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Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation

Interview with CEO Dr Catherine Brown, OAM

Tagged in: Sustainable agriculture and food systems, Sustainable cities, Sustainable economy, Advocacy, Capacity building, Monitoring and evaluation, VIC

As a charitable community foundation, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation (LMCF) seeks to create positive social change and address Melbourne’s future needs, now. Dr Catherine Brown, OAM has been at the helm of LMCF since 2011 and over that time has led the organisation’s innovative responses to many challenging issues and disasters. The back-to-back challenges and unprecedented magnitude of the bushfires and Covid-19 pandemic have taken LMCF’s response to a new level.  

How has LMCF responded to COVID-19 and the bushfires? Are you increasing, decreasing or maintaining funding levels?

We had a disaster relief policy in place so we already had an understanding of the different phases of disaster, whether that’s the bushfires or COVID-19, and we were able to spring into action because we know that’s part of our role. As a community foundation we feel a sense of responsibility to respond when there’s a big challenge facing the community.

Over a number of years, we put aside funds for a disaster reserve so that we could be ready to act. This is where our Rapid Response Grants stem from.

During the bushfires we made some very early grants focused on the need for food and support to organisations such as Foodbank and the Salvation Army, then we looked at supporting communities through groups like VCOSS using Seer data to help the organisations and people on the ground in East Gippsland articulate the needs of the their community. We also made a grant to Habitat for Humanity to create some fast housing for people using shipping containers that can be transported wherever the disaster is.

And then, along came COVID-19 and we saw this was another disaster altogether. We’ve funded a lot in health over the years, so our response has been focused in three different streams:

  1. Responding to the health impacts, especially for vulnerable communities
  2. Scaling up services to meet the unprecedented demand, for instance we’ve provided grants to support Gather my Crew, Infoxchange and Justice Connect
  3. Organisational and sector resilience, which has included supporting the Collingwood Arts Precinct and the Social Enterprise Network

To date we have distributed $905,000 in Rapid Response Grants for Covid-19 projects with a few others in mind.

Another part we always look at is recovery, which is about building back better. That’s probably where the environment and climate lens comes in more, and we’ve recently funded the Smart Energy Council to run the renewables summit online.

Moving into that recovery phase focuses our thinking on two levels because the two biggest issues facing Melbourne are homelessness and climate change. If we could come out the other side with a better path to a net zero emissions future and more social and affordable housing, that’s the really big picture.


What are you hearing from your environmental grantees about the impact of COVID-19 and the fires?

What we’re hearing, not just from our environmental grantees but all of them really, is the need to transition some of their programs online. Increasing their online capability has been really important as well as being flexible about people delivering things in different ways, for example, the way energy assessments are conducted.

From my point of view, we’ve had to be flexible about things we’ve funded and how they can be delivered.


Making the most of our current situation, do you have a recommended book or movie to enjoy in isolation?

My family has actually been watching quite a lot of movies. One of my sons is studying media at RMIT and we’re all quite passionate about film.

After watching many Jason Bourne movies, I managed to convince them to try some others and there are two I’d recommend: a French film called Frankie and a German film called Isi & Ossi. We really enjoyed them both and they helped balance out all the action and adventure movies.


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?

One thing that immediately springs to mind is just listening; to listen more. I’ve found it quite interesting during Zoom calls when you take it in turns to speak and the quiet people get their voices heard too.

Even in terms of granting, we’re trying to understand what people are going through and what they need from us and that’s been really important in understanding where philanthropy can make a difference in these strange times.