Showcasing Change for a Better Future
18 October 2012 at 9:36 am
Changemakers Australia has launched a publication called Showcasing Change for a Better Future to encourage long term funding for social change. Here Changemakers Chair and philanthropist Jill Reichstein reflects on need for meaningful change in challenging times.
OPINION: Changemakers believes that effective philanthropy strives to make the world a better place for everyone. This occurs when we direct resources towards long-lasting systemic and institutional change, and this is real social change.
Recently a friend of mine who has just set up a Private Ancillary Fund, and is involving her children and their spouses, took her children on a project visit to Foundation House – the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture. Her children, who are young adults, were so incredibly impressed with the organisation, which was seed-funded by foundations 23 years ago.
It has tackled the very difficult issues and serious problems around asylum seekers from service delivery to advocacy at a state, national and international level. From once being the advocate against the government, Paris Aristotle (Foundation House Director) is now working with the government, and I think the transition for an organisation like this demonstrates where social change can play a very significant role.
The young people on this project visit wanted to know why this organisation hadn’t been written up in profile in a way that could educate them as young philanthropists about what good social change philanthropy is, and what good social change outcomes look like. I was very pleased to be able to tell my friend, who has been a funder of Changemakers, that we were in the throes of developing a number of case studies that would be able to inform and exemplify what social change is about.
I think many people use the words ‘social change’ because we all want to see a more just and sustainable society.
But long-term effective and meaningful change takes time, real resources and a real commitment. Many of these projects have taken 5-10 years to fruition and even then they are on unstable grounds, because they haven’t been able to get ongoing commitment to funding and the resources that enable them to survive.
Soup kitchens and homeless shelters are all commendable, but the problem doesn’t go away. Working towards change can be tough and quite taxing for foundations. There’s certainly a level of expertise required to work with community organisations to achieve results. There needs to be an open and honest partnership and a relationship that enables the two bodies to work in a way that provides clarity about what it is that they’re hoping to achieve.
I think many funders are now choosing to engage in the policy arena because they are not satisfied with funding at the edge and just service delivery. Instead, they are finding Not for Profits which can achieve significant results to strengthen communities over the long run. But as we all know, the tide can change very quickly.
We’re living in challenging times, not just because the global financial crisis has reduced the dollars for granting, but because we have governments that are challenging many new organisations that have found their way to creating really strong significant change.
No sooner do we have the Aid/Watch decision in place, so that advocacy can be funded more broadly, we have state governments like Queensland defunding advocacy organisations such the Environmental Defenders Office, Sisters Inside (which works with women in prison), and the Tenants Union.
I fear for this fabulous land clearing project profiled in the case studies, which was four years in the making and $750,000 of philanthropic funding with a number of Victorian foundations, that in 2004 resulted in the Queensland government introducing rigorous clearing controls. One fears that the Queensland government will reverse that.
There is no doubt that we cannot take our eye off the ball, even when we do achieve significant change.
At the Federal level we have the newly created Australian Charities and Not-For-Profit Commission to streamline regulation and reporting across the sector and increase transparency, so those of us who are in the philanthropic sector can get a better sense of where the philanthropic dollars are going. We don’t have any idea of that at present.
I keep giving the example to people that the Reichstein Foundation has been funding for well over 30 years now, and we’ve never reported once to government about what we fund and where our dollars go. Hopefully, we might see the introduction of a statutory definition of charity, and hopefully that might include human rights.
The strength of this Commission could also be easily diluted by a change of government. The Coalition is already threatening to dilute it.
These case studies are just the beginning of a collection that will improve our understanding of good social change outcomes. I think that this small, but important, body of work can demonstrate the longer term impact of what good social change is about.
We need to build on that body of knowledge so that we can show governments, not-for-profits and particularly the philanthropic sector, that they can get much better bang for their buck in funding social change – to encourage them to commit for the long-term to stay with the organisation so that they in fact can prove their mettle.
About the Publication: Changemakers has brought together a number of case studies that demonstrate the positive work that can come out of collaboration between community organisations and the philanthropic sector. The case studies cover the spectrum of issues from land clearing in Queensland, to human rights, affordable housing and support for asbestos disease sufferers.
Download a copy of the publication