In our series on philanthropy and the science of giving, BlueNotes presents prominent figures and representatives of organisations speaking about giving and its social impact.
According to Giving Australia 2016 research project, over 80 per cent of Australians donated to charity throughout 2015 and2016. When you look at the reasons why people gave it largely comes down to personal satisfaction and giving back to the community.
But if you narrowed it down to the philanthropy – planned and structured giving of money, time, information, goods and services, influence and voice to improve the wellbeing of humanity and the community – the main motivating factor was simple: the belief giving can make a difference.
I’m a young philanthropist (which is rare) because I know giving makes a difference: I’ve made the journey from scholarship recipient to significant Chancellor’s Circle donor at the University of Melbourne. While the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of my story is interesting, I’m going to focus on the most important part - the why.
This is my journey, in a Pixar pitch.
I am from a single parent family and after working hard through VCE received an Access Scholarship to study my Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Melbourne.
Every day I was thankful for my scholarship because it gave me choices, such as being able to choose my classes over work and buy textbooks instead of borrowing them from the library.
One day, I got very sick: I couldn't walk properly and had constant migraines which left me functioning at 30 per cent of my normal capacity. Because of this, I went to the student advisers to see if they could help as I wanted to graduate with the rest of my class.
The advisers arranged for me to sit all my third year exams under special conditions and the scholarship meant I could concentrate solely on my studies which meant I graduated (with distinction) with the rest of my class in 2012.
And finally, I thought ‘What can I do to support others like me?’ and so I decided to donate money and became a Chancellor’s Circle donor in 2013.
Why giving back matters
There’re three reasons why I give back.
Firstly, my secondary school (yes, it was a private school, and yes, I was on a scholarship), they instilled in us we were fortunate to attend our school and we had a responsibility to help others.
The University supported me both financially and academically so I’m giving back my scholarship to pay it forward to other students.
Secondly, children don't get to choose what circumstances they’re born into or in many cases what happens to them or their family.
A child doesn’t get to choose to be part of a nuclear family in Australia or be one of five in a rural Cambodian family but that can have a large influence on what they’re able to do and achieve. And it shouldn’t.
Finally, the world is changing more rapidly now than it has ever before – digital, innovation and transformation are ubiquitous and here to stay– and everyone needs be able to participate in that future.
Why? Because people are the most important part. Both the Brexit and US election results were driven in part by the growing inequality of wealth and education on those countries and I can see that gap widening in Australia.
To create a future for all of us, we all need to be represented, regardless of race, sex, gender, creed, sexual orientation or social economic status. Those of us privileged in some way (like myself) have a duty to help and support those not so fortunate to give them that opportunity.
Fast forward to the present me: yes, I’m still sick - I have mild chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). There’s promising new research helping us understand what’s different about people with CFS but there’s no known cure.
Despite this, I'm positive one day I will be illness-free. This is my fourth year donating to student scholarships to make a difference to someone's world.
If there's one thing I hope you remember, it's philanthropy creates opportunity for individuals and for our society.
Because if you have someone born into a single parent family with low income or is a first generation Australian who has fled their country in fear or is ostracised by family and friends for being LGBTIQ but has overcome those challenges and has the potential to make a great contribution, why wouldn't you give them a chance?
Fiona Holt is a contributing editor at BlueNotes. This is an edited version of a speech given to the Advancement Team of the University of Melbourne in 2016.