December 14 2020

CEO Report 2020

By Craig Connelly

IPF staff on a Zoom call
Like many workplaces in 2020, the staff of the Foundation worked from home becoming very familiar with video communications.

The past year has brought great challenges environmentally, economically and socially. Over five months Australia experienced its worst bushfire season in living memory. Then as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, we have experienced an economic crisis and social restrictions of a scale not experienced for almost 100 years.

This year has required us all to adapt and change, to support those around us who may have lost work, suffered in terms of mental or physical health or even through the loss of someone close to them.  I wish to thank all the staff of The Ian Potter Foundation for their resilience and professionalism to continue to fulfil the vision and mission of the Foundation in the face of such significant personal and professional challenges. 

The Foundation Board and management continue to focus on supporting outstanding charitable organisations, investing in Australia’s innovative and creative people seeking to protect our environment, alleviating disadvantage, developing Australia’s artistic and cultural fabric, providing developmental opportunity to our children and promoting good health for all.

During this time of enormous disruption and challenge, our grant making focussed on supporting:

  • outstanding organisations with untied operational funding
  • innovative and collaborative translational research projects, and
  • leveraging our funding with like-minded funders wherever possible to support vulnerable sectors of our community to the greatest extent possible. 

As an immediate response to the impact of COVID-19, the Foundation advised grantees they could reallocate existing project funding into operational funding on an ‘as required’ basis and extend any progress reporting requirements by at least six months.

Our program management team also proactively engaged existing partner organisations to determine in what way we could assist them to adapt their services to meet public health requirements or develop new methods of operation to ensure ongoing viability.

In April 2020, the Foundation awarded approximately $1.1 million in COVID-19 focused grants, including seven Community Support grants totalling $535,000, co-funding ($500,000) with the Victorian and Australian governments and other philanthropic funders the National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce, and co-funding with the Minderoo Foundation a COVID-19 e-Learning platform for Indigenous Australians.

In addition to programmatic grants in 2019–20, the Foundation awarded two sector support grants to the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR) and Philanthropy Australia.  FRRR received a grant for $200,000 to help build Australia’s Community Foundations network. Developing community foundations' capabilities in the coming years will provide a bedrock of local support for many vulnerable Australians.  Philanthropy Australia received $150,000 to support its continued leadership and advocacy work as the philanthropy sector’s peak body.

While the social and economic cost of the unfolding public health and economic crisis has been devastating for many people and their communities, it is important to remember that sustaining a healthy environment underpins our ability to maintain a cohesive, functioning and sustainable society.

Over 2019–20, The Ian Potter Foundation maintained its environmental funding focus with over $11m in grants made to strategic and impactful environmental initiatives that aim to restore, protect and advocate for vital natural resources.  This year, the Foundation awarded 17 program area grants in the Sustainable pillar and one significant $5 million major grant.

In late 2019, in partnership with The Myer Foundation (which also committed $5 million to this project), both Foundations launched an initiative to establish an independent water policy centre.  The aim of the centre will be to assist Australia to sustainably manage its freshwater resources, specifically by working with local communities and all relevant stakeholders to develop enduring water and catchment policy reforms.

This undertaking is the result of more than two years of detailed research and analysis, assisted by specialist firms consulting with a national and international group of experts.  Since September 2019, both foundations have been joined by 14 other Australian foundations, securing an additional $21.5 million in funding commitments that have allowed us to announce the establishment of the Australian Water and Catchment Centre.

I commend the boards of every partner foundation for agreeing to apply their risk capital and gravitas to such an important national issue.  The establishment of a national, independent organisation focused solely on improving Australia’s sustainable management of such a precious resource is an exciting initiative of which The Ian Potter Foundation is very proud.

In 2019–20, we witnessed the destruction of large parts of our country by ferocious bushfires making Australia the proverbial “canary in the climate change coal mine”.  We experienced a global health pandemic that upended fundamental aspects of our lives and further hit hard many regional bushfire-ravaged communities which barely had time to survey the destruction unleashed during our summer months, let alone begin economic recovery.  We also saw strong leadership from Indigenous Australians who very quickly informed and guided entire communities on how to protect themselves from the ravages of COVID-19. This reaffirms that a community empowered is an engaged and effective community. 

There are lessons to be learnt, for all of us.  I pledge to continue to reflect on these lessons, as the Board, my team and I continue to seek to improve our efforts to develop a fair, healthy, sustainable and vibrant Australia.