I didn’t anticipate that this would be my main takeaway from the Philanthropy Australia National Conference.
I came into Conference – standing on the hard work and vision of my colleagues – with a confidence that the 900+ participants would come away inspired and enriched. Ideally with an ambition to be a better version of whatever they seek as they engaged with our Conference theme ‘For a Love of Humanity: People, Place and Planet’. I also hoped Conference would build further momentum towards Philanthropy Australia’s goal to double structured giving by 2030, especially as the Australian government has adopted this aim.
On a more selfish note, I sought, as a newcomer to Australia, that my own immersion into its philanthropic space would be accelerated.
All of the above most definitely happened across the three days of masterclasses, workshops and plenaries. Some particular highlights included:
- My growing appreciation that for the coming generation of philanthropists the starting point is not ‘why’ but ‘how’.
- That every speaker engaged with Conference’s humanity theme; from the opening challenge from journalist Stan Grant: ‘is philanthropy going to be enough in a world that takes so much from so many people?’ through to the consensus achieved that we need ‘more we than me’.
- A recognition that we need to rebalance power. Despite this being on the agenda for years now, we haven’t solved it. I heard great insights including Dr Salmah Eva-Lina Lawrence’s reframing of Developed/Developing to Majority/Minority and Jack Heath’s observation that a giving triangle spun at speed becomes a giving circle.
- The opportunity to shift thinking driven by the sheer diversity of voices Conference exposed. This reflects not just how philanthropy is changing, but also points to how others from outside the sector engage with the idea of philanthropy. Now more than ever we are being given greater insights into what philanthropy represents to others.
- The reminder that philanthropy is important to many movements; from the humanitarian response to the war in Ukraine, to the systems change work required to tackle inequality and climate change, to justice for the dispossessed including in Australia’s case, its First Nations people.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the energy and creativity on display at Conference as it engaged with the enormity and complexity of the challenges facing ‘People, Place and Planet’, I did not leave with a call to action but rather a call to listen. I came to understand more clearly that, without listening better, I won’t appreciate what is absent from my mental models and who is not ‘in the room’. This commitment to listening is a commitment to be a better leader as we work to inspire more and better giving.
Adam Ognall, Executive Director, Engagement at Philanthropy Australia