McKinnon Family Foundation

Shifting power

24 July 2023

Tagged in
Sue and John McKinnon share why absolute emissions reduction is the focus of their giving and how the concept of “shifting power” guides their work.

Part of the AEGN’s mission is to deepen members’ understanding of the many ways their philanthropy can support the environment — ultimately to maximise their impact. To this end, we produce a regular podcast series where members share stories of effective leadership for our planet, climate and future.

Sue and John McKinnon generously shared their story with the AEGN’s Daisy Barham in April 2023. Key take-aways from their conversation follow.

To listen to the episode and access a full transcript and show notes, head to our podcast page.

It’s about climate justice

“We’re in this mess because of global structures that have weighted things in favour of one lot of people over another, in favour of some industries over another. Philanthropy is about making change — and that’s shifting power.”

Now is the time for ambition, not incrementalism

“We have a big source of emissions here, so by operating within Australia we can make a big global difference … We need to focus on absolute emissions reduction — what does it need to be by 2030 according to the science, not some arbitrary target — and work on making that change [and] new coal and gas has to stop.”

Fund climate action now

“Everyone and everything you care about will be heavily impacted by climate change and is already being affected. Don’t just fund climate change organisations, fund organisations and projects that do things that will positively affect climate outcomes. That includes politics, news media and more.” (John and Sue discuss their support for ACCR, The Australia Institute and AAP in this context. Also see the AEGN’s Climate Change Funding Framework and Climate Lens tool for inspiration and guidance.)

Philanthropists have more to offer than money

“It’s about finding ways for them to use that power.” Sue and John cite philanthropists’ advocacy around the University of Newcastle’s move to appoint a coal executive as its chancellor as an example, and Simon Holmes à Court’s work with Climate 200: “He put himself out there as the face of that and being a public philanthropist, he made it effective.”

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

“For people who are nervous about … putting their voice out there, I say it depends [on] who you want to be well regarded by … With climate, everything’s at stake. Nothing is worth hanging on to, not even your own comfort zone if it gets in the way of a better, faster pathway to a safe climate.”

Assess your tolerance for risk

Are you up for changing power? Are you up for being public? Or do you just want to stay behind the scenes? “I think people do need to understand where they want to play in this space.”

Get started

“Start where you are, use what you have, find out from other AEGN members what they’re doing and work out what changes must be made in your area of expertise, your sector, your network, and how you can help that happen.”

With climate, everything’s at stake. Nothing is worth hanging on to, not even your own comfort zone if it gets in the way of a better, faster pathway to a safe climate.

Sue McKinnon, McKinnon Family Foundation

Meet More Members

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.

Funding wetlands restoration

Melliodora Fund - Australian Communities Foundation Subfund

Adjacent to Victoria’s Grampians National Park lies Walker Swamp, a once-thriving wetland that was artificially drained and farmed for over a century. It’s now welcoming an abundance of life again after a huge restoration project led by Nature Glenelg Trust, an environmental not-for-profit supported by AEGN members Bruce and Ann McGregor.