The Myer Foundation

Bold, impactful philanthropy

7 February 2022

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The Myer Foundation has been giving to the environment for more than 60 years. Over this time, its ways of working and areas of focus have evolved, with tackling climate change now front and centre of its giving strategy, as foundation President Rupert Myer AO explains.

Rupert Myer AO assumed the presidency of The Myer Foundation at the end of 2020, a challenging time to lead an organisation by anyone’s measure. Charting a course through 2022 feels just as treacherous — the pandemic remains with us and continues to evolve, as does the severity of the climate crisis — but rough seas make for skilled sailors.

The criticality of acting now

Under Rupert’s leadership, the foundation has shown remarkable agility in these uncertain times. In the immediate aftermath of the release of the International Panel on Climate Change’s sixth climate report last August — confirming the Paris Agreement’s global warming threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius is perilously close — the foundation fast-tracked its Sustainability & Environment program grantmaking to get funds out the door and into the community to effect large-scale, systemic change.

2030 emissions targets

The foundation is now supporting Beyond Zero Emissions, Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network, Solutions for Climate Australia and Environmental Leadership Australia for another two years — “organisations well placed to tackle the political impasse federally on 2030 emissions targets and to help transition the economy, particularly in the regions,” says Rupert.

These grantees join an impressive rollcall of organisations already supported by the foundation and doing exceptional work, particularly in seeking to influence policy at a national and sub-national level: The Next Economy, Original Power, Farmers for Climate Action, Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Investor Group on Climate Change and ClimateWorks. All have received untied funding, awarded in support of the grantee’s overall mission and giving them the freedom and flexibility to direct funds where needed.

“Offering significant untied funding over multiple years allows us to fund for impact while delivering the operational support that organisations are crying out for,” Rupert says. “It also helps grantees withstand the shock of significant challenges like COVID-19 and pivot their work to capitalise on opportunities generated by the accelerating momentum on climate action.”

Rupert is particularly proud of the foundation’s long association with ClimateWorks, which it co-founded with Monash University in 2009 to bridge the gap between climate research and action. For more than a decade now, ClimateWorks has played a critical role in Australia’s transition towards net zero emissions.

ClimateWorks offers a clear demonstration of the role philanthropy can play and the impact that it can have by investing in robust research and planning phases, coupled with funding over time and at scale, and in supporting non-partisan approaches to advocacy and policy influence.

Rupert Myer AO, President — The Myer Foundation

A portfolio approach

Two overarching themes dominate the foundation’s five-year strategic plan (FY19-23): to tackle the climate crisis and address inequality. Settling on these themes for its strategy, and on environmental sustainability as a core value, have been critical to the foundation’s journey. It’s a journey with a clearly articulated destination: to support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and at least halve emissions by 2030, achieving net zero by 2050.

Together, the foundation’s grantees sit within a “portfolio approach” that supports diverse but complementary organisations working to address climate change. The foundation takes the view that multiple approaches across multiple fronts are required to achieve the ultimate goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The foundation’s support of climate and sustainability initiatives represents a substantial proportion of its annual giving, at just over $1.5 million — almost half of its grantmaking — in the last financial year, having increased from 37 per cent of grant funds in 2019/20 and 27 per cent in 2018/19. The foundation’s climate funding was augmented by the Sidney Myer Fund, which, for the first time, directly supported the Sustainability & Environment program, contributing $900,000 over three years from FY21 through to the end of the current strategic period.

The Myer Foundation portfolio approach.

Beyond grantmaking

Under the umbrella of its portfolio approach, the foundation is taking direct action through the investment of its own financial resources. Immediate past president Martyn Myer AO’s resolve in moving 100 per cent of the foundation’s corpus to environmental, social and governance (ESG) investments is running well ahead of schedule, currently sitting at over 90 per cent of assets. The Sidney Myer Fund has followed the foundation’s lead, investing a material proportion of its own corpus into ESG assets. It’s an explicit acknowledgement of the role capital markets can play in decarbonising the economy.

In addition, the foundation is seeking to strengthen Australia’s resilience to a changing climate through the work of the newly launched Watertrust Australia Ltd, which has been designed to improve how decisions are made about Australia’s precious and scarce freshwater resources.

In partnership with The Ian Potter Foundation, the foundation has provided joint funding of $10 million over ten years to establish Watertrust — funding that has now been leveraged to a total commitment of more than $31 million from a coalition of 16 philanthropic trusts and foundations. It’s a wonderful example of philanthropy’s capacity to convene and coalesce partners around a complex issue of national significance.

Watertrust mirrors our approach with ClimateWorks, which is the blueprint if you like.

Philanthropy’s strength is its independence and funding as ‘risk capital’ to test new approaches. In this case we’ve supported the establishment of an independent organisation that can act as an honest broker and work with all stakeholders in a heavily contested space, ultimately to improve water and catchment policy outcomes for Australia over the long-term.

Rupert Myer AO, President — The Myer Foundation

Myer’s fourth generation driving change

Family engagement is fundamental to the foundation’s ethos and strategic approach. Testament to the Myer family’s long-term commitment to environmental sustainability, fourth-generation members are a driving force behind the foundation’s increasing focus on climate. These members are the great grandchildren of Sidney and Merlyn Myer, who began the family’s philanthropic quest to improve the lives of Australians in lasting and positive ways almost 100 years ago. As the climate crisis continues, so too expect bold, impactful philanthropy in the years to come. It’s a formidable family, ready to meet the formidable challenges ahead.

It should be a key part of today’s philanthropic practice that organisations and individuals striving to create better environmental outcomes are nurtured and supported.

After all, such support is at the heart of the definition of philanthropy, which is ‘love of humankind’. Loving humankind is a good place to start thinking about how essential this work is.

Rupert Myer AO, President — The Myer Foundation

AEGN foundation members

The Myer Foundation is a foundation member of the AEGN, joining Myer family members in backing establishment efforts in 2010. That support continues to this day, in recognition of the AEGN as an important resource for the foundation’s climate and sustainability related grantmaking.

The Myer Foundation contact

Jane Thomas
Program Manager
The Myer Foundation & Sidney Myer Fund
03 8609 3150

Meet more members

Jim Phillipson

Rendere Trust

Jim is a big believer in building partnerships and working together – something he came to realise growing up and living on farms.

Rob Pallin

Paddy Pallin Foundation Trust

For the Pallin family, an attachment to nature is an intergenerational affair. “I suppose it’s in my genes,” says Rob Pallin, a Director of the Paddy Pallin Foundation that bears his father’s name.