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How philanthropy is supercharging climate change action by Indigenous youth

Photo courtesy of Seed

It’s not every day that a 22-year-old climate change activist gets the opportunity to address Australia’s pre-eminent philanthropy conference. So when Amelia Telford, National Co-Director of Seed, was invited to address Philanthropy Australia’s biennial conference last month, she took the chance to explain why foundations need to look beyond their traditional donation habits, think outside silos and start funding in climate change.

Founded in July 2014, the Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network is a branch of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition and is ‘supercharging’ the next generation of grassroots activists. Amelia – an Aboriginal and South Sea Islander woman from the Minjungbul clan of the Bundjalung nation came to the job of National Co-Director after volunteering with the AYCC.

In her address to the Philanthropy Australia conference Amelia wanted to drive home the message that climate change is already disproportionately affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia. She stressed that philanthropists with an interest in health and social disadvantage and who previously hadn’t thought about funding environmental projects, need to appreciate the links between climate change and every aspect of life.

She pulled no punches in describing Seed’s agenda.

“We are Aboriginal young people who are building the next generation of change makers, trouble makers, rabble rousers, who are committed standing up in our communities and we need your support,’ she said in her speech.

It is Seed’s passion to build a movement to ensure that Indigenous young people have the skills, confidence and tools to fight coal mining in Queensland, shale gas fracking and a destructive gas pipeline in the Northern Territory, as well as oil and gas drilling in the Great Australian Bight.

Seed has made a big impact over a short period of time, growing its supporter base substantially over the past two years. It now has a team of two paid staff – Amelia as well as Larissa Baldwin (National Co-director) – and over 100 volunteers and 15 state and regional coordinators. Seed will be expanding to include two part-time project officers in the next few months.

Many AEGN members including the McKinnon Family Foundation, The Reichstein Foundation, Pixel Seed Fund, Diversicon, Ann Miller and Stephen Whately have been pivotal in supporting Seed with capacity building grants and ongoing project related funding. The story of Seed is an example of how donors bring other donors on board to put a fledgling eNGO on a strong footing.

Amelia says AEGN members bring a special blend of support that includes mentoring and a genuine interest in what Seed wants to do. “I would like see other philanthropists learn from this and do more transformational giving rather than it just being transactional. I’d also love to see more collaboration across the different areas of philanthropy – health, social justice and the environment, not just operating in silos,” says Amelia.

One goal in Seed’s strategic plan for 2016-2018, together with the AYCC, is to work with secondary schools to convert to solar and, in the process, build the skills of students who will organise and advocate on their own solar projects in their schools, communities and beyond.

“This is something a lot of schools are interested in and we are in the research phase at the moment,” says Amelia. “We want the model to be translatable to other schools and communities so young people have the skills and networks to create change backed by community-driven solutions.

The majority of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is under 25 so Seed’s role is even more important in creating the next generation of Indigenous climate justice activists who act with hope rather than falter with the enormity of the challenges they face.

Amelia’s confidence is infectious and her determination to galvanise support runs deep.

“As grim as the world can seem today, we’re not about to give up anytime soon. As the oceans are rising, people are rising up too. What gives me hope are the hundreds and thousands of young people across Australia and the world who are rising up to the challenge and will be the ones who lead the change our world needs.

“I can assure you that when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are supported to determine our own affairs, we will build a world where all Australians cannot just survive, but thrive!

“Together, we will supercharge the revolution that our world needs.”