Monday, 18 December 2023

Impact Areas



As I leave Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation after 12 years as CEO, I know I leave an institution that is a leader in Australian philanthropy.

The Foundation is brave, trusted and forward looking. We are driven by addressing the big challenges facing our community, which change over time. We are powered by collective giving, including the first bequest from our founder Sir John Swanson, through to many bequests from generous Melburnians, game changing bequests from Eldon Foote QC and Mr Arthur Martin, and regular, community, charitable fund account and initiative giving.

As we celebrate the Foundation’s centenary, we have taken the time to reflect on the Foundation’s contribution and impact. As CEO, I have tried to capture the essence of the Foundation’s DNA as a brave and forward looking public community foundation. The Foundation has also been responsive to change and our ability to adapt has been demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic where we funded key support services and capacity building projects to support the charitable sector.

Infoxchange CEO David Spriggs and Foundation CEO Dr Catherine Brown at the For Purpose Impact Hub during fit-out phase.

The Not-for-profit Digital Transformation Hub developed by Infoxchange, which we funded from an idea to a full developed service reaching 10,000 users and growing, is an example of this. The ability to understand an issue, identify capable partner(s) to develop a response, and to support the testing and development of a new service is the backbone of impactful philanthropy.

The Foundation is always learning and collaborating with the goal of understanding community challenges and potential solutions. The new Impact Report Report is a very good overview of our approach. We aim to have a clear understanding of an issue, the outcomes we want to achieve and the change we want to see and then we work with our grant partners to learn as we go. Going in early to support new ideas, providing follow on grants to help programs scale or go deeper, sharing what works and co-funding are all part of this approach. Across our 100 years and thanks to our donors, we have provided almost $200 million in grants, valued today at approximately $590 million. Over time, we have been able to achieve a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of Greater Melbourne.

CEO Dr Catherine Brown OAM with a participant at the Youth in Philanthropy Insights event.

Philanthropic funding is special. It can do things that government and business cannot do because it can take early risks and it can take a long-term perspective. We can support social innovators from the start. We can think about current and future generations. This requires a thoughtful approach and some bravery. Sir John Swanson demonstrated these traits when he established the Foundation in 1923 (first incorporated in 1930) and I see them as deeply embedded in our approach to philanthropy.

The Foundation has supported an inclusive Melbourne for many years and across all the waves of migration. We work to overcome disadvantage, whether that is getting more older women into affordable housing, or more young people into jobs of the future. We are working with many organisations in local communities to build stronger networks to prepare and respond to heatwaves and other disasters as climate change impacts increase.

I came to the Foundation with deep experience in the charitable and philanthropic sector. It has been an honour to lead the Foundation for the last 12 years. Through bequests and donations, we have trebled in size and have moved to a balance of responsive and proactive granting. We have introduced the Innovation grants program and our impact area collaborative Initiatives such as the Affordable Housing Challenge, Next Economy Jobs and the Climate Resilient Neighbourhoods program. We have actively responded to COVID-19, heatwave and disasters. We have supported giving circles and community funds. We added a gender lens in 2013 and a climate lens in 2016 to help us understand these perspectives more deeply. We are active collaborators, and the new For Purpose Impact Accelerator Hub will enable the Foundation to be even more active convenors.

Social Investment and High Impact Philanthropy Conversation, 2013: CEO Dr Catherine Brown OAM (back, centre) and Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation Board Members pictured with guest speakers, the late Peter Hero (front, centre), Richard Fahey (front, fourth from right) and Dipender Saluja (front, far right).

I would like to personally thank every donor and reader for your continued support of the Foundation during my time as CEO. It has been a pleasure to work with you all. I will stay connected to the Foundation as a donor and of course my passion for community giving, catalytic philanthropy, social innovation and addressing climate change continues.

The Foundation is a connector in a web of wonderful Melburnians, all demonstrating generosity through giving or through their commitment to a job with purpose. Philanthropy is the glue that keeps us together and helps support our community in good times and bad.
Dr Catherine Brown OAM
Chief Executive Officer

Impact Areas