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Karen's thoughts on the Social Economy

Philanthro - Bubble and Froth

Thursday, 6th September 2012

There were capacity numbers attending the biennial Philanthropy Australia Conference in Sydney this week. It attests to the blossoming of the networks, numbers and activities of the Australian philanthropy sector. There were more than 300 philanthropists and Not for Profit leaders considering the theme of Making Philanthropy Our Business.

There was lots of energy around the new strategic direction of Philanthropy Australia as an organisation. This is to be implemented by its new CEO Lousie Walsh who comes across from the Arts sector after having run ArtsSupport for many years and who is fully across philanthropy issues.

Andrew (Twiggy) Forrest from Fortescue Mining and David Gonski from ‘Everywhere’ provided strong local talent drawcards.

It was, however, the International speaker, Professor Luther who in his demure way stirred the pot proposing that Foundations strongly consider spending not only their earnings on a Foundation corpus but consider spending some of the corpus to address the issues they were established to address. He said this goes against traditional fundamentals in the investment sector in building wealth and that it takes some doing to unwind these embedded behaviors but that really Philanthropist should invest/divest to purpose ie. to make the world a better place.

What struck me overall by the conference was the lack of opportunities for more casual conversations and engagement via social media. So many of the people attending the conference were longstanding philanthropic practitioners and the peer learning opportunities weren’t there. Many of my most interesting conversations were outside the conference rooms one-on-one “wagging” the sessions! In addition, there was no facilitation to provide input via Twitter.

In contrast to this was the New News Conference that ran as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival and looked at the state of play of the Australian Media. Tweeting was prolific and direct to speakers who responded even as they were sitting on the stage. The disruptive role of Twitter was discussed by a panel including the US Journalist Andy Carvin famous for reporting on the ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions from his desk in New York by collating and digesting the Twitterverse. Carvin is a senior strategist for US public service radio broadcaster NPR, and was the founding director of the Digital Divide Network, an online community of more than 10,000 Internet activists in over 140 countries working to bridge the digital divide.

I had an interesting discussion post session with two 20-something years olds about whether or not it was good to be live-tweeting during sessions – or whether you should just listen? Both had opposing opinions. One thought it added value to converse with others during the session and engage in real-time debate, the other thought it detracted from the listening and mental digesting done during the session. And I think it depends on the way you are and the way you work and neither is necessarily linked to your age.

Personally, when I tweet from a conference I find I’m looking for the sound bite more than allowing the content to percolate – but that’s just me. My conclusion is that we are all different and some of us will choose to engage via Twitter and other will choose not to. I do however think that its become part of the landscape and we need to incorporate it into conferences and communications.

In good news from Pro Bono Australia, our universe continues to expand at a rapid rate with visits to our site increasing 10 per cent month on month. Last month we had our highest ever site visitation, putting us on track to 800,000 visitors by the end of 2012. What does this mean?. It means that we are increasingly able to profile widely the issues and concerns of the sector.

We have continued to write the big stories from beginning to end – such as today’s story on cloud computing company, Salesforce withdrawing its International trademark applications of the term ‘social enterprise’. We have put this story in front of the Australian community sector since it was first raised in July.

With so many transformative events happening in this sector Pro Bono Australia is able to act as a conduit for discussion and opinion from the community that sits around our site.

So, keep on feeding through information to us. We will all thrive on it.  

Karen Mahlab AM is the Founder and CEO of Pro Bono Australia. In 2015 she was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for her contribution to the Not for Profit sector and philanthropic initiatives.
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