Josette Wunder

The passion of a lifetime

11 March 2022

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Sydney-based AEGN member, Josette Wunder, has dedicated her life to protecting the natural world, both on the frontlines with an environmental aid organisation and more recently as a philanthropist. Here, she shares more than 40 years of her experience.

“My passion for the environment started in the early 1980s, so I’m a long-time environmentalist, greenie, ratbag, communist, nutter — these were all the things you were called in those days!” says Josette, laughing at the memory.

A pioneer

Back then, Josette was working with her partner for The Association for Research and Environmental Aid, first in Nepal and then in Vietnam. This small environmental non-government organisation (NGO) was one of only a handful operating in the aid program during the 80s and was recruited to help implement the Australian Government’s first-ever environmental aid program.

Later in life, when Josette had the finances to establish a philanthropic foundation, it was a “no-brainer” to direct funds towards the environment. “Because I’d worked for an environmental NGO, I knew what it was like to try and get money for environmental protection and sustainable development, so when I set up The Earth Welfare Foundation (in 2009), I wanted to make it easier for NGOs to fund what they were passionate about,” she says.

Philanthropy as risk capital

In the beginning, the Foundation focused mostly on biodiversity conservation followed by climate change. “We were trying to convince governments about climate change at that point, and to get the message out to communities as well,” recalls Josette. “One could say that in Australia we still are trying to pull some governments into line.”

“Renewable energy, biodiversity and sustainable rural and regional development, these areas became my priorities. I funded projects which had these as their focus, and which were often new or brave ideas that had difficulty being funded elsewhere. Some had success, some didn’t, but given it can be hard to get funding for innovation, I was happy to do it.”

The benefits of untied funding

Josette wound up her Foundation in 2016, a decision not taken lightly: “I was fully aware there was still so much important environmental work to be done, but felt it was time to pass the mantle to another similarly focussed organisation whose younger generation had the enthusiasm and capacity to carry on the work, so I made a substantial donation to Starfish Foundation.”

Josette continues to give to the environment as an individual donor and her approach remains largely unchanged, particularly her preference for providing organisations with untied (core) funding.

I’m passionate about giving core funding to groups so they can keep operating to carry out their vital work.

I know the difficulty that some face when they try to raise money, especially just to pay wages and rent, so I’m never averse to saying, ‘you guys know how to best spend it’.

Josette Wunder, Individual funder

Kick-starting the AEGN’s Sustaining Fund

A significant beneficiary of this approach has been the AEGN itself. The network’s operations are entirely funded by members, including Josette, who generously gifted $50,000 when winding up her Foundation to the AEGN’s Sustaining Fund. She also still makes donations to AEGN.

“One of the lessons I have learned is being able to back an organisation that can draw people together and have a greater impact, and I think the AEGN has done a fantastic job at that.”

Josette was also involved with working with other AEGN members and The Australia Institute on divestment and investment issues and the role it can play in shepherding capital from fossil fuel investments to more ethical investments.

Josette Wunder, Individual funder

Backing small organisations doing good work

Josette continues to provide core funding to the Environmental Defenders Office — “working through the legal system is of great benefit” — and Earth Funerals, a not-for-profit that, once established, will fully offset the environmental cost of burials and cremations by funding the landscape-scale revegetation projects and restoration of wildlife corridors. Josette has provided seed funding for its start up — again demonstrating her preference for untied funding and willingness to back new ideas. She also gives untied funds to the Tasmanian arm of the Seed Savers Network. 

“I generally prefer to work with smaller organisations and individuals I have faith in, and who I believe do effective work,” explains Josette.

Advocating for more environmental funding

As an individual funder, Josette continues to value being able to connect with other environmental philanthropists through the AEGN network. “AEGN has been instrumental to meeting other like-minded people, having conversations and sharing ideas as well as co-funding projects.”

One of the reasons Josette joined the AEGN was to get the message out about the importance of giving money to the environment: “That’s mostly why I joined — to advocate and communicate that we need to fund the environment,” says Josette.

My wish is that the AEGN continues to expand, with its positive impact on the environment increasing exponentially as more of the philanthropic dollar is directed toward environmental issues.

Josette Wunder, Individual funder

Philanthropists — don’t be shy!

To encourage more environmental funding, Josette believes AEGN members should not be shy about their philanthropy and make their giving known.

“I used to keep quiet about being a philanthropist, but then I realised I wouldn’t be encouraging anyone else to give. I’m not a funder with huge amounts of money, and this doesn’t matter; what matters is the feel-good factor, plus the fact I’m doing something beneficial for our planet. I feel that if I talk about being a philanthropist, then others might consider it too.”

So, for those considering becoming an AEGN member, what would she tell them?

“Don’t hesitate. The benefits are just so great!”

Meet more members

Bold, impactful philanthropy

The Myer Foundation

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.

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.