Making a difference doesn’t take millions of dollars: Linh Do
Linh Do is not the type of person who splashes in the shallows. Her climate activism began in a very public way at age 16 when she initiated the Change a Million Light Bulbs campaign. Since then, her personal and professional focus has not wavered from three colossal pillars: social movements, climate justice and systems change.
Despite having already worked at the UN, served as Australia and Pacific lead for Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, been named a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, Australian Geographic’s Young Conservationist of the Year and AFR Woman of Influence, a conversation with Linh leaves you with the distinct impression that she is only just getting started.
One of her guiding philosophies is to learn while doing.
“Taking action is the best antidote to any form of paralysis,” Linh says. “That’s why my answer to anyone who’s unsure about what they can do about the climate crisis or how to start giving is always, ‘Just start’.”
“That way, you build your muscle, you build your resiliency, and you will eventually start to figure out what are the things that give you energy in contributing to the world and how you can do more of these activities.”
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“For me, working with Australian Communities Foundation has been super useful,” Linh says.
“At the bigger picture level, it has helped me think more strategically about my giving decisions rather than being a bit ad hoc. At the smaller picture you can’t overlook the administrative benefits of having a structure to participate in that guides you along.”
“I’m not someone who has gazillions of dollars, and I also don’t think that money will solve absolutely everything”
Blending giving with doing
As with many younger givers, Linh does not compartmentalise her philanthropy from the rest of her life.
Blending her skills with the resources at her disposal, Linh’s professional work and her personal giving are deeply entwined.
“I’m not someone who has gazillions of dollars, and I also don’t think that money will solve absolutely everything,” Linh says. “But there is something about knowing that I’m able to make a difference.”
“My parents came to Australia as refugees and growing up, they taught me that there was always something we could be doing to help other people. Whether that was helping with our time, helping with money, helping through volunteering or just by being practical and useful in the neighbourhood.”
“So, in some ways, it feels like I’ve been on this broad giving journey for a really long time, but it hasn’t always necessarily been financial. For me, that started five years ago, when I got on top of my personal finances.
“Once I figured out that I had enough money to pay rent, to pay for food and do all of the fun things on top of that, I could see that I had wealth left over. So, I started to think, ‘Who could I be helping?’
“That was probably the first time I sat down and thought ahead about who am I going to give to this year and will I give to that organisation again next year? And if not, why not? I started to codify the experience.”
“I decided to set myself a really round number for my giving to make it mathematically easy, so I chose 10 per cent. Ten per cent of what I earned worked out being far more reasonable than I ever really thought it would be. Initially, it sounded like it would be a huge amount but then I was like, wait – if you only make this amount, then 10 per cent is only 10 percent and that’s not that excessive at all.”
“I think it’s easy for us to forget that we are the fortunate people, both in the context globally, but also within Australia as well,” Linh says, reflectively.
“I graduated from university, I was able to get a job in a sector that I enjoy, I make above whatever the median income is. And for me, I know that I definitely have something that I can spare.”
“I definitely think younger people are looking for different ways of engaging”
The evolution of giving
Traditional, capital ‘p’ philanthropy is not something that Linh believes holds the same appeal for the next generation of givers.
“I definitely think younger people are looking for different ways of engaging,” she says. “A lot of what has come before us in the world of philanthropy has historically been about putting your name on a building or putting your name on a scholarship but I don’t think that correlates with people of my generation and younger.
“The majority of younger people want to work at purpose-driven organisations and I think some of the work that both the Australian Communities Foundation are others are doing around things like giving circles is a really exciting and new way for people to participate that isn’t just about making your gazillions and then naming something after yourself.”
“The biggest myth about philanthropy I’d like to bust is that you need millions of dollars to participate – anything you have that is within your means is more than enough to start with.”
While Linh’s formal giving journey might only be just beginning, the most valuable lesson she says she’s learned so far is consistent with her own ethos of diving deeply.
“For me, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is about humility and recognising that I’ve chosen the organisation I’m supporting because I respect and value what it is that they do. So sometimes I think it’s about, ‘Here, please take what money I have; you don’t have to keep me posted on how you spent every single cent of that – just go do your work.’”
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