Time for courageous philanthropy...

to help secure a just and safe future

By Desiree Cai, Organising Lead at Tomorrow Movement.

This is a part of a series of personal stories from young advocates and their reflections on Philanthropy Australia’s conference theme – Future Needs, Now? The opinion pieces range across issues of diversity, equity, justice and the role of philanthropy in supporting social change.

For our whole lives, young people have been fighting what feels like a losing battle for our future.

Many of us have watched the world that we were promised crumble - the promise of a stable career and secure work, the promise of ever owning a home, the promise of a safe climate to live in. 

Even before Covid-19 triggered an economic crisis and mass unemployment, I watched many of my friends struggle under government policies designed to punish rather than protect. Living in poverty on Jobseeker and Youth Allowance payments young people are forced to choose between paying rent and eating dinner every week. Those lucky enough to work are in casual work, underpaid or exploited. On top of it all, we’ve been waiting our whole lives for politicians to solve the climate crisis.

In 2018, I was on a tram home from university when I first read about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on Global Warming. “11 years left to solve the climate crisis” the headline screamed at me as I scrolled through paragraphs detailing the drought, floods, food insecurity, heatwaves and other extreme weather events we could expect if we could not keep global warming below 1.5 degrees. 

Sitting on that tram, I remember feeling angry at our government’s inaction and scared for the future. But I was one of the lucky ones: financially secure, living in a country and city that would be able to adapt. I thought of my extended family back in rural China- with their limited resources to deal with the worst climate impacts. Closer to home, I worried for friends and family who could not afford air conditioning, those who will not have the material resources to move their homes in the case of flooding or bushfires.

Climate change is a compounding crisis, and young people recognise the intersection between climate insecurity and economic inequality.

The biggest issues facing my generation: economic inequality, the mental health crisis, systemic racism and climate change all have their roots in the same problem. A political system captured by the interests of big business, and a government who chooses to invest in corporate profits over our future. 

Young people are clear-eyed about the challenges we face, and we know that big problems require big solutions and systemic change. We built the Tomorrow Movement as an unstoppable movement of young people ready to demand solutions that match the scale of the climate and economic crises. 

Since I first got involved in advocacy, I’ve watched our government attempt to dismantle rights and protections that were won decades ago like our social safety net, workers’ rights, access to education and healthcare. I’ve watched non-for-profits and campaigning organisations forced to fight on the defensive to preserve these rights. But in order to build a future that is just and safe, we can no longer stay on the defensive. We need to demand more from our government - half measures are not enough. 

Young people like me are building grassroots movements that can grow big and powerful enough to win the large scale change we need like a Climate Jobs Guarantee. But we can’t fund these movements on our own. We need courageous philanthropists to back us. 

With time ticking on the climate crisis, the time for small steps and incremental change is over. What the future needs now is a systemic shift in our politics, and a government that will work for ordinary people, not big business. If we are to win a future that is just and safe, we need to fund campaigns that will boldly demand transformative change, because anything less will not guarantee the future that we deserve.

Desiree Cai is the Organising Lead at Tomorrow Movement.

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