Trawalla Foundation

Advancing women’s leadership on climate

21 March 2023

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Established in 2004, The Trawalla Foundation works with organisations and individuals who have a vision for Australia’s future that will help strengthen gender equality, creativity, sustainability and social justice.

Underpinning the foundation’s work is a belief in the value of more female leaders.

“Essentially, we’re looking at how to grow a critical mass of female leaders in business, politics and the media,” explains foundation CEO Sarah Buckley — ultimately so they can deliver positive social and environmental outcomes.

To this end, Trawalla uses a variety of levers, including grants, investments, skills, networks and advocacy to deepen the impact of those it collaborates with. A significant lever within the mix is the foundation’s research and advocacy arm, Women’s Leadership Institute Australia (WLIA). All of this work is managed through the family office of Carol and Alan Schwartz.

Both Carol and Alan are really focused on meaningful change, so we move quickly, have a high-risk threshold and are willing to try new things. It’s about finding great leaders we want to back or bringing together a coalition to explore a new idea and turn it into pragmatic change.

Sarah Buckley, CEO, Trawalla Foundation

How climate change intersects with funding areas

“Most of our work is in the gender equity space, but there’s always been a focus on the environment, climate change, medical research and social justice alongside this,” says Sarah. “They’re interrelated, with a particularly strong intersection between the environment and female leadership. There’s so much research showing that female leaders tend to focus more on climate change and push for those outcomes, whether it’s at the local or national level.”

Trawalla supports an impressive roll call of female leaders in Australia, among them Anna Skarbek, CEO, Climateworks; Anna Rose, CEO, Environmental Leadership Australia; Heidi Lee, CEO, Beyond Zero Emissions; Isabel Reinecke, Executive Director and Founder, Grata Fund; and Victoria McKenzieMcHarg, Strategic Director, Women’s Environmental Leadership Australia — “all stellar women doing really critical work to accelerate momentum for meaningful climate action,” says Sarah.

“We’re backing great leaders, particularly with an advocacy focus. When you consider some of the strategic areas outlined in the AEGN’s Climate Change Funding Framework — transforming the politics, shifting the money, enforcing and expanding laws — that’s the space we want to operate in. Carol and Alan have a background in this area [both studied law], but also that’s where we consider we can be most effective.”

Applying a climate lens to grantmaking

Trawalla’s investment values and approach guide who it invests in or collaborates with, as well as the standards the foundation holds itself to. An illustrative example is Trawalla’s support for Isabel Reinecke, Executive Director and Founder of the Grata Fund, which uses legal avenues to fight systemic injustice.

“Isabel is one of WLIA’s Fellows, and Grata’s Australian Climate Case is something we’ve backed really strongly,” says Sarah. The case is supporting two Traditional Owners from Guda Maluyligal in the Torres Strait to take the Australian Government to court for failing to prevent climate change. It’s the first time anyone in Australia has argued that the whole of the Federal Government has a duty to protect people from climate harm.

“Alan has been particularly involved, using the AEGN network to bring other funders to the table, but also regularly catching up with the Grata team and thinking about ways to bolster their work.”

Applying a climate lens to investments and operations

All of the foundation’s corpus investments are managed with a responsible investing lens, including negative screenings (such as fossil fuels, alcohol, gambling, tobacco, animal welfare, firearms) and positive screenings (such as minimum 25 per cent of board directors must be women). Trawalla also invests a proportion of its corpus in social and environmental impact investments, including funds, social impact bonds and venture capital.

“We’ve invested in several incredibly successful funds over the years, like Kilter Rural’s Murray–Darling Water Basin Fund, and some more mainstream ones to back at-scale funds for innovation. Credit Suisse has a fantastic climate innovation fund that we’re part of, for example. Our investment strategy has been very much an intentional journey over the last ten years,” says Sarah.

For Alan, it’s been an intellectual journey, too. “He’s published several articles in the Harvard Business Review and Stanford Social Innovation Review, among others, examining capital markets and their failure to consider environmental and social value, so he’s grappling with this on many different levels,” says Sarah.

Measuring impact

“We have an annual investment strategy, and for every investment we look at whether it’s an A, B or C: ‘Avoid harm’, ‘Benefit stakeholders’ or ‘Contribute to solutions’,” says Sarah. “Many funds have their own measurement approaches, of course, and some are incredible —I always point to the Bridges Israel impact investment fund, which is so sophisticated in the way it measures environmental and social impact.” On the grantmaking side, measuring impact is trickier.

“We’re about backing individuals and innovation, and in those early stages it can be difficult to pin down meaningful measures of success,” says Sarah. “So, I can’t tell you we have some sort of sophisticated measurement system we’re mapping this all against, but we’ve intentionally decided not to go down that path.”

We have a very clear sense of the change we’re trying to achieve and initiatives we’re most interested in, and we don’t get too hung up on it beyond that.

Sarah Buckley, CEO, Trawalla Foundation

The benefits of a climate lens

“One of the benefits of tackling climate from a gender equity perspective has been the level of innovation, energy and leadership we’re seeing when we meet with women leaders,” says Sarah. “Many have been dedicated to climate action for 20-plus years — they’ve been pushing for a long, long time — but finally you can see the way they’re shaping solutions for Australia and how momentum is building.

“Hopefully, we’re in a time of possibility now, and can get on with implementing the right kinds of legislation, funding models and incentives.”

I think we’re in an exciting phase and the AEGN is well positioned to be part of that change for Australia.

Sarah Buckley, CEO, Trawalla Foundation

Learning and recommendations

  1. Explore the AEGN’s excellent climate change funding framework and consider what giving area/s most resonate for you.
  2. Learn from and collaborate with the dynamic AEGN philanthropic network. The Project Clearinghouse is a great place to understand funding needs and how you could partner with others.
  3. Find and back great climate change leaders – there is deep expertise in the community, and right now they need to be supported and resourced to get on with the huge task of Australia’s climate transition.

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