone cites his generosity (time, treasure and talent) as just exemplary. I just loved the words used by one of his referees: he is “a leader by doing ‘good’ without being found out, content to make his substantial contributions quietly and without drawing attention to himself”. His professional reputation is “rivalled only by his legendary philanthropy and leadership, encouraging others to give…”.

As a leading figure in the world of fine arts, he has also encouraged other artists and collectors to support a range of projects and initiatives – inspiring and motivating others to follow his lead.

I would also like to sincerly thank all the Australian Philanthropy Awards 2019 partners and supporters; Deakin University - Best Large Grant Award Sponsor, Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network - Environmental Philanthropy Award Partner, Netwealth Investments Limited - Gender-wise Philanthropy Award Sponsor, Australian Women Donors Network - Gender-wise Philanthropy Award Partner, Ninti One - Indigenous Philanthropy Award Partner & Art Gallery of NSW - Event Partner.

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