I have been observing the many exciting opportunities for Australia to ‘build back better’ through connecting the Federal and State Government stimulus funding with social and affordable housing supply, environmental conservation employment, and with renewable energy to achieve our energy superpower potential, and other initiatives.
I was uplifted by the Smart Energy Council’s A Renewables Led Economic Recovery, which Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation was honoured to support. Bringing together economic and environmental or social outcomes is a win win for everyone. However, this is all at a big picture policy and government funding level. What about implementation on the ground? It will not only be business and government that make the COVID-19 recovery happen.
The unsung sector in Australia is the not-for-profit (or for purpose) sector and it will be needed to contribute to the success of our recovery. It has a deep understanding of homelessness and unemployment. It has a vision for a zero-carbon future. It works only for the benefit of the community. It holds the Australian community together. It is used to working to tight budgets to make things happen.
I have spent most of my career in the not-for-profit sector after an initial career in commercial law. Little did I realise that my corporate law background would be so useful in the charitable sector when advising social enterprise subsidiaries, strengthening corporate governance or working on affordable property developments! I have worked in charities of various sizes: from small to very large institutions. I know the capability within the sector, and I know the day to day pressures of keeping a viable organisation intact.
Working in not-for-profit organisations can be a very tough gig. However, the constant challenges also hone great not-for-profit leaders to become very resilient and adaptable. The line from the song New York New York springs to mind “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere!”. And with New York on my mind, I would like to acknowledge and send my best wishes to my colleagues in New York foundations who I know are working hard to support their teams and grant partners in the worst of these challenging times.
Many of the economic solutions to the COVID-19 challenges will depend on a strong contribution from the not-for-profit sector, whether this is from community housing developers who have a huge amount of nous about financing good quality, sustainable design in well located sites; environmental organisations working on our climate transition or on land and water conservation; or not-for-profits focused on youth employment, overcoming homelessness, or building social enterprises. In fact, the more these groups work together, the better the long-term outcomes will be.
Foundations and individual philanthropists can be especially helpful if they look for the following opportunities:
- Support not-for-profits with track records of effective impact to remain viable and to collaborate wherever this makes sense. This is not just about mergers, this is about each organisation playing to its strength. Innovation and leadership can come from any sized organisation – but that is a topic for another day!
- Enable not-for-profits to scale-up to provide more services that are desperately needed by people newly facing unemployment or homelessness.
- Support not-for-profits to advocate for stimulus funding where solutions will build on long years of experience and expertise, whether it’s in affordable housing, energy efficiency audits, on ground conservation work or getting young people into work. Then support them to become ready to employ more staff if they receive stimulus funding.
- Help make connections between different parts of the not-for-profit sector, such as environment groups and employment agencies, or food security charities and renewable energy opportunities, that help leapfrog projects forward.
- Use existing networks to make connections with business and government so that strong cross sector collaborations can be built to deliver in the recovery.
Now is the time for the often-unrecognised leaders of Australia, the leaders from the not-for-profit sector who are demonstrating imagination, innovative thinking and agility, to come into their own. Together, our only commitment is to benefit the Australian community and our natural environment. We can take a long-term view.
The not-for-profit sector can work alongside government and business in the COVID-19 recovery – but please do not underestimate the knowledge and experience of not-for-profit leaders who have tackled tough issues and tight budgets all through their careers. There is much that government and business can learn from us. We will be stronger together.
Dr Catherine Brown OAM
Chief Executive Officer