A Progressive Approach
11 May 2015 at 12:21 pm
The man that brought the world’s most famous whistleblower to Australia proves that sometimes Not for Profits just need to ask in order to receive. Executive Director of Australian Progress, Nick Moraitis, is this week’s Changemaker.
Fresh from hosting one of the largest social change conferences Australia has ever seen, Progress 2015, Moraitis said the local Not for Profit sector needed to work more experimentally.
Moraitis shared the stage last week with former NSA agent turned whistleblower, Edward Snowden, who was appearing via satellite.
While they spoke about Australia’s new metadata laws and international terrorism, Moraitis told Pro Bono Australia what it was like to start his first Not for Profit at just 18-years-old.
Can you just explain what your organisation does?
Australian Progress is a national organisation focussed on building the capacity of civil society to advocate around the big issues facing Australia’s future.
We have a number of different programs; training; conferences and incubation work.
We just organised Progress 2015, a huge conference for Australian civil society attended by a who’s who of the nation’s campaigners and changemakers. We spent three days at Melbourne’s Town Hall discussing opportunities to collaborate.
We also run a number of other programs, for example we have a fellowship program which is an intense leadership training program for Not for Profit leaders over five months in which they take part in a range of skill development workshops in media, communications, digital, politics 101 and build their skills.
We also offer a studyship to the United States for 10 Not for Profit leaders to learn from experts in the United States.
Explain a bit about Progress 2015.
This is the second time we’ve held Progress 20. We held it in November 2013 just after the last Federal election and we’ve held it again now because we think with the Federal Budget being released this week and being a year out from the next election, it is a critical moment for Not for Profit and social leaders from across the country to come together, plan and to collaborate.
And how did you secure Edward Snowden to speak at the event?
Would you believe we emailed his lawyer and asked whether he’d be interested in speaking?
I had to actually meet his lawyer in New York as well but he was thrilled to take part I guess and he was excited about the chance to talk about these issues and raise them up the agenda in Australia.
I personally I have been involved in digital life issues for a long time and I think while it’s not necessarily top of mind for Not for Profit and social leaders, these are critical questions for the 21st century and we actually wanted to expose this audience, which has a lot of other pressing issues that it deals with on a daily basis, to these kind of big picture questions.
What do you think were the biggest issues spoken about at Progress 2015?
It’s a very broad ranging conference. We had leaders like John Falzon, the CEO of St Vincent de Paul on a panel with Cassandra Goldie from ACOSS talking about the fate of the “fair go” and how we tackle inequality.
We had Australian of the Year Rosie Batty on a panel with a number of other leaders in the domestic violence space looking at how we tackle that issue.
We also had a number of sessions looking at environmental challenges, like climate change, including unusual voices like Australian Firefighters Climate Alliance and farmers as well as scientists.
How did you get involved in the Not for Profit sector?
I’ve been involved in Not for Profits pretty much since I left high school.
I helped start a Not for Profit called Taking it Global which was an early online social network for young people, particularly in the developing world, to connect around their social projects and causes.
This was in the days prior to Facebook, back in 2001. It was early days but we got several hundred thousand young people connected through this global network.
That was my initial foray into the sector. There was lots of fundraising involved but also using new technology in a way to connect social change leaders.
I then worked at a number of Not for Profits, particularly bigger ones, trying to bring in the skills I have in technology and social change.
How old were you when you started that first Not for Profit?
I was 18 when I cofounded that organisation. We actually got some funding and I went off to New York on it and then lived in Toronto in Canada working on the same organisation. Then I moved to London to work for Amnesty International before coming back to Australia in 2006.
Have you ever found that being so young has been a barrier to creating your own pathways in the sector?
Today I actually feel like an old hand. I’ve been working on some of these issues like climate change for more than 10 years so I feel like I’ve been around fair while.
But certainly I think it is the case that Australia has a relatively conservative Not for Profit space. Not for Profits are typically led by older people, compared to my experience in the United States where there’s actually a lot of quite young leaders running new startups.
This comes back to our limited philanthropic scene which doesn’t really invest in younger leaders and in new startups in the same way.
So with all of the work you’ve done overseas, if you could introduce one aspect that you’ve seen in another country into the Australian Not for Profit sector, what would that be?
They say there’s too many Not for Profit organisations in Australia but I actually think there are huge gaps and issues that are just not being worked on and campaigns that are not being run.
If you think about issues like problem gambling or early childcare, there are actually huge gaps.
So I think we need a culture of experimentation, we need more investment in systemic change rather than in just charity and service provision and we need to foster the next generation of leadership talent for the future of our Not for Profit sector.
What’s your biggest inspiration?
We’re a fairly small organisation. We only have three staff but we’re at the heart of a network of dozens of collaborating partners.
For example we have 105 alumni from our scholarship programs and most of them are involved in other organisations you can imagine.
Everyday in their own organisations and campaigns they’re winning on issues they care about and I’m incredibly inspired by their work that I get to support, in a sense.