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Giving it Everything He’s Got

26 October 2015 at 10:33 am
Xavier Smerdon
An ability to bring people together, and possibly a background working in politics, has seen Krystian Seibert become a key player in the growth of Australia’s culture of giving. Seibert is this week’s Changemaker.

Xavier Smerdon | 26 October 2015 at 10:33 am


Giving it Everything He’s Got
26 October 2015 at 10:33 am

An ability to bring people together, and possibly a background working in politics, has seen Krystian Seibert become a key player in the growth of Australia’s culture of giving. Seibert is this week’s Changemaker.

Policy and Research Manager at Philanthropy Australia, Krystian Seibert joined the sector after helping set up the national charity regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC), while working as an adviser to the former Assistant Treasurer, David Bradbury.

A graduate from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and Deakin University in Melbourne, Seibert is also a board member of Mental Health First Aid Australia.

In this week’s Changemaker column Seibert shares what drove him to join the Not for Profit sector and what inspires him to work to create a better world.

What are you currently working on in your organisation?

I’m working on lots of things! But there are two projects I’m working on for the Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership. Philanthropy Australia, in partnership with the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal is managing Community and Philanthropy Partnerships Week, which is an opportunity for grassroots community groups and their philanthropic partners to showcase and promote the great things they have achieved together in cities and regions across Australia. 24 grants were recently announced to helpc ommunity groups across Australia to celebrate their partnerships – it’s a fantastic group of recipients which will make for an exciting week.

Then there’s also a project Philanthropy Australia is doing examining ‘Program Related Investments’ which are a method foundations in the US can use to leverage their assets more effectively to fulfil their mission/charitable purposes – they basically involve making repayable investments, but which are treated as grants. With the Government just announcing it’s keen to more actively explore how it could facilitate more impact investment in Australia, this is one policy lever to consider and we’re examining whether there’s demand for it and how it could work in Australia.

What drew you to the Not for Profit sector?

In 2012-2013, I was working as an adviser to the former Assistant Treasurer, David Bradbury  –   where my role involved managing and overseeing the establishment of the ACNC. This included the complex task of finalising and progressing the ACNC legislation through the Parliament.

Before starting in this role, I probably had the standard exposure most people in Australia have to the NFP sector. I ‘knew’ about the good work of ‘household name’ charities and made donations from time to time. But I hadn’t had much exposure to the people working in the NFP sector. In this regard, my time working on the ACNC reform process was very enlightening.

Naturally a large part of my work involved stakeholder engagement – and I was so impressed by the people from the NFP sector whom I was engaging with. They were dedicated and professional, and I was so fascinated about the work of their organisations and in the case of peak bodies, the work of their members.

When I was at university, a career in the NFP sector didn’t even cross my mind. But now I felt I had ‘discovered’ a sector where I could work with good people, to further the common good. So I decided quite early on during the ACNC reform process, that once I was done working in government, I wanted to work in the NFP sector.

How long have you been working in the Not for Profit sector?

Since January 2014, when I started in my current role with Philanthropy Australia.

In terms of your work sitting on a Not for Profit board, what would you say is the key to an effective NFP board?

I’m on the board of an organisation called Mental Health First Aid Australia (MHFA) which develops evidenced based courses which provide mental health first aid training to members of the public, and trains instructors to deliver these courses. Mental Health First Aid adopts a similar approach to the ‘standard’ first aid that we’re all familiar with, but focuses on people’s mental well being. I really value the opportunity to serve on the MHFA board, and I’ve learnt a lot in the year and three months I’ve been on it.

I think there is no single key to an effective NFP board – but three important ingredients stand out to me: 1. Always have furthering your mission/charitable purpose front and centre of your thinking, it should overlay each decision you make, 2. Adopt a strategic approach – let management do it’s job and keep your focus on how the organisation can best position itself in response to the many strategic challenges and opportunities it confronts, 3. Having a passion for the cause is important, but you need to be able to temper this with an objective frame of mind too.                                                                               

What do you like best about working in your current organisation?

I really love the people I work with – we have a great team at Philanthropy Australia, so I really enjoy coming to work. But I also really love the opportunity to work with interesting and passionate people beyond our workplace – our members, other stakeholders in the NFP sector, members of the Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership and policy makers in government. And of course the policy work I focus on is exciting – it’s great to have a job which focuses on developing policies to support more giving in our community.

Favourite saying …

‘The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds.’ – John Maynard Keynes.

What are you reading at the moment?  

I’m always accumulating books to read (or to listen to on the way to work) – I keep a list on my phone of what I have on the go at the moment and I have six books I’m tackling. One of particular interest is ‘Humanizing the Economy: Cooperatives in the Age of Capital. It’s a very comprehensive work which covers the history of cooperatives and then tours the world looking at how cooperatives have provided a ‘different way of doing things’ which combines the power of competitive markets with broad based stakeholder ownership. It’s a great book, because it’s very detailed and well researched but an easy read at the same time – but perhaps more importantly it provides fascinating success stories of how cooperatives have helped grow the wealth of whole communities and even regions. We have lots of cooperatives in Australia, some very old and established, although it’s fair to say that they haven’t reached their potential yet. The book shows just what could be possible here.

What, or who, inspires you?

Lots of people inspire me – but there are two groups in particular, both very different. Firstly, I’m inspired by the courage and drive of civil society leaders and activists in non-democratic countries. Civil society plays a critical role standing up for what’s right, but that can be very hard when you’re the thorn in the side of a repressive government. Be it human rights activists in Russia, or environmental activists in China, these civil society leaders and activists could take the easy road and just focus on getting a ‘normal’ job, earning an income, buying a car and a house etc. But they take the hard road because they can’t stand by and do nothing when they see what’s happening in their countries. I respect them immensely for that.

Secondly, I’m inspired by the Giving Pledge signatories. There’s a saying that ‘giving your money away well is harder than spending your money’ and I think that’s true (not that I confront this problem myself!). There’s also a saying that ‘philanthropy is the risk capital for social change’. So I respect the Giving Pledge signatories for making a decision to focus on giving away their money, and trying to do it well – it’s not just giving away their money, it’s funding positive change in the world. I also respect them because their generosity inspires others to give and so it builds real momentum, and we’ve seen that happen as more and more people sign onto the Giving Pledge.

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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