Tash Keuneman

Systems thinking on climate

21 March 2023

Tagged in
Tash Keuneman joined the AEGN in 2019 after cutting her teeth as a tech entrepreneur at Atlassian, Intuit and Data61. She is committed to funding climate action at scale.

“Climate change will make the injustices we see now worse and worse until it’s really uncomfortable for billions of people.”

Shaped by her software design background, Tash takes a “systems thinking” approach to climate change funding. She sees an opportunity for philanthropy to apply pressure on energy policy and gradual divestment from fossil fuels. “Australian consumers are already installing solar panels and changing their stoves from gas to electric … but the policy hasn’t caught up for business change.”

Since joining the AEGN, the Keuneman Foundation funds about three charities annually using an 80/20 model. “We tend to fund our big strategic themes with 80 per cent of our giving; that will take a couple of years until it bears fruit and we’re comfortable with that. We then pepper that strategy with 20 per cent of quick wins.”

Tash and her partner Wendell decide to fund projects and organisations in the same way they decide on their software investments. “We just took what we learned from our tech background and applied it to philanthropy,” says Tash.

For me, it’s very much asking — do they have a vision? Are they capable of scaling operationally? How do they want to scale? Have they done it before? Do they need the money and what will they do with it? We are very low-touch and low maintenance.

Tash Keuneman, Director, The Keuneman Foundation

How climate change intersects with funding areas

While climate change is now the sole focus for the Keuneman Foundation, the Keunemans started out funding primarily girls’ education through Room to Read. “We were probably giving 70 per cent of our funds to girls’ education for the last 15 years. And yes, while that will help climate change, the impact of that won’t be felt for 20 or 30 years, whereas we have to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2050. It’s not a matter of either or, it’s a matter of saying ‘yes, and…’”

Tash took it upon herself to map out the various impacts of climate change over many years. “I did the math on the impacts of climate change on issues I cared about and it’s when I realised that we needed to change our giving,” she says.

A nature lover at heart, Tash had funded a lot of conservation work in the past, “but I realised, it’s not just individual animals that are going to suffer [from climate change impacts such as floods, bushfires and heatwaves]— it’s going to be everything and everyone else as well”. She decided to take a different approach, one that aims to slow down and reverse these impacts.

Her map also painted a dire picture for inequality, another issue close to her heart. “Climate change is the ultimate injustice because the rich will just be comfortable and the lesser off will be dying of heat stroke and starvation,” says Tash.

Climate change will make the injustices we see now worse and worse until it’s really uncomfortable for billions of people.

Tash Keuneman, Director, The Keuneman Foundation

Applying a climate lens to investments and operations

Tash used to tackle the climate crisis on an individual level. “I’d run myself ragged trying to do everything I possibly could, to the point where I almost had a meltdown — I was a strict vegan, I’d run around to all the different waste facilities and drop off things, I’d get everything repaired. It was a full-time job!” That was until a close friend told Tash she needed to slow down and focus on the bigger issues; to essentially take a first principles approach. “That feedback was really life-changing for me,” she says.

For Tash, that meant refocusing on what she had the power to change. In addition to setting up the Keuneman Foundation, she’s decided to only work with companies that that are truly doing good in the world. Her partner, Wendell Keuneman, is working on funding for sustainability through his venture capital firm, Tidal. “We’re now focused on the climate careerwise, foundation-wise and lifestyle-wise … it’s not about everybody backing one thing; it’s about finding which kind of cause or charity you like and following that.”

For Tash, climate philanthropy is a choice that can and should be made. “I thought running a foundation would be a lot of work but it’s not. Your capacity increases; you don’t lose your work–life balance. It’s like working on your lung capacity. When you first start breathwork, people can normally only hold their breath for 30 to 45 seconds before they feel like they’re going to pass out. But you slowly work through it and within a couple of weeks, most people can hold their breath comfortably for two minutes plus and if you keep going, it could be held for seven minutes. You’re still the same human, but what you think is possible increases. We’re all capable of doing great things once the systems are in place.

“Once you’ve made the choice to fund climate, it becomes in some ways easier than donating as an individual. Our accountant made it incredibly simple for us and is a great advisor. They care just as much as we do about the cause.”

The benefits of a climate lens

For Tash, it’s seeing the work that’s been done in Australia, and she is buoyed by the nation’s potential: “I’m constantly proud at seeing how much climate innovation is coming out of Australia. It’s really exciting! I just want to keep climate R&D projects here, though … right now, great commercial companies are leaving because we haven’t got the necessary policies or market appetite.”

Just remember that activism and philanthropy is like a choir, so if you’ve got to catch your breath, that’s okay, the song will still be sung.

Tash Keuneman, Director, The Keuneman Foundation

Learning and recommendations

  1. Start by researching how climate change will impact the social issue you most care about (women and girls, or nature, for example) that will motivate you to consider climate change in your funding.
  2. Giving to something as invisible as reducing carbon emissions doesn’t feel as good as say, working at a soup kitchen, where you see the tangible impact straight away. Our brains are designed to give us dopamine kicks based on immediate societal or personal impact. Knowing that, find ways to celebrate the impact your climate work is having with friends and family.
  3. Consider short- and longer-term impact. Allocating 80 per cent of our funding to longer term systems change work and 20 per cent to responsive quick wins is a great way to structure our giving. It keeps us engaged in the issue while staying focused on impact.
  4. Do what you can — not everyone can fully align their career, but everyone can do something to consider climate in their investments, philanthropy and lifestyle, so explore what your strengths are.

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

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.

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.