New Zealand Philanthropy Summit: a call to action


Cheryl Spain


New Zealand’s Philanthropy Summit wrapped up last Friday and it was an urgent call to action about the depth of the problems we face. It was also a challenging but welcome reminder of the privilege and power we hold to make the world a better place.

We were challenged to look at the scale of the urgent environmental and social issues globally and locally and whether we are doing enough as a sector to address them. We were also challenged to look at the role we play as a nation built on colonialization and what we doing about the issues faced by indigenous Māori in New Zealand. And we were reminded why philanthropy in New Zealand is a little different and how, if we get it right, we could be in a unique position to tackle these long-term problems.

The conference kicked off with an honest and confronting session about the future of our people and our planet. A panel of four: an economist, a demographer, an environmentalist and a philanthropist, took a deep dive into the issues. They highlighted the scale of the environmental crisis; the increasing income inequality in our country despite 40 years of economic growth; and the demographic future of New Zealand’s aging population and what this will mean for our children. Particularly Māori and ethnic minority children who will make up 30% of young people by 2030. If we don’t invest now to improve their prospects, we will have a significant part of the population effectively removed from contributing meaningfully to our society. Time is running out. We were challenged to embrace “radical philanthropy” and to look for deeper impact on these issues by using our capital as well as our operational granting power.

There was a strong focus on inclusivity and diverse viewpoints, particularly in response to the Christchurch mosque attack of 15th March. Anjum Rahman from the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand, spoke about the work needed to address community cohesion and fight intolerance. She is launching the Inclusive Aotearoa Collective which has a vision of New Zealand as a country where everyone has a place to stand and embraces connection, kinship and belonging. A sentiment that our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been speaking about since the attacks, but which we now need to put into practice.

Another strong session came from Ani Mikaere, a Māori advocate who spoke brutally honestly about the effects of colonialization in New Zealand on Māori and some possible solutions. Ani challenged the philanthropy sector to have meaningful representation from Māori and to invest in Māori-led initiatives to promote change. Many philanthropic organisations in New Zealand are already embracing Māori-led change and it could put us in a unique position to tackle inequality on a large scale.

International speakers were well represented, with the charismatic Vu Le from Seattle providing some welcome humorous relief with his insightful tales of charities and funders not always talking the same language. I highly recommend his blog at for laugh-out-loud lessons about what funders could do better. The conference finished with a personal highlight for me, Dr Jane Goodall, speaking movingly about her journey from being a young researcher looking at chimpanzees, to now leading a worldwide environmental movement, the Jane Goodall Institute. Dr Goodall highlighted the scale of the environmental and climate crisis and the role that philanthropy has had on her work, but what more we could do if we acted together.

The Summit reminded me of the early days in my career, some 25 years ago, when I burned with a sense of urgency about the causes we were fighting for. Now more than ever, the issues we face are urgent and funders need to acknowledge the scale of the problems and be bold and compassionate with our actions.

Cheryl Spain is Executive Director of The Gift Trust

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