This blog was going to be a reflection on the Third Sector conference where I presented last week. The conference theme was 'Innovation for a Stronger Community' and sessions that I attended covered impact investment, brand management, mergers and collaborations, social enterprise and then my session (with Lisa Grinham from Good2Give and Andrew Young, Centre for Social Impact) on philanthropy and giving driving innovation. I talked about the role of philanthropy as a venture capital provider for the not for profit sector. In a time of change and disruption, it is essential that NFP leaders are able to explore new ideas and test new solutions to social and environmental challenges.

But then yesterday I heard that my favourite mentor from US philanthropy, Peter Hero, had died on 22 August. It is such sad news.  Peter Hero took the Silicon Valley Community Foundation from $9 million to $1.2 billion in assets over 18 years. He encouraged the young tech tycoons, including Jeff Skoll (founder of eBay) to develop a culture of philanthropy for social impact. As his son said in an article in the Mountain View Voice (Peter divided his time between San Francisco and Oregon): “He believed that if your worth didn't have a social impact, then what was the point?" 

Peter's influence on me as a leader in community philanthropy has been profound.  I was fortunate to meet or talk with him many times, including a long telephone conversation about innovation and philanthropic foundations six months ago as part of my PhD research. I will treasure this interview.

I first met him when he came to Australia sixteen years ago to be the guest speaker at our first national Australian Community Foundation Forum. The Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal had made the development of community foundations in rural Australia a priority and funded his visit with Philanthropy Australia.

Peter was an inspirational speaker and was able to paint a picture for us of the power of community foundations as places where local people could pool their giving to tackle local issues through funding great not for profit organisations working on solutions. He always promoted the role of philanthropy in supporting innovation.



His background in Silicon Valley made him unafraid of investing in startups, including not for profit social enterprises.  He was ahead of his time on this. I have carried his lessons on funding innovation including social enterprise and his commitment to collective giving with me through my time advising foundations and now into my role as CEO of the Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation (Melbourne’s community foundation). 

Peter was also passionate about impact investing, where a philanthropic foundation invests in businesses that produce a social and/or environmental benefit as well as a financial return. Peter introduced me to the Skoll World Forum and the Skoll Foundation, where he was on the Board.

Peter, Dipender Saluja of Capricorn Investments and Richard Fahey of the Skoll Foundation presented on Impact Investing at our 2013 Inspiring Philanthropy Oration. This was a turning point for us and many other local philanthropic foundations. We have since made investments in an affordable housing loan fund with SEFA and in Hire Up, a technology platform enabling people with disabilities to organise their own careers, allowing them to take control of their own lives.

Peter has made a profound impact on community foundations across Australia. Without him we would not have 35 community foundations across the country.  

He has shown me and many others the transformational power of community philanthropy. I will miss him greatly.

Catherine Brown


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