Reichstein Foundation

50 years of change, not charity

8 January 2024

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Jill Reichstein and Lucy Larkins from the Reichstein Foundation reflect on the Foundation’s 50 years of granting, the evolution of philanthropy in Australia, and the outsized impact collaborative, systems-focused funding can have on the community.

Part of the AEGN’s mission is to deepen members’ understanding of the many ways philanthropy can support the environment — ultimately to maximise their impact. To this end, we produce a regular podcast series where members share stories of effective leadership for our planet, climate and future.

Jill Reichstein and Lucy Larkins generously shared their story with AEGN CEO Amanda Martin in December 2023. Key take-aways from their conversation follow. To listen to the episode and access a full transcript and show notes, head to our podcast page.


Everything is connected

Lucy: “[T]he problems that we face as a society are interconnected. Excessive resource extraction, for example, isn’t just an environmental concern, it also fuels economic inequality through unfair revenue distribution, land dispossession or poor labour conditions. And to address interconnected problems, we need interconnected solutions. Our grantmaking strategy therefore places a strong emphasis on supporting advocates working at the intersections of our thematic focus areas [environmental justice, economic justice, gender justice and First Peoples’ justice].”

The role of philanthropy

Lucy: “Trust-based philanthropy recognises that the NGOs [non-government organisations] … are the ones who are best-placed to identify solutions to the problems that we’re facing, and that the role of philanthropy is to provide support, not heavy-handed guidance. Ultimately, it’s about shifting the power dynamics and the structural barriers that can get in the way of not-profits achieving their intended impact.”

Philanthropy as risk capital

Lucy: “We’re a relatively small foundation and when we think about how we can have the most impact, one thing we can do is to fund new and emerging organisations that other philanthropic organisations might not be familiar with or might not be willing to take a risk on. And because we’ve been willing to fund new and early-stage groups that have great people and great ideas that don’t necessarily have the runs on the board, we’ve been able to help broaden the civil society landscape in Australia.”

A focus on long-term, untied funding

Lucy: “Our NGO partners have told us that multi-year grants allow them to plan their work, recruit high-quality staff and ensure that they’re spending their time on creating change rather than on fundraising. And while funding core operations for organisations might not be very sexy and doesn’t have an immediate payoff, it’s essential for solving big societal problems … While some organisations need that longer-term commitment, other organisations need a quick injection of cash to respond to a pressing need. So, we do both.”

How to fund a just transition

Jill: “In the context of the shift to renewable energy, we’ve supported a number of organisations and projects that are guided by the belief that if the transition isn’t just, then the outcome won’t be either. And there’s work that’s happening across the country to ensure that workers, people on low incomes and First Nations communities are included in and benefiting from the transition. And that’s really vital.” (The Reichstein Foundation has supported First Nations Clean Energy Network, Solar Citizens and Totally Renewable Yackandandah, among others.)

Collaboration is key

Jill: “[W]e do a better job when we work together, and you can back in a project for the longer term. And I think that that’s particularly important at this time, where we’re going through this climate crisis, where we need all hands on deck.” (Jill cites Mannifera as an example — “a wonderful collective of Australian funders. … that support their partners in civil society to build public trust, transparency and fairness in democracy, and to create a more inclusive society.”)

A sector changing for the better

Jill: “Responsible investing has become a key factor in the way foundations are operating. Reichstein’s getting a lot more engaged in it and looking at how we can tweak our funding, tweak our investing so that our funding is more aligned with the way we operate. Another trend we’re seeing is that more foundations are finding ways of having communities participate in the grantmaking decisions. … [and] families are really bringing in their children at a younger age to be a part of the journey … I think that’s a really good sign for philanthropy in the future.”

I feel very fortunate that my father set up the foundation, and I think in many ways, it was the greatest gift he could have given me … he actually handed his daughter, the social activist, a toolkit to fund social change.

Jill Reichstein OAM, Trustee and Chair, Reichstein Foundation

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