As I sat at the Philanthropy Australia conference last week, soaking up the inspiration, a memory kept popping into my head.
I was introduced to the concept of social enterprise in 1993, care of my eccentric mother. Having decided that we needed some education in the school of life, she packed up the three kids for a three-month tour of Nepal and India. We spent one month in Kathmandu, Nepal, and “holiday-adopted” a young street child who we will call “Sudesh”.
We first came across six-year-old Sudesh sleeping in a doorway with a group of other street children, huddled together to keep warm. He quickly integrated himself into the family and we grew very close. As the date of our departure drew closer, my family had many discussions about how we could continue to help Sudesh after we left.
But we forgot to ask Sudesh.
Eventually my mum came up with a plan to set Sudesh up as a ‘chai-wallah’, purchasing all of the equipment and produce needed to sell tea on the side of the road. A solid business in Kathmandu and one which we all agreed would provide a pathway out of poverty.
The day came to leave, by which time Sudesh was all set up. Everyone was excited and we were surrounded by crowds of Nepali people creating a somewhat carnival atmosphere. There was much laughter and thanks, many photos, and we felt the warm glow of not just doing good, but creating a future for someone.
But when we left Kathmandu, Sudesh promptly sold all of the equipment, and did what he had always wanted to do; he went back to his village and his family. It turns out he didn’t want to be a chai-wallah on the streets of Kathmandu after all; more than anything he wanted to go home. This pivotal moment has profoundly affected the way I think about social change, and perhaps the 2016 Philanthropy Australia conference was our collective “Sudesh” moment.
We heard from many community leaders during the conference, reminding us that long-term change needs to be driven from the grass-roots, rather than imposed from outside. We also heard from local community groups forging their own path, who described their work as messy, and challenging, but essentially rewarding. They outlined their need for funders who are willing to walk alongside, keep the faith, build trust, and share the journey.
The themes I heard echoed during the conference indicated to me that whilst we know what we need to do in Australia, as a sector we are challenged with how to move the conversation forward from intention to action.
We already know that it’s critical to be clear about the issue you are trying to solve and to establish measures that indicate your progress. We know that building capacity of organizations can transform effectiveness far more than funding projects. We understand that collaboration, coalescing around issues, and pooling our resources and knowledge is probably the way to go, and that philanthropy should support communities as they develop their own solutions.
It’s hard, but we must keep moving.
At SVA we spend every day not just thinking about how we can use more effective funding to support more effective ventures and services, but also building the relationships, structures, and expertise to make what we know should happen, a reality.
I’m ready to take the next step, are you?
Ferdi Hepworth is Director of Partnerships at Social Ventures Australia.