Our origin story

Our orgin story

The AEGN was an idea whose time had come. Ironically, the initial impetus came from an American and an Englishman.

In the early 2000s visiting American Gary Tabor, then a staffer working for the Wilburforce Foundation, found himself unable to locate any Australian environmental philanthropists. He produced a booklet titled Australia’s Conservation Paradox: A Report for the International Conservation Community outlining opportunities for US funders to consider giving to conservation issues in Australia. This booklet was noticed by Martin Copley, an Englishman-turned-West Australian and a major funder of nature conservation in Australia as founder and chair of Australian Wildlife Conservancy, who contacted Gary to let him know that environmental funders did exist in Australia.  

Gary urged Martin to attend the next US Environmental Grantmakers Association annual retreat and in 2003 Martin went along, accompanied by a trustee from each of the Poola and Ian Potter Foundations, the CEO of The Myer Foundation and a staff member from the Pratt Foundation. Enormously impressed by the collaborative spirit and energy of funders in the EGA, this group of five resolved to explore setting up a similar organisation in Australia.  

2004 saw Martin back at the US Environment Grantmakers Association retreat, this time in Hawaii and this time accompanied by the Poola Foundation staffer Amanda Martin and Myer Foundation adviser Dr Barry (BJ) Traill. Again they all came back excited by the possibility they could see for a similar coming together of environmental philanthropists in Australia. 

The travellers identified several aspects to what made the US Environment Grantmakers Association gatherings so inclusive, vibrant and inspiring:  

  • It was a funders-only event: there was no hassling from NGOs or businesses and no pitching of projects, creating a safe space for open discussion and dialogue. 
  • The discussions were informed by presentations from the top experts in the field, generating strategic insights into both environmental problems and solutions. 
  • There was a long history of cooperation among foundations with shared objectives and approaches, and a spirit of sharing and collaboration. 

Convinced of the potential value of an Australian version, Poola trustees Eve Kantor and Mark Wootton asked Amanda Martin to convene a gathering of Australian environmental funders and hold a field trip with funders to Cape York. 

Meanwhile, back in Melbourne, two other foundations had already joined forces to bring funders together to fund some big environmental problems that could not be solved by any of them alone. The Reichstein Foundation and the Mullum Trust had formed an informal environmental donors circle, whose biggest success was funding a campaign that stopped the catastrophic land clearing then happening in Queensland back in 2004, with major contributions coming from the Poola and The Myer Foundations and, from Sydney, the Purves Environmental Fund. 

In July 2006 Amanda coordinated a symposium at the beautiful Myer family home, Cranlana. It was attended by all the foundations already mentioned plus a whole range of other funders interested in environmental giving – a total of 80 people. They heard from Bruce Lourie from the Canadian Environmental Grantmakers Network, Professors Tim Flannery and Ian Lowe, then President of the Australian Conservation Foundation. They workshopped how an Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network could function, and by the end of the day the AEGN was born, founded on similar principles to its North American colleagues: A safe space for funders, access to expert information, and opportunities to collaborate. These principles, along with the collegial relationship with overseas ‘siblings’, have remained fundamental to our mission and practice.  

Two years later the legal and administrative arrangements for the organisation were in place, and in 2018 we celebrated 10 years of operation. As of March 2019 there have been 12 conferences and symposia, 10 field trips and too many brilliant speakers to count talking about the critical environmental issues of our time. Membership has grown from 0 to 165 (in 2020), and research suggests that $120 million of additional funding to the environment has been generated, between June 2017 and October 2020. A considerable portion of those funds have combine from collaborations between members or inspired by the AEGN network.

Sadly, though, the environmental challenges have continued to grow, with climate change, habitat loss and species extinction all increasing at a frightening rate. Our work is far from done, as it ramps up its work with its members to turn these trajectories around. 

Our timeline

From a booklet printed in the US in 2002 to raising over $120 million in less then three years! See how the AEGN was formed and continues to see a rich history of environmental grantmaking.

This timeline is in reverse chronological order.

June 202164 projects worth $26 million proceeded as a result of members contributing funding.
October 2020The Environmental Giving Pledge campaign to raise $50 million in five years reaches $120 million.
August 2019Field trip: Central Australia.
March 201910th Anniversary celebrations. Read our member reflections as we turn 10.
May 2018Field trip: Orpheus Island.
March 2018Conference: Eco Investing with keynote speaker Ellen Dorsey from Wallace Global Fund (USA).
May 2017Conference: A vision for our future.
June 2016Conference: The role of government.
April 2016Field trip: Hunter Valley.
September 2015Conference: Collective impact and communications.
August 2014Field trip: The Kimberley, Western Australia
October 2013Conference: Capacity building with US expert Paul Beaudet.
2013Field trip: Great Barrier Reef, Queensland.
2012Conference: Energy and climate.
June 2011Conference: Indigenous philanthropy.
2011Field trip: Arnhem Land.
Developed Giving Green Guide and briefing notes on nine issues.
October 2010Conference: Here on Earth – an argument for hope with Professor Tim Flannery.
August 2009Conference: Range or issues include Australian climate, biodiversity, energy, food and more.
2009Project Clearinghouse launched.
Field trip: Habitat 141.
September 2008Field trip: Gondwana Link in Western Australia.
July 2008Annual Symposium.
April 2008Climate Change and Philanthropy Seminar.
March 2008Field trip: Coorong and mini field trips on Yarra River.
February 2008Field trip with Patrick Johnson from Walter and Duncan Foundation in Canada.
Water Seminar.
January 2008Logo and brand designed.
2008Filed Trip – Gondwana Link.
First trip to US EGA retreat with group of AEGN members.
October 2007Annual Symposium including Rose Letwin from the Wilburforce Foundation in the US.
June 2007Office set up at Level 1, 39 Little Collins Street, Melbourne.
Members begin to join.
April 2007Mail out to interested trusts, foundations and individuals to join as members.
February 2007We have our founding members made up of 14 individuals, trusts and foundations.
2006Field trip: Cape York Land Council, Lizard Is research centre.
February 2005Agreement to set up an Australian type Environmental Grantmakers Association (US).
October 2004Amanda Martin, Poola Foundation, Barry Traill, The Myer Foundation and Martin
Copley, Spinifex Trust attended the annual US Environment Grantmakers Association conference in Kauai, Hawaii.
February 2003The Ian Potter Foundation, The Myer Foundation, Poola Foundation and Pratt Foundation began speaking about setting up something similar to the US Environment Grantmakers Association.
November 2002Leslie Biensen and Gary Tabor (formerly Wilburforce Foundation) both from the US print a booklet called Australia’s Conservation Paradox: A report for the International Conservation Community outlining opportunities for US funders to consider giving to conservation issues in Australia.

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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