Our Managing Director, Seri Renkin, presented the 30th annual WJ Craig lecture on Friday, October 21 in Melbourne, with a speech entitled ‘The art of how: Intergenerational disadvantage and collective impact’. Here is the full text of her speech.

Before I start, I want to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are gathered and pay my respect to their elders past and present.

Thank you for the opportunity to deliver this year’s WJ Craig lecture – it is indeed a privilege to recognise the great philanthropic work started by WJ Craig more than a century ago.

This afternoon I want to talk about a movement taking place in Australia today. It is a quiet movement, but a pioneering one, and one we hope will be embraced more widely by broader society.

It is a movement focused on building a “ready nation[1]” – a prosperous, inclusive and engaged Australian society where all children get the right chances at the right time for the best opportunities in life. A nation where the lottery of birth, which dictates your first experiences of family, doesn’t necessarily predict the direction of your life.

So what I want to explore with you today is just how we can start to think and work differently to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty in Australia. For the question before us now, is not why, or even what needs to change, but exactly how we disrupt the drivers of poverty and disadvantage.

I’d like to construct this lecture around a few themes:

  • The promising progress that comes when we respond differently;
  • The changing role of philanthropy in catalysing a high-potential approach – starting with early childhood: the common denominator in the poverty challenge we face as a society;
  • Our viewpoint on 4 key areas that can influence lasting, systemic change – as well as a glimpse of how this approach is currently unfolding across Australia via Opportunity Child, a national collective of communities, progressive NGOs, business, philanthropic and government stakeholders and finally;
  • What’s next in terms of going the right way.

The progress that is possible when we respond differently

All too often, we want quick and easy solutions, even when we intuitively know that sizeable change requires a different formula. And while moving to a more nuanced understanding of how we address poverty is easier said than done, so much of what we are advocating for is common sense.

All of us here today recognise the changing realities of life in Australia. We also know from researchers like Tony Vinson that many of the same communities that were disadvantaged 40 years ago are still disadvantaged today[2].

For a long time, governments, NGOs and philanthropy have developed initiatives based on data about what works in other places with a view that “one size fits all”. Often these initiatives are given a two to three-year funding cycle and if no tangible results are achieved in that time, we move to another initiative. This completely ignores the importance of long-term relationship-building, particularly with collective cultures such as indigenous Australians. It also ignores the effort, time, risk and co-ordination it takes to drive long-term change.

So yes, there is considerable work in front of us to reverse disadvantage, but it’s important that we begin by recognising little tipping points – “sliding door” moments – where communities are using their extraordinary muscle to do more than accept the status quo.

This is actually a trajectory that I’ve been interested in my whole life. I spent the first years of my life as part of the only white family living on a government-run station at Lake Tyers in Gippsland here in Victoria. It was an experience that shaped my future – a transformational moment when, as an adult, I realised that some children had advantages that others didn’t. And that we should work to ensure that more opportunity happens by design, not chance[3].

The changing role of philanthropy in catalysing a high potential approach

I believe that in Australia we are at an inflection point. A critical juncture where we can choose to reframe our leadership model, and the old system, which is so obviously struggling with the task at hand, and build on the good work that’s being done. But there is an urgency now about this.

This is not just the view of ten20. While the details may differ, there are many speaking up on behalf of a new approach and a new kind of collaboration to support place-based disadvantage – one supported by the collective impact of the public, private and non-profit sectors today.

Some of you here know our story. We are a small, independent foundation that is working at the intersection of community, government, business and the not-for-profit sector. Until a few years ago, we were a small not-for-profit organisation focused almost entirely on service delivery – programs on the ground – in the belief that we could best serve disadvantaged children and families in this way. But when we looked around, we saw that we were going the wrong way. So our board took a courageous decision and agreed to reinvent and renew our organisation – with a focus on prevention. I am enormously grateful to them for encouraging us to be ambitious, and to engage in a dynamic, intelligent, evidence-based approach. We looked at global trends and local efforts – and among the many trends we looked at, the one we returned to again and again was collective impact.

So we decided to explore how we could help seed this pioneering movement. We started talking to many of the leading NGOs here who were also experimenting with new ways of working. We asked communities how could we help them better build the skills to address disadvantage. And the answer kept coming back to collective impact.

The great power of philanthropy is that we can support innovation. Which for ten20 today revolves around catalysing this high potential approach.

Very briefly, collective impact is a highly sophisticated framework for cross-sector collaboration[4], which was first articulated in 2011, and has since inspired and informed countless community-wide initiatives here and internationally. Francis Ford Coppola once said that the difference between making a good movie and a bad movie is that in a good movie, everyone is making the same movie[5], and this is what collective impact is about in many ways; it creates habits of shared trust and accountability. It starts by bringing everyone around a common agenda and is premised on the belief that no single policy, government department, organisation or program can solve the increasingly complex problems we face as communities and as a society[6]. But it’s only a framework – we still have to “break the code” on how it works.

Interestingly, this bigger picture is something we can clearly see in the life and legacy of WJ Craig, who we are honouring and remembering today. He believed that philanthropy must use its power and influence to make a real difference, and this is something we at ten20 feel a close connection to. Our vision is for a prosperous society where all children thrive in learning and life – but in many ways, the problem we want to impact is actually persistent intergenerational disadvantage.

So for us, the choice to focus 100% on early childhood is highly strategic.

We believe that early childhood, in all its dimensions, is both an opportunity and a sound investment. We know that what we do for children in the early years is absolutely everlasting – and there’s a real interest right now in the policy and practice environment to say: “What should we be doing to put kids on the right trajectory for their life? So they participate in the school system, the workforce of the future, and be part of a “Ready Nation”[7]? We realise there’s no silver bullet, but we know that just about every challenge we face as a society – poverty, family violence, mental health – has its roots in early childhood. That disadvantage is somehow coded into the early years, starting with a child’s brain development.

The ten20 viewpoint: Four key areas to influence lasting change

Broadly stated, our blueprint for “how” has four, interconnected elements. Each of these elements are interdependent and address exactly how and where we can work differently.

Like any blue-print, the road to success is always under construction and we are continually evolving our approach in the light of what we learn. But we have formed a strong viewpoint based on catalysing, convening and supporting collective impact efforts in communities across Australia.

  • First: We must invest in co-ordinated innovation and action.
  • Second: We must realign our funding and make it more agile.
  • Third: We must invest in the mechanisms for shared learning, measurement and impact. This includes developing the skills to make sense of data.
  • Fourth: We must empower, and actively engage with the very communities who are impacted.

Let’s start with the role that co-ordinated innovation and action plays.

In Queensland, Opportunity Child is working with the community of Logan who – as part of the “Logan Together” initiative, are providing a ladder of opportunity to children born in their community – across all the life stages. This includes making sure new mothers get the follow up care they need to provide their children with the best possible start in life.

We know that about 5,200 babies are born into Logan each year, and of those, we know between 10 and 20% are born to mothers who receive little or no ante-natal care. That’s about 600 women and their babies who face extra challenges.  What’s exciting is that Logan are using data to pinpoint the challenge, then they’re co-ordinating differently to address it. In this case, they knew they could take services into very local environments already attended by these women. These sites were already supported by a core team of 6 midwives, so the initiative worked out that each midwife had to support about 100 women per year – an outcome that didn’t require any more resources.

This is just one example of how, when people work differently, what seems complex and insurmountable, can be made simpler.  It also underlines how the adaptions we make – often shift behavior and practice – and can strengthen us and our community.

But let’s be clear – this kind of solution is not without its implications given the alignment it demands. What we’ve learnt is this kind of interaction doesn’t happen without co-ordination.

One of the most important outcomes of our work so far is collective agreement among disparate groups around the need for:

  • A national coordinating system that accelerates and supports new ways of working across multiple communities;
  • Local community “backbone” coordination, where local leaders set a clear vision and co-ordinate and measure efforts across sectors to achieve it

Which is essentially what Opportunity Child is focused on supporting. This quiet movement brings together 6 partner communities with 8 national organisations from the non-profit, business and philanthropy world – all leaders in their own right – along with a wider learning community;

While the initiative is still in its early days, it has created a national engine room for change that supports locally-led community solutions. A platform where we can learn how to work, not as individual silos, but as an integrated and accountable system. A system where collaboration becomes a central capability and economies of scale are realised. Which is, of course, the hard part.

Structural changes are not new. But building the kind of safe and neutral environment where we can discuss, experiment and innovate for systems change – where participants can get on with the inner game of change – but with enough protection and safety, as well as enough pressure and friction, to do the challenging work[8],  is arguably unprecedented in Australia. ten20 has played a critical role in resourcing the environments for this to happen.

It sounds simple but even getting to this point in a meaningful way – beyond hype, with authentic trust and co-ownership[9] – has been a multi-year effort. This is far more than a simple planning exercise. Indeed, it has required would-be collaborators to find (or create) common ground despite very different values, interests and positions[10].

I also want to say that this approach is not about adding more bureaucracy – in fact, quite the contrary. It’s about creating and investing in a controlled innovation system that allows for continuous improvement, and over time, systemic shifts. This investment in prevention needs to be sustained for some time, but only until there is sufficient momentum for the adaptions to become business as usual.

Which brings me to my next point.

We must realign our funding and make it more agile.

When ten20 started its “deep dive” into collective impact, we quickly discovered that we weren’t the only funder wanting to do things differently. Woodside Development Fund – the philanthropic arm of one the world’s biggest oil and gas companies – were also advocating for the same kind of systems change.  So we joined forces and did something that philanthropy rarely does at scale – we seeded the national, community-led platform that became Opportunity Child.  One of the first actions was to pool our resources to work with communities, as well as a group of research organisations to come up with one shared outcomes model for early childhood that could be tested and tailored within the six local communities. Up until then, we’d been about to fund separate and duplicating research efforts – this kind of funder driven duplication is, unfortunately, commonplace

This is a great example of aligned funding in action. It is not about increased spending but rather how we group together to fund the change we want to see:

Interestingly, I am not talking here about funding of specific services and programs.  This funding is still critical but what I want to communicate is we also need to fund the capacity to work differently to realise social impact. . In this regard, we are greatly encouraged by the feedback we’re receiving from business who want to see more money flow to the right places – with an ever more efficient and aligned use of capital.

Put bluntly, we need “ensembles, not soloists” and a different way of investing and funding – and this includes quick response grants – “agile funding” if you like.

It’s no secret that government and philanthropic funders struggle with funding for the long term – which is one reason why the Opportunity Child community capital fund provides a place for social investors to pool long-term capacity funding (5 years currently) for community backbone functions. But it is equally true that the system struggles to release fast grant funding, so we have also set up a place for social investors to contribute to a Rapid Response Fund for quick grants of less than $25k:

For instance, one of our communities was around 6 years into a significant change effort when some governance issues arose. They needed someone to come in and facilitate a process for succession –– but without a quick injection of funds for an independent facilitator, they would have undone years-worth-of-work.

Our third area for change is shared learning, measurement and impact. 

All too often, our conversations gloss over a significant challenge underlying every significant actor in the system we work in – and that is how we build the right mindset, the right skills and knowledge needed to work differently.

For instance, backbone and community leaders, the NGO sector and government do not typically have development programs that not only support individual needs but also create a learning environment informed directly by the challenges the communities face themselves.  Opportunity Child is a national learning platform that hosts communities of practice, training, as well as facilitates a peer to peer support network on how to drive collective impact. . We accumulate all this knowledge and codify the learning so that we can all benefit from each other’s successes and failures and inform our own work in “real time” on the ground.

Our viewpoint is that we need a quality platform for learning that translates insights into action, and provides coaching and tools to all the stakeholders within Opportunity Child and beyond – where it is of value.

For instance, we’ve just collaborated with the Harwood Institute in the US – who have over 30 years of working with communities– to generate a funder roadmap. It allows communities to pinpoint what “life” stage they are in, and even whether they are “collective impact” ready and funders to start conversations with communities about how they can support local efforts.

Just as important is how we measure our impact, which includes using data to drive decisions.

This actually points to one of the most exciting trends underway – which is that we have the potential to change lives using data well. For instance, one of our partner communities has a total of 4,000 children and young people in its catchment. We know that 40% of these children are developmentally vulnerable (or in the lowest 10%) at school age – which equates to 88 children in each year group – so the focus is to better support 88 year 1’s this year. This is all about impact. We now have the technical capabilities to target and coordinate public resources and community programs in a way that makes them more citizen-centred and accountable.

Essentially through Opportunity Child we are moving to an environment where our work is integrated with learning – where we are cultivating the right capabilities. It’s all about accelerating how we build and share knowledge; and building evidence of what works.

Finally, we must empower, and actively engage with the very communities who are impacted.

It is this last point that is critical to what we’ve learnt and where we’ve landed as a philanthropic organisation.

Over the past few years we’ve learnt a lot and one of the significant shifts in our practice has been the focus on citizen-led design – the idea that people who live the experience need to be part of designing the solution, and that includes informing appropriate investment strategies.

This might sound simple, but it’s actually a radical departure from the traditional system where philanthropy, government and even NGOs drive “top down” solutions, rather than “bottom up”, community driven goals and solutions. It requires a completely different kind of investment and co-ordination and is radically different from consultation as we know it.

The best example that I can share today is how Opportunity Child itself came to be. We brought together high potential communities, business, NGOs, research institutions along with pockets of state government and philanthropy to co-design a new kind of platform for change. Over several years, we defined a shared purpose and definition of success of how we hope to work together.   We don’t have all the answers but we do have an accountable structure to work things out together.

One of the reasons why we think Opportunity Child is making tangible progress is that we are continually generating a common vision of “what winning for children looks like” – in a way that is completely driven by community strengths, values and vulnerabilities.

What’s more, it’s a collective led by community partners.

What’s next in terms of going the right way

The role Opportunity Child is playing is as a national co-ordinator of local innovation:

  • It must remain independent, bi-partisan and neutral;
  • It represents a completely different way of working alongside communities in need, not doing things “to” them;
  • It scales up community-led action on disadvantage, in a way that’s focused on early intervention to change people’s life trajectory
  • It will arguably, over time, save the Government money.

Yet at the moment, we can only support a very limited number of communities.

We sense we are building a bridge for multiple sectors to partner smarter, but just how do we accelerate this work? What does implementation look like and at scale.

As a first step, it is important we keep moving forward. So my call to all of you is let’s not reinvent the wheel but instead work together on platforms like Opportunity Child that are already in place.

For instance, there’s very few people with the collective impact skill sets required to support local communities, so we can’t afford to work in isolation or in duplication.  We need to build a collective learning system to develop these. We must also embrace government in all its complexity Perfection is the enemy of progress, and government is an important partner in the systems change journey. How we engage with them is a critical part of the process.

We are immensely proud of the small ripples of momentum that we are seeing and part of the reason I’m here today is to encourage everyone in this room to play a role.  It starts with how we as individuals turn up to work and think about social change; how we think about the people and the communities we seek to serve; and what is in their best interests, as opposed to ours.

In closing

In closing let me say that ambitious collective impact initiatives are successful because of the small considered steps that keep them moving forward.  That accumulate into something more. More often than not, these steps are pioneered by a small group of change makers that lead a new path and think differently about the way they engage with other stakeholders.  This takes enormous courage.

The Connections board and CEO Angela Forbes understood this when they provided seed funding into the Opportunity Child community capital fund and I thank Angela and the board for their foresight and for being the first NGO to do so.

Right now, many people are working to build the incremental nature of systems change. It’s mostly behind-the-scenes work. It’s largely invisible. But it is, arguably, how we work to reverse persistent disadvantage.

I have deep respect for what everyone in this room does. Especially as Connections itself, as I understand it, is undergoing significant structural change. But the perspective I offer here today is of someone who is thinking hard, and learning day-by-day, about how we can best contribute.

A few years ago, many told us that ten20 was too ambitious. But what we’ve found is that there are others just like us. Others who don’t want to accept the status quo – just because it’s too hard. Others who know the systemic issues that are extraordinarily challenging, but worth addressing.

Dr Michael McAfee, from the Promise Neighbourhoods Institute in the US, once said to me that the easy work has been done, it’s only the hard work that is left and I think that’s true. But what choice do we have if we believe in the notion of common good and want to see Australia reach its potential as a prosperous and just social democracy?

I hope that all of you will leave here and have a conversation about what this means for you.

Thank you.

[1] www.readynation.org.au
[2] Professor Tony Vinson, who has tracked social outcomes since 1970 (Dropping Off the Edge)
[3] Mirrored language, Rob Koczkar, CEO Social Ventures Australia
[4] by John Kania and Mark Kramer of FSG Consulting in their seminal Stanford Social Innovation Review Article. Additional sources FSG.
[5] Jay Connor, Tamarack’s 3.0,  2016
[6] Collaboration for impact
[7] Ready Nation, a business advocacy platform, is soon to be launched in Australia.
[8] Collective Impact 3.0 paper, 2016
[9] Some mirrored language, SSIR “Four Ways to Brdiget the Grantee Grantmaker gap in collective impact”
[10] Mirrored language, Collective Impact 3.0

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