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  • Nicole Richards

Action as the antidote to despair: Groundswell

Australia's first giving circle dedicated to funding strategic, high-impact climate advocacy and action, is riding an upswell of interest from established givers and first-time philanthropists as the impact of the climate crisis hits home.

“The climate crisis is no longer abstract science but a lived reality, particularly here in Australia,” says Arielle Gamble, co-founder and manager of collective giving circle, Groundswell.

“Australia is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world when it comes to climate change and this past summer, we all saw how quickly our infrastructure breaks down and how at risk we are as a society.”

Created in late 2019 in response to the climate crisis, Groundswell is Australia’s first giving circle dedicated to funding strategic, high-impact climate advocacy and action.

Along with co-founders Anna Rose and Clare Ainsworth Herschell, Gamble anticipated gradual growth of the collective’s membership base as word got out through existing networks over time. Australia’s unprecedented bushfire season overturned those modest plans.

“On January 2 we posted a photo on Instagram of a girl from Mallacoota under a red sky, rowing her family to safety with a face mask on,” Arielle says. “We had 2,000 new followers in two days with people signing up all over the country: community workers in Arnhem Land, grandmothers from Tasmania, farmers from everywhere.

“It was incredible cross-generation interest from right across the general public,” Gamble continues.

“People understood the urgency. They understood that this is not business as usual anymore.”

Groundswell now has more than 200 members, each having committed to contributing at least $1,000 each year to the giving circle’s pooled funds. Two grant rounds have already been actioned with a third underway.

The power of collective action

Historically, philanthropy’s support of the climate crisis has been tepid, if not underwhelming, with research from the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network finding that environmental causes receive only 2.5 per cent of all charitable donations. Climate receives even less.

“Philanthropy needs to start thinking about climate change as a humanitarian issue not just an environmental issue,” Groundswell co-founder Clare Ainsworth Herschell says.

“No matter which cause area you’re funding, every one of them will be impacted by the climate crisis.”

The existential enormity of the climate crisis is often cited as an inhibitor of action, but the Groundswell co-founders believe the power of the collective is a counteracting force.

“The problem can seem so big it’s overwhelming and our opponents are so powerful and well financed but actually there are so few of them that if we can scale money in the climate movement and resource with people, we are a powerful force to be reckoned with,” says Arielle.  

"The real power of being part of a giving circle, particularly for a topic like the climate crisis, is that we're stronger together," adds Clare.

"When you walk that journey in a community it takes away a bit of that overwhelm."

“During the bushfires I received a number of texts from people saying, ‘What can we do?’ And I think Groundswell answered that question because it was a place where people could participate in meaningful action. And we all know that action is the antidote to despair.”

True to that ethos, the Groundswell website is rich with information about different ways to give, the top 10 climate actions to take and a directory of organisations working on climate action in Australia.

“Accommodating all the giving currencies of time, talent and treasure is important,” Clare says. “Giving to the climate crisis doesn’t have to come in the form of a monetary donation.”

“At Groundswell we’ve seen such an incredible cross-section of people coming together. One of our members is a 91-year old grandmother, another member gave up her Netflix and Stan subscriptions to free up $20 per week, then we have people like [actor] Yael Stone and [chef] Kylie Kwong who are members too. It speaks to the nature of the climate crisis – it’s such a leveller and we’re all in it together.”

Supporting a movement

Each Groundswell funding round comprises two grants: a $40,000 major grant and a smaller grant of $10,000 that alternates between project-based and core funding needs. Four core criteria include building the movement, shifting the money to, changing the story and changing the politics to enable greater leadership within state and federal government.

Supported by an ongoing advisory committee including First Nations representatives, energy policy and climate advocacy experts, a rotating group of five Groundswell members shortlists applications and then a democratic process decides the successful grantees.

The group’s inaugural grant was awarded to Emergency Leaders for Climate Action, a collective of former senior fire and emergency services leaders who are calling for greater government action and preparedness.

“We want to make sure we’re addressing the power imbalance between the grant maker and grant seeker throughout the selection process,” Arielle explains.

“We’ve intentionally kept the submission process simple with just a two-page proposal and a single page budget and if the organisation has already applied for funding elsewhere, we encourage them to use the same application – we don’t want to add to their labour.”

The role of Groundswell within the wider climate movement is one of support, the co-founders say.

“We exist to support the movement,” Arielle explains.

Clare adds that Groundswell’s work is helping to create “a pipeline of new donors for climate advocacy groups that often wouldn’t have the resources to fund a philanthropy manager.”

“Our $1000 entry point for the giving circle is our point of difference from larger organisations in the movement that receive their core funding from an environmentally committed people giving small monthly donations,” Clare says.

"By working in symbiosis, Groundswell aims to support the whole climate movement's ecosystem."

With the global climate movement growing in size and influence every day, Groundswell is providing a new pathway for Australians from all walks of life to take strategic action to mitigate the climate crisis.

“The thing with the climate crisis is that it affects all of us indiscriminately,” Arielle says. “It has personal relevance to every single person.

“Even as we face the immense challenges posed by Covid-19, there will also be unprecedented opportunities for a social and economic rebuild that centres the health and prosperity of both people and the planet. It’s time to start funding climate advocacy to accelerate change during this critical window.

“At Groundswell, all people are welcome and all people are needed.”

Groundswell is a sub-fund of Australian Communities Foundation

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