Here are five things to know up-front about Amanda Miller:
1 – She lives and breathes her values
2 – She is one of the most well-liked and respected figures in Australian philanthropy
3 – She makes things happen
4 – Her compassion is boundless
5 – You will almost always walk away from a conversation with Amanda feeling better about life.
These are the happy by-products, she explains, of a lifetime of engagement.
“When I was at school I realised the power of giving and being involved, and at every opportunity I put my hand up,” Miller recalls fondly.
“I was school captain and there were lots of community engagement opportunities. It was the first time I learnt about issues like homelessness and I realised I loved being involved and helping other people.”
Raised in a family that prized the values of compassion and caring for others, Miller migrated from South Africa to Australia at the age of 10. It remains, she says, a formative experience.
“That whole concept of the lottery of birth really stayed with me. Just by virtue of my parents making that move put me on a totally different track from others in South Africa—that compelled me to always think about what I can do to make it better for those who didn’t have that luck.”
Finding the right path
While studying law at Monash University, Miller spent a semester at Monash Oakleigh Legal Service, assisting with legal advice for people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.
“The one thing I realised with the people we helped was that there was often a very simple legal solution to their problem, whether that was a dispute with their neighbour or a parking fine, but what they really needed was someone to talk to. I realised the power I had to give them a bit more confidence and self-esteem just by talking with them.”
Miller went on to practise corporate law for four years but yearned for more.
“I got to work with some fantastic people in law but the work life balance wasn’t there and I didn’t feel fulfilled. I knew I didn’t want to do it forever,” she says.
After becoming involved in various community organisations in volunteer and leadership roles “to keep me going” Miller made the decision to leave law. After the birth of her three children, whom she counts as her greatest inspiration, her path became clearer.
“I gradually became more involved at the kids’ school and became president of the parents association, helping out with various committees and I realised, ‘I want to make this my work. I want to work in the community full time.’
“I’ll always remember Dame Elisabeth Murdoch saying around the time she turned 100 that she knew her time was running out and she wasn’t about to waste a minute of it and you know, that’s the case for all of us.
“I’ve always been driven and I want to be as productive as I can in terms of really contributing and that’s probably why I take on as many things as I do, but it’s what makes me happy.”
Wearer of many hats
These days, Miller’s “passion for inspiring the next generation” finds expression in her roles as Chair of Kids in Philanthropy, Chair of Philanthropy Australia’s Melbourne New Generation of Giving group and a member of the Nexus Australia Organising Committee.
But she’s also taken on a new role, about which she is just as passionate.
The newest feather in her cap is that of co-founder of Impact Generation Partners, in which she quite literally partners with husband Quentin Miller, to provide corporate advisory and capital raising services to purpose-driven enterprises and family offices.
“I do wear lots of different hats, but they’re all overlapping,” she says with a laugh. “There’s so much crossover and the principles are the same.
“When I went to SOCAP recently, philanthropy was discussed in terms of gender, next-gen and impact investing and at the end of the day, they’re all interrelated.
“I would say people shouldn’t get too caught up in the definitions, especially about impact investing—it’s a natural progression in terms of philanthropy. It’s an opportunity to align all of your ability to influence and make change with your values.
“Traditionally, people take a small part of their influence and align that with their values in grant making but impact investing gives us much more power and influence and assets to create bigger change. You can throw everything behind it—not just a small part.”
The decision to get involved in the new horizons offered by impact investing is a personal one, she admits.
“Philanthropy is personal and we can’t judge what other people do,” she says.
“The most valuable lesson I’ve learnt in philanthropy is that you can’t judge what people want to give to because each person is shaped by their own life and we need people giving to the environment and the arts and social justice and I think that’s a strength.
“But I do think there’s a lot to be gained from the exercise of sitting down and looking at your life and deciding what your values are and what you’re trying to achieve and then aligning all your decisions with those values.
“Things like which bank you use, what shares you buy, and a whole range of other things that will help you live a life consistent with your values.”
High on Miller’s wish list for 2016 is the hope for the continued democratisation and cross-pollination of philanthropy.
“I think it’s such a positive trend because we need more people getting involved at different stages, whether that’s giving circles, crowd funding etc. We need democratisation of impact investing too so that people can invest smaller amounts, by, for example, investing in their own local community.”
“I also hope we see people being prepared to take more risk—I think generally we are quite risk averse in Australia.
“Increased cross-generational and diverse dialogue is really important too—younger people always bring a different perspective and there needs to be opportunities for them to learn from more established players in the space, as well as opportunities for the older generation to learn what motivates the next generation.”
Renowned for her sunny disposition, Miller believes being pushed out of your comfort zone and having a positive attitude “helps with everything in life.”
“I’ve always tried to empower other people who are with me on this journey, I don’t want to be the one in the limelight, but I’m happy to be behind the scenes.
“I’m not dramatic and I’m not into pretence. I believe life is too short to play games and muck around. I’m really transparent—if there’s an issue, I’d rather talk about it and get it out in the open.
“I’ll always listen and be inclusive in decision making. I always prefer to get other people’s views because I know I’m not always going to be right,” she says.
“In all my work the most important things are the people and the relationships. Once you have these deep and meaningful relationships, everything else flows. These relationships aren’t about me or my role—they’re about the cause. It’s the most important aspect of what I do and it’s probably where the positivity comes from.”
Of course, with her trademark compassion, Miller can see that not everyone views the world in the same way.
“There are so many problems in the world and I see some people get down about all these things, but I think if we just each tackle one thing we’ll chip away at these issues and every contribution is valuable—whether that’s writing about it, making an investment or giving a grant.
“Philanthropy means love of humanity and there are so many different ways to show that—it’s not just about giving money. We need everything. We need everything thrown at these problems.
“It’s all additive—every contribution you can make is valuable to someone.”