Why did philanthropy meet Parliament last week in Canberra?

There is so much to be gained from a closer understanding between philanthropy and Parliament.  The relationship extends from policy development to funding partnerships and then further to supporting participation by diverse, and sometimes powerless, voices to be heard in our liberal democracy. 

The first day of this year's Philanthropy meets Parliament Summit took place in Parliament House, Canberra. We heard from the Government and Opposition spokespeople on the charitable sector - Senator the Hon Zed Sesilja and Hon Dr Andrew Leigh MP, and emerging members of Parliament. The insightful Kerry O'Brien, Chair of the Walkley Foundation, spoke about the need for philanthropy to support the pillars of our democracy and there were also panel discussions about place-based collective impact projects where philanthropy and government are working together successfully to address social disadvantage. We saw how the life trajectory of young people can be improved by thoughtful and coordinated approaches across sectors using their respective strengths.
 

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Dr Catherine Brown launches AEGN's Climate Lens at the 2019 Philanthropy Meets Parliament Summit.

The discussion continued the next day with a deeper dive into areas of shared practice, such as encouraging giving, impact investment, addressing the climate challenge, rural media, protecting human rights, the Uluru Statement, as well as technology, data and the future of philanthropy. As I have reflected on these discussions and our own projects where we have worked with various levels of government, one take away stands out: each sector must play to its strengths if we are to address big challenges we face. 
One of the guest speakers, Sevaun Palverzian, CEO of Civic Action Canada, spoke about the way government sees philanthropy: money, but messy! We can sometimes seem a bit idiosyncratic as a sector because every foundation is different, with different passions and priorities. However, philanthropy has some important attributes to help solve our big challenges.

As a partner, philanthropy has some fantastic things to offer government:

  • We can help de-risk programs and social investments for government. We can go in early to enable proof of concepts and pilots. We can be providers of venture or innovation capital to the not-for-profit sector.

  • We can commission research to help better understand an issue through our relationships with universities and other research entities. We can learn from and share the research, as well as support the next steps that might translate research into practice.

  • We can help encourage the competition of ideas and support people with on the ground experience to be part of policy conversations. This could include supporting farmers and doctors to share their experiences of climate change and find solutions.

  • We can support people facing inequality of opportunity or capital to have a voice as policy and funding is considered. We can facilitate opportunities for people who find themselves homeless or at risk of homelessness to contribute to our shared response to homelessness.

  • Philanthropy can take a long-term view of a challenge. We are not constrained by election cycles.

Philanthropy is part of the third sector or civil society. We are not here to do the job of government, but we can be very strategic partners and can provide a safe place for new ideas to be tested and shared.

We are fortunate to live in Australia with our liberal democratic system, our dynamic multicultural community and our critical safety nets such as Medicare.  It is extremely valuable for philanthropy to meet Parliament, as we are reminded of how we thoughtfully contribute to Australia's problem-solving capability – always with the lens of working for long-term public or community benefit and often testing new ideas and demonstrating what works.

Dr Catherine Brown
Chief Executive Officer

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