There’s always a lot of hype surrounding Nexus events.
As a first-timer (and something of an old-timer relative to the 200’ish youthful delegates), I arrived at the 2016 Nexus Australia Summit with plenty of curiosity, but also—full disclosure—a sense that I was possibly Nexus agnostic.
So many conferences aspire to be game changers but end up as pleasant, though largely forgettable, talk-fests.
Could Nexus really be any different?
The first noticeable difference was the intensity. The energy that radiated from the room during the Summit’s best plenary sessions felt like being slammed by a wave of determined optimism. Not optimism of the rainbows and unicorns variety, but a grittier version, grounded in facts and real world potential.
First case in point: the rock star sister duo of Rosie and Lucy Thomas, founders of Project Rockit, the youth-driven movement against bullying. Passionate and polished presenters, the pair implored the audience to recognise cyber bullying as a social problem not a tech problem, stemming from an epidemic of apathy, powerlessness and narcissism.
Marking its tenth anniversary this year, Project Rockit continues to drive the anti-bullying conversation in schools, with brand new curriculum resources designed by young people for young people and a new mobile app launching soon.
Caitriona Fay from Perpetual took a deep dive into a hefty evidence-base to tackle the perennial question: Is philanthropy part of the problem or solution? She lamented that, at the heart of the issue, is a reluctance to talk about the times when philanthropy fails, and advocated for more direct conversations between grant makers and grantees, urging the packed room to ponder, “How do we ensure that the voices of those we’re working with are involved in the decision making process?”
Laura O’Reilly, Co-founder of HireUp, the online platform that helps Australians with disability to select their own support workers, said that the enterprise was often described as ‘Uber for disability’ but that her preference was ‘Paypal meets e-Harmony’ for its ability to connect people with shared interests.
Speaking of HireUp’s experience at the Successful impact deals: how does it all come together? session, O’Reilly expressed her heartfelt appreciation for the assistance provided by Quentin Miller, Co-founder and CEO of Impact Generation Partners. Miller’s expertise at bridging the social enterprise, investment and philanthropy worlds was also lauded by Leonard Vary, CEO at The Myer Foundation and Sidney Myer Fund, who noted that from an investor perspective, “Having a sophisticated financial advisor made all the difference, because here was someone who could speak to the people on the investment committee who make those decisions through a particular lens.”
Vary said the decision to invest wasn’t a particularly difficult one, given the foundation’s starting proposition: “that social enterprises are good for society,” and confirmed that the Sidney Myer Fund will announce another $1 million investment before the end of the financial year.
NAB’s Corinne Proske reaffirmed the company’s desire to help build an impact investing pipeline and develop the intermediary market, noting that many advisors were currently providing professional services in an unsustainable pro bono capacity.
The Nexus #QandA session was notable for The Nation of Artists’ Elliot Kotek’s punchy one liners, including “Ideas + empathy = impact” and for Seed Mob’s Amelia Telford’s (pictured right) fierce honesty in challenging the concept of value.
Collaboration was a key theme of the Summit and there were opportunities aplenty for new discussions including ‘mass speed mentoring’ and ‘brain dating’ sessions, during which delegates were encouraged to find the connections that would help them turn talk into action.
Day two kicked off with a fun yet informative heads and tails quiz session led by Australian Women Donors Network‘s Georgia Mathews to celebrate International Women’s Day (fact: women are 47 per cent more likely to be severely injured in a car accident because women weren’t factored into the design of seat belts).
At the corporate giving session, Geoff Wilson from Wilson Asset Management, said of his company’s announcement that it had joined the Pledge 1% movement that he was “nearly embarrassed that levels are so low at 1 per cent.” Dipti Pratt, from Pledge 1% stressed that “Business has a chance to change the social contract.”
One of the stand out sessions was Gen to Gen Philanthropy, superbly chaired by Rachel Cohen Gerrol, Co-founder and Global Curator of the Nexus Global Youth Summit. The intergenerational panel featured David Gonski and his son Michael Gonski (pictured below), plus Cathy Scalzo and her father, Quin Scalzo.
The elder Gonski was particularly generous in sharing his personal thoughts and reflections about giving, saying “I was proud of the course I took in life but I’ve always been worried about my direct contribution. I felt very strongly that there was more to life than just things. The key to me is this fight against narrowness.”
He also declared that for him, the best philanthropy “is to be involved in the organisation” and issued a sombre warning to would-be impact investors. “We have dabbled in impact investing but I have grave difficulties with it, especially impact bonds. I think some of it is not philanthropy and not investing but rather a lottery with a twist.”
“The idea of investing in companies that do good things, that’s not new.”
Michael Gonksi urged the audience not to forget “about the value of giving money to seed fund social change” while Cathy Scalzo shared a poignant story about her own efforts to engage her own children in philanthropic thinking (asking questions rather than lecturing gets results!).
The powerful pairing of Shannan Dodson from Recognise and barrister Tim Goodwin saw the two address the theme ‘The revolution will not be funded’ with gusto.
For philanthropy to have impact, it must be connected to institutional change, Goodwin warned.
“If we’re talking about Indigenous disadvantage, we must talk about the institutional frameworks that are holding Indigenous people back. It’s great to fund a playgroup, but without thinking about systemic racism it won’t get far.”
Championing bravery and risk-taking as two sorely needed buzz words, Goodwin also lamented that philanthropy “wants to see an acquittal in 1-3 years, but social change doesn’t fit that framework.”
The Good Pitch session gave documentary film maker Maya Newell the opportunity to share the details of her long but inspiring journey with Gayby Baby, including lessons learned about building influence and changing impact.
During Taylor Conroy’s electrifying storytelling about Change Heroes, an organisation on no less of a mission than “To create the world’s largest community of people making impact through giving”, the audience alternately laughed, cried (yes—real tears at the table next to mine) and cheered. Conroy spurred the crowd to “Go for coffee, do something together just start something. That’s why we’re here.”
And in that moment, nothing seemed impossible.
Believe the hype.
About Nexus: Nexus is a global movement to bridge communities of wealth and social entrepreneurship. With thousands of members from 70 countries, Nexus works to unite young investors, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists and allies to catalyse new leadership and accelerate global solutions.
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Photos courtesy Nicola Sevitt.