Jeni Whalan, Chief Programs Officer, Paul Ramsay Foundation
Philanthropy Australia Conference, 2021
Good morning, and thank you Ann for that introduction.
I want to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the lands on which I’m recording this message, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. I pay my respects to their Elders past and present, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
I’m delighted to be here on behalf of the Paul Ramsay Foundation to help open this Philanthropy Australia National Conference of 2021. We’re honoured to be able to support this forum and the opportunity it presents for this diverse and vibrant community to connect around such a timely question: What does the future need from us, now?
I can’t help but reflect on what might have been different had we convened around this theme in 2019. Surely, the experiences of a global pandemic and its deep social and economic consequences, colliding as they have with an intense period of bushfires, floods, cyclones and drought, have highlighted beyond doubt the value of giving to and serving others – for this particular form of voluntary action in the public good we call philanthropy.
And yet beneath the fast-moving emergencies of the past 18 months sit the slow-moving crises that were with us before COVID-19 and which will remain the complex challenges on which our collective effort must continue to focus.
There is evidence of practices of philanthropy in all cultures and at all periods of recorded human history; indeed, the acts of giving to improve human wellbeing are a reflection of our collective values, an expression of what we believe constitutes the public or collective good.
So what does the current state of philanthropy in Australia tell us about the state of Australian society of 2021 – of what we value, where we struggle, what actions are most important in what vision of the public good? And as we chart through this conference what the needs of tomorrow require of our action today, what does our vision for the future reflect back to us about the opportunities we must seize?
I am pleased to report that I discovered a powerful articulation of this in an opinion piece written 22 years ago from none of other than Jack Heath, the new CEO of Philanthropy Australia, whom I have the pleasure of introducing today.
Writing in 1999 in The Australian newspaper, Jack declared: “We face the possibility of a new era in Australian philanthropy.”
Jack was writing as the Executive Director of the Inspire Foundation, Australia’s first Internet-based charity, which of course became the game-changing organisation ReachOut.
He was referring then to the great social innovations made possible by the digital revolution and the need for giving by those who were benefitting most from the growth of the Internet. At a time when the Net was focused on e-commerce, Jack was harnessing its power to tackle alarming rates of youth suicide, using the Internet to help young people get through tough times.
Two decades later, it feels that Jack may be taking the wheel at Philanthropy Australia as another new era dawns – one in which we harness not only cutting-edge technology, science, research and innovation but also the essential expertise of communities, of families, of people – so that the diversity of experience might, along with our shared humanity, make philanthropy in Australia much greater than the sum of the generous benefaction that drives it.
Jack’s words of 22 years ago remain instructive in this task today:
“In all this,” he wrote, “there’s a simple principle at stake: When we put ourselves ahead of our community who are most in need of help, we diminish our community and, ultimately, we diminish ourselves. There are practical and moral imperatives here. Giving enhances oneself just as much as it does others.”
How prescient of Jack to have set out the terms of the job he now takes up, at a time when demand for it is skyhigh, thanks to COVID, to intensifying and more frequent natural disasters, to the climate emergency.
Jack, it’s an honour to welcome you. We wish you very good luck in this endeavour, and we look forward to supporting you as part of this wider philanthropic community, which we are delighted to help convene in this wonderful conference.