A seasoned community organiser and climate campaigner, Anna’s multi-dimensional philanthropic practise builds from a place of deep grassroots experience.
Together with her husband Simon Sheikh, Anna supports climate advocacy through a sub-fund at Australian Communities Foundation, but she’s also a full-time climate campaigner, co-founder of collective giving group Groundswell, board director at Farmers for Climate Action, CEO at Environmental Leadership Australia and an experienced grantmaker distributing grants on behalf of larger foundations.
COVID-19 and bushfire response
Anna recently shared her thoughts about the impact of the bushfires and COVID-19 on her own philanthropic activity and the wider climate movement.
How have you responded to COVID-19 and the bushfires? Are you increasing, decreasing or maintaining your funding levels?
In terms of the bushfires, we are supporting new constituency groups that are powerful messengers on climate: Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action, Emergency Leaders for Climate Action, Farmers for Climate Action and a range of others.
In terms of COVID-19, we are supporting direct humanitarian relief/food security projects, mostly small grassroots ones we are aware of because of friends who have been involved in local climate movements and are now getting involved in food relief in places like Ghana and Nepal.
We are also stepping up our funding of advocacy. This is a good blog post that outlines why. Climate advocacy groups we are donating to this financial year include:
- Farmers for Climate Action
- Original Power
- Australian Youth Climate Coalition and SeedMob
- Lock the Gate
- The Next Economy
- Vets for Climate Action
Outside of climate we are also supporting the Change the Record campaign.
We have also signed up to the Ford Foundation’s COVID-19 pledge where funders pledge to convert project-based funding to general operating support, make current grants all general operating support, increase funding to advocacy, and reduce paperwork and reporting obligations for grantees. I hope that some of these philanthropic practices will become the norm after the pandemic passes – they should be. I wrote a blog on why general operating support, rather than project or campaign funding, should be the norm in climate advocacy.
The economic response to coronavirus is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild our economy in a way that is more diverse and sustainable.
What are you hearing from your environmental grantees about the impact of COVID-19 and the fires?
We were on the cusp of a major breakthrough on climate in Australia after the fires – in peoples’ attitudes and concern, in political will, and in funding the sector with AEGN research showing only 2.5 per cent of philanthropy in Australia was going towards the environment.
There was huge momentum after the fires in terms of new climate philanthropy – I was getting approached through Groundswell and the climate organisations I work with by new potential donors wanting to get involved in the space. It felt like it was a moment where we were poised to achieve transformative change in climate policy.
That has changed because of COVID-19 and in some ways, climate has dropped off the agenda of many politicians, media outlets and potentially philanthropists.
However, the economic response to coronavirus is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild our economy in a way that is more diverse and sustainable. There is a big conversation underway about how we rebuild the economy with clean technology at its heart – we’re borrowing this money from future generations, so we need to use that money in a way that serves their interests.
We’ve heard so much about ‘flattening the curve’ during the pandemic, but the same sentiment also applies to the climate crisis. There’s a great commentary and graph from NYU that captures the importance of climate action using the “flatten the curve” metaphor.
The climate movement is nothing if not adaptable, it’s good at pivoting and we’ve seen that in the last few months with some organisations doing really great work engaging in discussions with politicians, public servants and changing the story in the media around a renewables-led recovery. But the push from Nev Power and the gas lobby for a “gas-led recovery” it definitely a challenge.
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?
Grow more of our own food, remind ourselves of the essentials in life and what resources we really need to live a good life, and then give the rest away. I think that this is a time where a lot of people, including us, have been asking, ‘How much is enough to live on?’ I think we’ve had time to think about the things that really matter: family, friends, community, our planet.
We’ve set up wicking beds, and I’ve really enjoyed that feeling of working with soil and knowing it’s healthy. Having to cook most of your meals at home I hope has given people a much healthier relationship with their food and the food system overall.
I also think that now is a great time for environmental funders to get involved – if they’re not already – in a more hands-on way with the climate organisations they support. Here I have to give a shout out to the many AEGN members who already do this, like John and Sue McKinnon who are particular role models for Simon and I. They give so generously, not just of their money, but also their time and strategic insights to the organisations they support.
Making the most of our current situation, do you have a recommended book or movie to enjoy in isolation?
I have several!