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Philanthropy and ‘Wicked Problems’

22 October 2013 at 10:03 am
Staff Reporter
Philanthropy can act as an enabler on many levels, writes Melbourne City Mission Chief Executive Officer Ric Holland.

Staff Reporter | 22 October 2013 at 10:03 am


Philanthropy and ‘Wicked Problems’
22 October 2013 at 10:03 am

Philanthropy can act as an enabler on many levels, writes Melbourne City Mission Chief Executive Officer Ric Holland. 

Kudos to Andrew Forrest for using his $65 million donation to the University of Western Australia as a platform to re-engage Australians in a conversation about philanthropy.

Philanthropy is a key enabler for innovation in Australia’s Not for Profit, community services sector, where we work on so-called “wicked problems” (problems like homelessness that are seemingly intractable and resistant to traditional approaches).

Whilst our predominant source of funding is government (local, state and federal), governments need to be prudent in how they expend public money – there is limited scope to invest in untested approaches (a notable exception is in Victoria, where “Innovation Action Projects” have been front and centre of the Victorian Homelessness Action Plan).

Melbourne City Mission’s “Step Ahead” program is a good example of how philanthropy is an enabler on multiple levels.

Step Ahead first opened its doors in 2004 to young people who were homeless or at risk of homelessness.  

It was one of the first “foyer” models in Australia, bringing together housing, employment, education and training, life skills and personal support in the one program.

It seems straightforward to us now, the notion that homelessness and unemployment are related – that if you address one of these problems, but not the other – that you are not likely to succeed in effecting change.  But back in 2004, Step Ahead was an unknown quantity – an innovation that Melbourne City Mission lobbied the Office of Housing and the Sidney Myer Foundation to take a punt on.

The offer of venture capital from the Sidney Myer Foundation was pivotal to the Office of Housing’s decision to support a demonstration project.

Fast-forward a decade, and “foyers” are not only held up by governments as a best-practice example of early intervention in homelessness, but subject to a $34 million investment within the current term of the Victorian government.

That’s the enabling effect of philanthropy.

Similarly, philanthropy is at the heart of The Melbourne Academy, a Melbourne City Mission flexible education program for young people who are at risk of homelessness, disengagement and long-term unemployment. These are young people whose complex needs are not met by mainstream schools.

The Melbourne Academy comprises “learning spaces” (classrooms) at four different locations (Melbourne CBD, Braybrook, North Fitzroy and Sunshine), delivering a curriculum that enables young people to work towards the attainment of an accredited qualification (VCAL or VET certificate).

In establishing The Melbourne Academy, there was no simple, obvious funding source within government, despite the irrefutable value, need, demand and projected impacts.

Philanthropic support enabled our new education initiatives to be established and tested, and to provide services that would not otherwise be possible.

For example, philanthropic funding from The Samuel Nissen Charitable Foundation managed by Perpetual and The Readings Foundation supported us to establish a classroom of The Melbourne Academy in Braybrook – one of Australia’s most disadvantaged postcodes – and a two-year grant from the Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation enabled us to run a number of inter-related education and youth programs at that site.  

We have also received tremendous support for The Melbourne Academy from the Whitbread family through Whitbread Insurance Brokers, and multi-year funding from The Invergowrie Foundation is specifically targeted to a tutoring program for girls at Braybrook.  

From The Ian Potter Foundation, we have multi-year funding for Melbourne Academy education programs that are integrated with our youth homelessness support services at North Fitzroy.

Addressing complex social issues requires partnership across multiple sectors.

Philanthropy has a powerful role to play in fostering excellence in social policy and service design.

Staff Reporter  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

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