Morris Family Foundation

People, place, planet

21 March 2023

Tagged in
Established in 2009, the Morris Family Foundation is a private charitable foundation and philanthropic arm of the Morris Group, an Australian-owned family business operating across tourism, hospitality, craft brewing, technology, aviation and agriculture.

Through its network of businesses, the Morris Group strives to create a positive impact for “people”, “place” and “planet”.

The Morris Family Foundation’s funding approach aligns with — and is an extension of — the Morris Group’s mission. This is evident in the foundation’s program of work, which reflects the social and environmental issues playing out within the regions where the group’s businesses operate.

“Thinking about the Morris Group’s tourism businesses in far-north Queensland, for example, especially around reef tourism, as a natural extension we became interested in reef health, which is linked to climate change,” says Hayley.

“One of our largest businesses is in Townsville, where Adani Group’s regional headquarters are based. We learnt quickly that the perception locally was that Adani was the only option for local jobs. So, we set out to try and change this perspective with our philanthropy and focus on changing the narrative in Queensland. We’ve been diving into those perspectives, where environment and jobs are seen as separate, working on regional transition planning within those communities.”





How climate change intersects with funding areas

The foundation funds across four issue areas in total: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander justice; regenerative food systems; oceans and reef; and climate.

Climate change is undermining the foundation’s work across all of these funding areas, including by deepening already existing inequalities and vulnerabilities within communities and countries globally. It’s something the Morris Family Foundation is acutely aware of, prompting it to reassess its grantmaking program both at home and abroad.

“We always felt the amount of money you can give and the change you can create in people’s lives internationally was a pretty good return on investment,” says Hayley. “We had quite a few projects internationally and were asking ourselves, is this problem going to get worse with climate change?

We don’t want to be on a constant funding hamster wheel with these organisations. Are they just going to get stuck or get worse if we don’t solve climate change? In most cases the answer is yes.

Hayley Morris, Executive Director, the Morris Group

Applying a climate lens to grantmaking

To tackle this reality head on, the foundation implemented a climate lens in 2019; in practical terms, this means that all grantees must now be able to show that they’re working towards a zero-carbon future through their projects or considering the impacts of climate change within their programs.

One Acre Fund is one such example — its mission, to break the cycle of poverty and starvation that impacts around one billion smallholder farmers across six countries in Eastern and Southern Africa. The Morris Family Foundation has supported One Acre Fund since 2015, with funding directed towards farmer communities in Burundi.

“What’s key for us in continuing to fund One Acre is the way they’re farming. They’re including things like family planning — in the context of the ‘drawdown list’, women and girls and family planning is high up there as a climate solution. They’re not buying into the commercial agricultural system which is increasing emissions. And they’re helping farmers to build biodiversity on their properties.

“The lens has allowed us to be not so, ‘if you’re not working directly on climate change, you’re out’; rather it’s provided the option to ask questions and see how our grantees are thinking about it, and how much an issue climate change is going to be for the communities they serve, but also what they’re doing to equip these communities to make a positive contribution.”

Applying a climate lens to investments and operations

The Morris Family Foundation has a small carbon footprint — the hands-on team comprises Hayley and one staff member whose work is supported by the Morris Group’s administrative and finance teams — but its climate lens has informed the operations of the Morris Group more broadly.

“We use our value set proactively within the businesses, and that can be from how to reduce their impact — so what are they doing to reduce emissions — but also around the people and community side, that’s where we’ve had the most influence. A strong, healthy community is a community that can respond, that can take action, and is more engaged,” says Hayley.

It might not look and feel much like an environmental project from the outset, but we’re working with and building up the community. Climate is a people problem as much as it is an environmental issue.

Hayley Morris, Executive Director, the Morris Group

Measuring impact

What does success look like when you’re seeking to mitigate climate impacts and build community resilience? The Morris Family Foundation is not prescriptive, preferring to accommodate its grantees’ individual success indicators, be it tonnes of emissions reduced, or the number of people influenced through a social media campaign.

“We’ve got these indicators that they provide, but they’re not consistent across organisations because we’ve let them choose, so we’re left with this fabulous long list of things that people have done with money that we’ve enabled that doesn’t necessarily tell the story of where the change has been — and for us, we’re fine with that,” says Hayley.

“As a society we can be too focused on short-term measurable outcomes, and I think this work is greater and deeper than that, and being okay that it’s not always measurable is just a place of discomfort that we probably need to sit in.”

The benefits of a climate lens

The wicked problems of the escalating climate crisis are complex, and it’s why the Morris Family Foundation has chosen to support organisations that have the capacity to shape real and systemic change, a strategy complemented by its climate lens approach.

“I think being heavily involved not just from a granting perspective but in that systems work, I’d say that’s been an unexpected benefit — of understanding how the change has to come from so many different angles,” says Hayley.

How do we use our philanthropy, how do we use our businesses, how do we use our people, how do we use our name or influence or our connections to government to try and push an agenda that’s beyond just the giving agenda.

Hayley Morris, Executive Director, the Morris Group

Learning and recommendations

Incorporate some simple questions into your standard grantmaking paperwork that address how the grantee is seeking to solve the climate problem and in what way, and/or how they are working to help communities to adapt. The question we ask (via an interview is): How are you mitigating the impacts of climate change (i.e., reducing emissions) in the running of your organisation and/or projects?

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

Meet More Members

A climate focus

Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation

Dr Catherine Brown OAM leads Australia’s largest and oldest community foundation as CEO of the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.

Advancing women’s leadership on climate

Trawalla Foundation

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.