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5 min read

Finding new ways to support change: Mannifera

Profile of Nicole Richards
Written by Nicole RichardsPosted on 30/9/2020

If every challenge is an opportunity in disguise, as the saying goes, then 2020 is a year with unusually abundant potential.

That’s certainly how Harriet McCallum, the newly appointed Executive Officer at Mannifera, is choosing to frame the narrative.

“We are a country full of people who care about fairness and their rights,” says McCallum, who replaces inaugural Executive Officer, John Spierings.

“Maybe this is the moment where Australians get a bit more involved in politics and the government is held accountable to the electorate a lot more, rather than just being accountable to those who are in the room with their interests.”

Established with the support of the Reichstein Foundation, Mannifera is a collective of Australian philanthropic funders, some visible, others anonymous, that supports organisations and initiatives that aim to develop a stronger democracy and a more inclusive economy. The collective operates through a sub-fund at Australian Communities Foundation.

The collective’s focus on advocacy and policy influence spans four areas:

  • fairness in political participation
  • fairness and quality in public debate
  • a fair, accountable and open government
  • a fair and equitable tax system and social safety net.

Many Australian trusts and foundations have embraced collective funding as a means of growing the funding base and amplifying impact for some of the country’s toughest social and environmental issues.

In recent years, subject specific or moment-in-time funding coalitions have emerged to tackle issues ranging from marriage equality to the Raise the Rate campaign and more.

“Collective giving isn’t new in Australia, but the idea of setting up a structure that supports a collective is not as common and the pooling of collective resources is new too,” McCallum explains.

Before joining Mannifera in July, McCallum, who has a background in social work, had experience managing community services in local government and in philanthropy at Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.

“…if you have a fair society, it means that everyone’s considered in policies, funding decisions and the way systems work.”

“Having done a lot of advocating throughout my career and having had some really positive activist experiences through the Timorese independence movement and women’s rights, the idea of a philanthropic collective that’s committed to funding fairness really appealed to me,” McCallum says.

Harriet McCallum pictured in laneway
Harriet McCallum

“When I think about fairness and how change is achieved, it’s usually by highlighting the reality of those who are missing out through no fault of their own. 

“Those in powerful positions in our society, who have access to the means and resources that provide a lot of political agency or social currency, are usually the people designing our future, planning our policies and deciding where the money goes.

“But, if you have a fair society, it means that everyone’s considered in policies, funding decisions and the way systems work.

“Mannifera members are committed to seeing how we can do philanthropy differently in Australia.”

One of McCallum’s priorities is to continue to build the Mannifera community which, she points out, is not only the philanthropic members contributing funds but civil society partners “and other key allies we can work with to achieve change”.

“If you have a diverse group contributing not only funding but knowledge, expertise and networks, you can tackle issues differently,” she says.

“Mannifera members are committed to seeing how we can do philanthropy differently in Australia.

“By coming together as a collective we might find new ways of supporting change. There’s a willingness to experiment and to be comfortable with the not-knowing and learning together.”

Having a clear acknowledgement and open dialogue about the power imbalance between funders and the non-profit organisations they support is another way Mannifera seeks to work “in true partnership”.

“One of Mannifera’s values that really stood out to me was to be self-aware and humble,” McCallum says, “I liked that it was named as a key value because that takes work.”

“Something I’ve learned is that your philanthropy is only as good as the people in the organisations you fund, so you need them as much as they need you,” McCallum says.

“You can be nimble and adaptive not only with what you choose to fund, but also how you might change your practice. The most valuable lesson I’ve learned about philanthropy is how important it is to use that ability so that your philanthropic dollars are working as hard as they can.”