Catherine Brown, from the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, on philanthropy’s most important role in the 21st century.

I have been asking myself whether philanthropic foundations in Australia are ambitious enough. Are we doing enough to help tackle the tough social and environmental issues that we face as a community?

First, let me define 'ambitious' in the context of philanthropy. Ambitious: (of a plan or piece of work) intended to satisfy high aspirations and therefore difficult to achieve, eg an ambitious enterprise (Oxford Dictionary).

Philanthropic foundations sit in a unique position in our society. We are not government. We are not business. We are part of civil society, but we also invest in and support other not-for-profits. Philanthropy is focused on public benefit, not private benefit. We are usually here for the long term. We are established because of altruism. The word philanthropy itself means the love of all human kind.

Dr Diana Leat and Professor Helmut Anheier’s book From Charity to Creativity: Toward a New Philanthropy for the Twenty-First Century (Routledge, 2006) initially prompted my reflections on this question. The book makes many challenging statements about the role of philanthropic…
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