In an Australian first, six leading philanthropic entities have co-located to share knowledge, networks and workspace in what is shaping up to be a powerhouse of social change.
Nicole Richards, December 2018
From the outside, the glassy façade of 126 Wellington Parade in East Melbourne seems typical of most inner-city office buildings. Inside though, the sixth floor is home to a rare species. So rare in fact, that there is only one other known example in the world: a co-located philanthropic hub.
The bright and open space boasts dazzling green views across to the MCG, spacious meeting rooms and contemporary workspaces. Even more appealing is the unmistakable spirit of collaboration that pervades the air.
Tenanted by the Australian Communities Foundation, Reichstein Foundation, Susan McKinnon Foundation, Ten20 Foundation, the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network and the Australian Women Donors Network, 126 Wellington Parade is a hotbed of social change.
“What’s extra special about this space, beyond the terrific facilities, is the community of like-minded philanthropies we share the premises with,” says Australian Communities Foundation CEO, Maree Sidey.
“To be sharing space with neighbours of this calibre has already proven to be an enlightening and humbling experience.”
Sidey and her counterpart at the Reichstein Foundation, John Spierings, spearheaded an almost two-year process to find the right communal working space and co-tenants. While all six tenants work on their own focus areas, they each share a commitment to social, cultural and environmental justice and the values of equity and integrity.
“It’s truly a communal space for conducting philanthropic business, sharing expertise and hosting events,” Sidey explains.
“We have big ambitions for the space which range from sponsoring international fellows to work periodically alongside us, to developing a local learning community.”
After having outgrown the Little Collins Street offices which had housed the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network for ten years, AEGN CEO Amanda Martin says the prospect of a shared space was immediately attractive, but the benefits have exceeded all expectations.
“It’s more than just the physical space,” Martin explains, “it’s the spirit and the generosity shown by ACF and Reichstein in opening it up to enable other people like our members, clients and NGO partners to also use the space. That spirit of generosity engenders a way of working that we’re really keen to share in.”
“We do have a lot of shared relationships and partnerships too, so it’s nice when some of those people come in to visit one of the other organisations but we know them as well, so everyone says hi and it’s a real community. It’s beautiful.”
Similarly, Sam Mellett, CEO of the Susan McKinnon Foundation says the sense of community and incidental opportunities for shared learning have already been tremendously rewarding.
“As a sole operator, the sense of community and being surrounded by like-minded people provides an opportunity to learn and grow in my work practice as well as my personal practice,” Mellett says.
“It’s a beautiful space, but aside from that, the chats that happen in the kitchen where you hear about the different areas everyone’s working in, are so valuable. Being able to test your ideas and get alternative perspectives or feedback on things like the best way to leverage funds we’ve provided has been incredible.”
Reichstein Foundation Executive Officer, John Spierings, says the idea of a co-located space made immediate sense.
“To deepen collaboration, we need to move beyond co-funding,” he says. “We need to understand each other a lot better both in terms of philosophy, practice and theories of change. By working alongside each other, you do share that more.”
“We could see that it was an opportunity to create for donors to learn and share and there was also a level of efficiency for non-profits to be able to have clear touch points with philanthropies and access different donors without having to go through too many hoops.
“For me, it’s already exceeded expectations in terms of its amenity and the good spirit and conviviality,” Spierings says. “It’s our community of giving.”