September 15, 2017

CEO Update - September 2017

I’ve had a really interesting week that has left me pondering a question: Do we value an inclusive society in Australia?

I started the week at Philanthropy Australia’s Philanthropy meets Parliament summit in Canberra where I moderated a panel on “Parliamentary Perspectives on Philanthropy – Beyond the Major Parties”. It was a privilege to moderate such an interesting panel with three remarkable women in politics - Rebekha Sharkie MP (Nick Xenophon Team), Senator Rachel Siewert (Greens) and Cathy McGowan MP (Independent). While it was a bit of a juggling act having them run in and out of the session because of their day jobs (to vote/ speak in parliament), we covered a lot of ground, including the relationship between philanthropy, social purpose organisations and government; and concepts of power, influence and the role of communities and individual voices in influencing and driving change.

This week, we’ve also witnessed the rising heat around the issue of advocacy by charities, with the government directly questioning the right of environmental charities to advocate. While environmental groups have been in the focus thus far, this should raise concerns for the whole of the charities sector. And it raises interesting questions, as David Crosbie points out, about the difference between ‘vested’ and ‘public’ interests and the ‘advocacy’ undertaken by businesses compared to charities.

On the issue of climate change, we have seen Australian energy giant AGL show remarkable leadership in supporting global warming policies to address climate change. We’re seeing a shift where more and more businesses are prepared to put themselves on the line. This includes the large number of businesses who have come out in support of same sex marriage. Qantas has emerged as a key supporter and Alan Joyce has personally invested in in the ‘yes’ vote and other businesses are providing pro-bono and in-kind support. 

Overall, the combined campaign spending is expected to top $60 million, but the ‘no’ campaign is likely to have far more money – we’re already seeing it in TV advertising. The ‘yes’ vote is going beyond financial resources by gathering a community of supporters across civil society to join with them in becoming a voice not just of advocacy but of genuine dialogue – phone calls, door knocks and difficult conversations with a direct ask, “Will you vote ‘yes’?”. This debate isn’t just about a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to same sex marriage equality, it’s about whether we value and recognise diversity, inclusion and equal rights.

All these issues lead me to raise questions about what we value in society and whose voices we hear. Which voices are in the public interest? Which voices are vested? Whose voices are missing? And what does our collective positionality on these issues say about an inclusive Australian society? 

At CSI we have a vision for a better world where people have the opportunity to achieve their goals free from discrimination and social inequality, where complex social problems are addressed, communities are diverse and thriving, and where organisations across sectors work together to grow positive social impact. It’s a vision that’s outlined in our new strategic plan and one that I’m proud of, and that embodies my personal values. 

As Daniel Lee, Executive Director from the Levi Strauss Foundation, said in Sydney this week, “We are wasting our voices if we aren’t willing to put them on the line”. 

So, on that note, the Centre for Social Impact wholeheartedly supports the YES campaign. We say yes to equality, yes to diversity, yes to inclusion, and yes to a better world.

Kristy Muir

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