How have you responded to COVID-19 and the bushfires? Has it changed the level of funding you contribute or how you contribute?
My main reaction to the bushfires was their relationship to climate change. While there are other contributing factors to the fires, climate change is the underlying one. In terms of COVID-19, the implications of the virus are profound and largely unknown in terms of what the future holds. The COVID-19 response has led to a renewed interest in climate change. People are saying, “If we can mobilise things for coronavirus, why can’t we mobilise things for climate change?” — an issue which is infinitely more threatening.
Both crises will influence the areas we support. I think we’ll be less likely to routinely support groups just because we’ve been funding them in the past, and think more strategically about the people, not so much the cause, but the people who are going to get the job done. We will support different kinds of people for different reasons, and what’s going to be best for the environment in the long term.
The time of maximum confusion and minimum insight is right now in terms of where we might go after COVID-19, so I’m as confused as everybody else. COVID-19 has changed the way we think, changed how much money we have — because anyone who has an investment in anything has a much reduced capacity to donate — so the foundation will have less money, which will also tighten our attitudes toward how we can spend that money.
What types of funding are you doing?
We support climate change action indirectly in many ways. We’re interested in renewable energy projects, for example. We’re interested in clean air, clean water and clean oceans, so we support a lot of ocean research as well as habitat protection through organisations like Bush Heritage, as well as individuals working on projects to support large pieces of habitat.
What are you hearing from your environmental grantees about the impact of COVID-19 and the fires?
I’ve had a number of enquiries from people over the last six weeks about whether we can support them in the next year and, if so, at what level, and the answer is yes, we’ll support them, but I can’t talk about at what level because I don’t know myself. COVID-19 has definitely affected the way we will allocate funds.
The pandemic has impacted how we live, work and interact with each other. What’s one thing you hope we’ll do differently on the other side of COVID-19?
I’ve found being at home quite interesting and refreshing – I’ve read a lot more and thought about a lot of things, and I think because of what’s happened, people will think differently about their spending habits, and the way they consume things they don’t need, so it will have a huge impact on the consumer market, which is a very good thing. People are also thinking about their relationships with others. We’re herd animals, we need each other, and the pandemic has made people more aware of that. I think people may now be more kind to each other, we may have a world where people are more considerate and less self-centred. That’s what I’d like to see.