The Wyatt Trust

Fair (and fast!) climate action

21 March 2023

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Awarding its first grant in July 1886, The Wyatt Trust is one of Australia’s oldest philanthropic foundations. CEO Stacey Thomas has stood at the helm since 2019.

“Our mission is to challenge inequality and eradicate poverty … our grantmaking very much looks at South Australians experiencing financial hardship.”

The Wyatt Trust supports people through a variety of areas including employment pathways, education access, financial management and housing. With an overarching vision of “a South Australia where inequality is challenged, and poverty is eradicated,” historically, the Trust hasn’t prioritised climate change as an issue. Until now.

“As time goes on, we witness more crazy weather events and you just can’t deny it anymore — regardless of where you focus your philanthropy, climate will impact it in some way,” says Stacey.

How climate change intersects with funding areas

The Wyatt Trust decided to apply a climate lens once it acknowledged how climate change disproportionately impacts disadvantaged communities. People experiencing financial hardship often have chronic health issues, yet they will also bear the brunt of climate change health impacts. Disadvantaged families may not have the financial resources to move away from climate disasters or to rebuild afterwards. Often affordable rental accommodation and public housing are not energy efficient or equipped to cope with extreme heat.

“It doesn’t matter which angle you look at it, if you’re on a low income or no income then you are disproportionately impacted by climate change … So, while the focus of our grantmaking is around poverty and disadvantage, we need to be able to put a climate lens on everything that we do, knowing that it is disproportionately impacting the people we’re here to serve,” says Stacey.

In the lead up to the 2021 South Australian state election, The Wyatt Trust was approached to sign an open letter calling for the rapid achievement of 100% green energy, climate smart agriculture and biodiversity protection.

It made sense for us to look at that letter but at the same time, how can we sign someone else’s letter if we’re not willing to look at our own practice? It was a pivotal moment that spurred the Trust to act.

Stacey Thomas, CEO, The Wyatt Trust

Applying a climate lens to grantmaking

“Greening” the services the Trust provides was a natural first step. The Wyatt Trust helps around 1500 people in crisis each year whereby they may buy household items like whitegoods. A quick win would be changing these to energy-efficient whitegoods. “But we hadn’t done it,” says Stacey.

For The Wyatt Trust, public accountability was the stepping stone. “We thought by making a public statement and actually putting it out there so we’re holding ourselves accountable, we’ve said publicly we’re going to do it, so now we just need to get on and do it.”

In 2021, the Trust published its organisational statement on climate change, outlining its commitment to climate change action, how it intersects with its mission and a proposed strategy. The opening statement is, “The Wyatt Trust recognises that climate change is one of the most significant issues that impacts the immediate and long-term health of our society, economy and environment.”

From here, The Wyatt Trust will turn its focus towards grant partners. An example is revisiting their grant assessment process and asking whether partners have a climate statement. “It’s just a really great starting point because if the answer is ‘no’ they probably don’t have anything else climate-related — an actual statement or a strategy that outlines it.”

If it’s a $5000 grant, maybe you don’t mind, but if it’s a $500,000 grant then you say, well for that level of support, we’d like to see a climate strategy for the partners that we have. We are happy to work with our grantees to develop a climate strategy if they don’t know where to start.

Stacey Thomas, CEO, The Wyatt Trust

Applying a climate lens to investments and operations

Since becoming an AEGN member in 2021, The Wyatt Trust has been taking steps to understand how to apply the lens proactively. It had already established responsible investing principles for its portfolio, but its grants and operations needed reframing. The Trust hired a consultant to measure a baseline for its carbon emissions to see what the parameters were and how far it could push it. “It’s what The Wyatt Trust can do, but it’s also what our grantees can do, and our partners and the people they work with … that’s the work that’s going to happen over the next six months.” Once the Trust has established a baseline, it will develop a climate strategy.

The benefits of a climate lens

For The Wyatt Trust, applying a climate lens to its investments and operations has a direct benefit to the communities it serves. “If individuals are getting energy-efficient whitegoods now, that’s a direct benefit for them in terms of energy costs and emissions,” says Stacey.
There is also a flow-on effect to the whole sector when a foundation like The Wyatt Trust starts moving on climate. “We can say publicly we’re not an environmental foundation, but we think this is important and if you want to work with us and learn how to do it too, that would be great,” says Stacey.

For The Wyatt Trust CEO, the overarching benefit of applying a climate lens is helping to solve the greatest challenge ever faced by humanity.

If we’re doing our bit like so many others, then hopefully we’re contributing to that solution.

Stacey Thomas, CEO, The Wyatt Trust

Learning and recommendations

  1. One size doesn’t fit all — just because large foundations may have applied a climate lens in a particular way, doesn’t mean that’s “the right way” — there are many ways.
  2. The climate lens gives us flexibility. We have an act of Parliament that outlines what we fund in the poverty space, so we don’t have flexibility there. The lens is where we do have flexibility.

The Climate Lens

A tool for all Australian funders

Minimise the effects of climate change and enhance your impact, while remaining focused on the people, places and causes at the heart of your mission.

Developed in partnership with Philanthropy Australia

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