From a hardy band of committed funders who wanted a forum to share and learn about environmental giving to today’s vibrant network of over 160 funders spread across the country, our network is effective and powerful because it was built by our members.
In 2018 the AEGN turned 10 years old. To help celebrate our first decade and to reflect on the journey that has brought us to this point, we invited members to share their personal environmental philanthropy story.
We hope that you enjoy the member reflections on what the AEGN means to them, what they have learnt, funded or shared by being member and their hopes and aspirations for the future of environmental funding and for the environment.
Catherine Brown, CEO Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation
We are developing and incubating solutions to difficult environmental challenges as well as supporting the social change required to ensure a smooth transition to a more sustainable and equitable future.
Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation was able to add environment to its granting areas in 2013 following a new bequest. In developing our initial granting approach and identifying priorities within the broad environment and sustainability sector, we used AEGN’s Giving Green tools to help us work through areas that aligned with our role as Greater Melbourne’s community foundation. Our initial focus areas were sustainable food systems and healthy waterways. Highlights in these areas have been support of the FoodPrint project (University of Melbourne led by Dr Rachel Carey) and the work of Environmental Justice Australia and the Yarra Riverkeeper on community engagement in the Yarra River Protection Act project.
Colin Brown, Director, Diversicon Foundation
Thinking back to the early days of the AEGN always makes me think of Martin Copley, the founder of Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) and one of the foresighted folks who worked to form the AEGN — I guess modelled on the Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA) in the US.
It began as a small, insignificant body that no one had heard of—when one said one was a member of the AEGN you then needed to explain what that was and what it did.
Fast forward to now, the AEGN has become the go-to body to answer environmental questions from government or anyone else who needs authoritative answers. The AEGN has mana.
The AEGN is it’s people, it’s members. Within the membership, there can be found people with expertise on most environmental issues—and if they don’t know, they will know who to ask.
Amanda Martin and the Board have done an outstanding job of getting the AEGN to where it is now.
As a member, I enjoy the camaraderie of association with similarly thinking people. the field trips are fabulous – the places we go, the people we meet and the things we learn. It is so reassuring to be able to join other funders in projects that have been sourced by a member. There are lots of projects that look ok, but without knowing the people involved, there is uncertainty.
We get the opportunity to visit with, listen to and learn from overseas experts.
Funding in isolation can never be as effective as funding after listening and learning from others experience.
Janet and Julia Limb, Limb Foundation
There is so much inspiration from other members and staff – so much doing not just talking.
The email conversations allow us to see where others are funding and helps shape the way that we are able to best use our resources to make a difference.
The field trips such as those to Gondwana Link, in Western Australia and Habitat 141, in Victoria, demonstrated to us the importance of stakeholders working together to achieve significant conservation outcomes. We really appreciate the way in which the network can introduce us to such programs and highlight their successes.
We have also gained valuable insights from attending the AEGN conferences where we have had the chance to meet with other members and gain a more nuanced appreciation of some of the key issues that help us understand the bigger picture. This sharing extends beyond the conferences to the fascinating briefings both from members and environmental organisations that take place on a regular basis and keep us so well informed.
It is the generosity of the AEGN and its members that makes us believe that there is still an opportunity for environmental philanthropy to be effective.
Beth Mellick, Wettenhall Environmental Trust
We been grant making in flora and fauna conservation for over 20 years.
We support grassroots community groups to collect and share important local information to protect and enhance native species and their habitat.
Being members of the AEGN has enabled us to form partnerships and increase our giving. Our small grants program has more than doubled since we first started and continues to grow.
Being able to share our stories with members, promote nature conservation projects and develop new grants programs with donors is an important part of our work and vital for increasing support for environmental organisations.
Hayley Morris, Director, Morris Family Foundation
The AEGN has allowed me to meet like-minded people, dramatically improve our grant making into environmental causes and importantly make good friends along the way.
I’ve learnt a huge amount from the AEGN itself and from the collaboration with other funders. Of note, I’ve learnt about the importance of collaborating both within a project and with other funders and the importance of taking a systematic approach to solving issues.
I hope that an increasing number of people with the means to donate or invest will start prioritising environmental issues and projects due to the timely nature of the response that is needed by the community on a global scale. I hope that more people will stop viewing environmental protection as conflicting with economic growth and understand that we need a sustainable environment to support the economy.
Dan Pediaditis, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation
Our environment and sustainability priorities change over time in response to need and in line with the evidence base.
In recent years we have added the transition to a low carbon future to building a sustainable food system and protecting aquatic ecosystems as our environment and sustainability priority granting areas.
One of our key priorities now is to help the community understand the climate challenge, rapidly reduce emissions, adapt to a changing climate and equitably adjust as we transition to a low carbon economy. Carbon dioxide has increased from 280 to around 410 parts per million in the last 150 years. The evidence suggests that this is the highest it’s been in the past 800,000 years. The world’s ten hottest years on record have all occurred since 1998 and seven of the ten hottest years on record in Australia have occurred since 2005. Rising sea-levels, floods, drought, fire, extreme heat and damaging weather events are just some of the many impacts we will see increasing in the years to come. The frequency and intensity of bushfires are also increasing in Victoria, as is extreme heat. The January 2009 heatwave in Victoria was unprecedented with maximum temperatures 12-15°C above normal and a record of three successive days above 43°C in Melbourne. During this period, there were 374 more heat related deaths than normal. We are very concerned to build climate resilience within the community, especially amongst people who are especially vulnerable due to older age or financial disadvantage.
We support a variety of activities to reduce emissions, however energy efficiency and renewable energy for vulnerable households are a sweet spot for the Foundation, due to the co-benefits they provide. These include reduced costs of living from lower gas and electricity bills; protection from temperature extremes – both heat extremes and the cold in winter; the education and employment generation opportunities; and, the cost effective emissions reductions.
Jill Reichstein, Reichstein Foundation
I heard Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Development, Columbia University, say that if we do not keep global warming below 1.5C, we are in for a global environmental and economic catastrophe, and the window of opportunity to achieve this, is closing fast.
There is an urgent need to scale up action now and philanthropy and the AEGN is well placed to help this happen.
In the 10 years since the inception of the AEGN it has grown into a strong community of committed funders, large and small, individuals and Foundations, who not only fund together to ensure projects receive the funding they need to succeed ,but also advocate on behalf of the change agents they support.
The AEGN has built a trusted place where our members learn and share together, to be inspired and informed, to fund some of the greatest challenges of our times.
When the call went out earlier in 2018 to build the Sustainability Fund, two million dollars was raised in two months. The network is there to build our strengths and our capacity.
As we celebrate our last 10 years, we need to think about how we ramp it up for the next 10 years, to raise our sights to $50 million pledge.
Peter Sainsbury, Madden Sainsbury Foundation
Lynne and I have been members since 2011, having joined shortly after we established our Foundation.
I remember well a couple of dinners with Jill Reichstein and Sue Mathews when they told us, a couple of newcomers to environmental philanthropy, about the AEGN and its activities.
Since then we have been involved in many AEGN activities: educational and fundraising events, visiting speakers, projects such as Invest-Divest, the Hands Off Our Charities campaign and the Climate Change and Energy group, the annual conference and the members’ clearinghouse. These, and our many conversations with other members and staff, have opened our eyes to the breadth of challenges facing Australian and global land and marine environments and the innovative and successful ways in which an incredibly diverse range of people are meeting those challenges, whether it be working ‘on the ground’ to protect a piece of the environment, supporting affected communities, challenging vested interests in their offices or the courtroom, or policy development and advocacy. A particularly encouraging feature of many AEGN members’ activities is the work with Indigenous communities.
And how could anyone who has ever been on one forget the laughs and comradeship (and awareness raising of course) of the AEGN fieldtrips?? Lynne and I had an incredible week in 2014 visiting sites and communities affected by the coal and gas industries along the Queensland coast between Gladstone and Port Douglas. It was truly inspiring to meet some of the small groups of the people who were facing up to the industry giants who are destroying the environment and mobilising their communities to resist with few resources except their own local knowledge, organising skills and determination. A bonus was spending the week with Michael Northrop from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in the USA whom the AEGN had brought out to see firsthand the damage being caused to the Queensland coast, the Great Barrier Reef and coastal communities.
John Spierings, Executive Officer, Reichstein Foundation
The threats to our natural world – from climate change to an unprecedented level of species extinction – are urgent and compelling.
The impact of humans on our environment and our appetite to consume and waste material goods and natural resources is producing devastating consequences.
Our exploitation of the natural world for our own ends has fuelled great wealth and ironically, it’s this wealth that is also a source of philanthropy.
The unique power of the AEGN is in acknowledging this tension and in bringing people together to have an impact at scale on complex and knotty environmental issues.
So, I see the story of the AEGN as being about harnessing this wealth for the common good. For being a mechanism to truly give back to the lands, forests, waters and air that we have consumed and ravaged in ways that are no longer sustainable.
Philanthropy can sometimes reflect the way in which the capital behind our giving has been made: driven by ego, conviction, righteousness; reflective of individual passions, interests and concerns.
That’s where the AEGN has evolved as a model for change across Australian philanthropy – as a place where we learn together, develop trust and confidence in each other, share our values and partner at a deep level with the change agents in the field.
At conferences, on field trips, through showcases of projects and issues, the AEGN makes introductions, brings together unlikely suspects and friends, and encourages us to learn collectively about the challenges facing our environment and the organisations working for sustainability.
In this way, the AEGN is crucial in marshalling the resources needed whether that’s for local projects focused on biodiversity, soil erosion or clean water through to the national and international battles over land clearing, coal mining, or the fate of our oceans, fisheries and corals.
It is a network that welcomes donors of all shapes and sizes and approaches – large and small, activists and advocates, scientists and researchers, pragmatists and idealists.
This is because a skilled staff, generous donors and brave leaders have built a culture of inclusion, while also creating an appetite for pushing forward, for testing the limits of advocacy and change.
The latest State of the Environment report and the recent IPCC report on climate change show that if we want to support a truly sustainable world, we have no time lose.
So while we celebrate the first decade of the AEGN, let’s dedicate ourselves to redouble our effort and impact over the next ten years.
Gary Tabor — US conservationist and philanthropic professional
Helping to instigate AEGN in 2003 is one of my greatest joys as a philanthropic professional and dedicated conservationist.
Australia is my adopted home via marriage and I am so grateful to meet and work with a team of committed Australian conservationists who have taught me so much in doing better by the planet.
Watching the seed of an idea grow to become a vibrant collaborative community is an inspiration for all and demonstrates the power of collective action.
Given the dire news from the latest IPCC report [in 2013] about the rapid onset of climate change and the continued declines in biodiversity, there is no time to waste to change course.
Thank you for letting me part of this fabulous community.
Josette Wunder, individual member
In 2009, I was delighted to be able to establish The Earth Welfare Foundation as a Private Ancillary Fund.
Learning that there were other like-minded individuals who wanted to make a difference in the environmental arena, made joining the AEGN a natural fit. It’s unbelievably gratifying to be with people who share similar philosophical values. I count this as some of my most pleasurable interactions with the AEGN.
The Earth Welfare Foundation’s focus has been on biodiversity and endangered species protection, climate change, renewable energy, protection of our marine environment, sustainable rural productivity, and mining legacies. A large proportion of the Foundation’s funding has gone to Starfish Initiatives for such programs as Farming the Sun, New England Wind and Earth Funerals. Several projects were also funded as a result of being part of the AEGN network, including funding EDO NSW when it lost its government funding, the Pew Trusts campaign to Save our Marine Life and the climate advocacy work of 350.org, ACCR and the Climate Institute. Bush Heritage, the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and The Australia Institute are other organisations which have benefited from my association with the AEGN.
And, of course, there is the AEGN itself, particularly as the initial donor of their Sustaining Fund and my involvement in DivestInvest, the Hands Off Our Charities campaign, and the Senate inquiry into the Register of Environmental Organisations. I have also participated in the AEGN’s Climate Change and Energy group, annual conferences and the Project Clearinghouse from which a number members funded projects which The Foundation posted.
In 2017, The Earth Welfare Foundation was wound up. This decision was not taken lightly as I recognise there is so much important environmental work still to be done. However, having been personally involved in the environmental movement for over 30 years and the AEGN for nine years, I still remain an individual member.
So what is it about the AEGN? As I look back on my close association with the organisation, I have been fortunate to witness its considerable growth in membership and outreach as well as its wonderful blossoming into a highly enthusiastic and visionary organisation. This brings great joy to my heart. For me, the AEGN provides a supportive network of like-minded people with common aims. It’s role as advocate and information-provider and its clearing house are some the key benefits. Significantly, the opportunity the AEGN affords to collaborate with other philanthropic organisations extends our capacity to have a greater impact on what it is we are able to achieve.
I also profoundly admire Amanda and all the other AEGN staff (some of whom have come and gone) for all their efforts over the years and fervently believe they do a fantastic job. The shared philosophy of AEGN members and staff and the close bond we have formed as a consequence means so much to me. It is the glue that holds us together as an organisation which cares deeply about the future of our planet for generations to come. What one can achieve alone can be great. What an organisation of committed members can do is even greater.
So my wish is that the AEGN will continue to expand and grow with its positive impact on the environment increasing exponentially as more of the philanthropic dollar is directed toward environmental issues. I also believe that the valuable work each and every AEGN member has contributed will continue to add to this. Without the tremendous hard work and dedication of both AEGN staff and members, the environment would have fewer allies to support its well being.
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It’s been exciting to see the growth in sophistication of how the AEGN operates. For the benefit of all.
Hayley Morris, Morris Family Foundation