Environmental funders, perhaps like no other philanthropic collective, have an acute appreciation of the urgency and complexity of their cause and scale of their task. Though you’d be forgiven for expecting hand-wringing and the odd note of despair when they come together for the annual AEGN conference, you might just be surprised at how determinedly upbeat they are.
Nicole Richards, April 2018
More than 100 philanthropists and change makers came together in Sydney last month to connect with and learn from each other, while discussing and debating philanthropy’s role in energising the green economy.
The lively conference room, awash with light from Sydney’s glistening harbour, buzzed with a spirit of optimism and activism.
“It never ceases to amaze me how much AEGN members love getting together,” says AEGN CEO, Amanda Martin, who lists conversation, laughter, deep discussions and introductions as the hallmarks of AEGN events.
“AEGN members really own the AEGN and they feel responsible for ensuring that new people are welcomed and that they meet the people that they need to meet. Of course, there is lots of passion and concern about environmental issues but the overwhelming atmosphere is one of welcome and laughter.”
Funding seismic change
Keynote speaker and Divest-Invest Philanthropy pioneer, Ellen Dorsey, from the US-based Wallace Global Fund, set the tone for the day when she reinforced philanthropy’s capacity to be a powerful force for good, putting its influence and investments to work alongside its grants. She also cautioned that philanthropy has a role to play in making sure that the transition to the green economy doesn’t leave people behind and encouraged support for workers in the extraction industry. [Read more in our Q&A with Ellen Dorsey].
In the ‘Funding Seismic Change’ session, Belinda Morrissey from the English Family Foundation conceded that although the Foundation doesn’t necessarily consider itself an environmental funder, “whenever you look closely at impact, environment comes to the fore.”
Simon Holmes a Court shared his experience with Hepburn Wind, Australia’s first community-owned wind farm, and the ongoing search for ways to unlock capital.
The McKinnon Family Foundation’s Sue McKinnon issued a passionate plea for more advocacy as a tool for “moving the billions” illustrated by the impact of the Foundation’s support of campaigners, organisers, lawyers and strategists in organisations such as Lock the Gate, the Australia Institute, 350, Solar Citizens, Seed and ACCR.
Six by five by amazing
Showcasing the ‘new’ economy by exploring six powerful economic movements that are reshaping the world, highlights from the ‘Six by five by amazing’ session included:
A decade of connection
Reflecting on the AEGN’s 10th anniversary, Martin said the organisation’s goal had always been to create “a safe space for funders to network and collaborate” and to act as a “facilitator and catalyst for environmental philanthropy.”
After launching with “25 courageous funders” in 2008, AEGN now has 120 members across Australia, for whom the Network has hosted “hundreds of events, field trips, funding tools, research, connections and guidance.”
Martin also acknowledged AEGN’s success in pioneering “one of the world’s first rapid response platforms – the AEGN Clearinghouse.”
AEGN Chair, Jill Reichstein, launched a new initiative designed to secure AEGN’s future: The Sustaining Fund.
Like other nonprofits, AEGN “is entirely dependent upon donations for its existence,” Reichstein explained. “Relying on donations every year makes it difficult to plan and puts the organisation at risk of being adversely affected by downturns. We need a stable source of income to underpin AEGN’s financial sustainability which is why we are launching the Sustaining Fund.”
As further incentive, an Australian philanthropist who wishes to remain anonymous, has offered to match outright gifts, pledges or grants made before 25 June 2018 dollar-for-dollar up to $1 million (funds can be transferred up to 30 June 2019).
“I hope this challenge will inspire millions more philanthropic dollars going to the environment,” Reichstein said, before introducing philanthropist Josette Wunder who explained her own $50,000 gift to the Sustaining Fund and wish to support the future sustainability of AEGN.
AEGN’s goal of raising $50 million over the next five years for environmental philanthropy is on track with more than $11 million raised to date.
Post-afternoon tea, delegates had the opportunity to ‘speed date’ investment managers, advisers and project intermediaries who are helping to drive the transition to the green economy and learn about 14 different offerings across seven tables.
After a final discussion about how AEGN members can work together to integrate the environment with the economy, the day ended with cocktails by the harbour.
“Watching AEGN operate as a true network was an absolute highlight for me,” CEO Amanda Martin (pictured right with Ellen Dorsey and Sue Matthews) said of the day. “It doesn’t get better than seeing our members come together and share their knowledge and interests in a space where people can learn together.”
Learn more about the work of the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network.