National debate needed on inequality

SVA Quarterly debates in Sydney and Melbourne earlier this month addressed the key issue on the national agenda: inequality.

The SVA Quarterly debates are a forum for leaders across the business, government and social sectors to discuss solutions to pressing social challenges among peers who are positioned to make a difference across practice, policy and thought leadership.

The debates are tied to the SVA Quarterly, a free online publication designed to spread innovative and effective practice across the social sector through sharing knowledge and insights.

At the Sydney debate Mark Carnegie, investor and founder of M.H. Carnegie & Co, joined Michael Traill, SVA’s founding CEO, as featured speakers. The audience included senior executives and board members in the social purpose sector.

“We’ve built a prodigiously successful economy for 85-90%, but we’ve left 10-15% behind,” said Carnegie. “We need a national debate about the excluded class in Australia.”

“As a country, we’re not talking about the fact that when you tear the social fabric and leave 15% at the bottom you’re going to create all sorts of problems. And this is going to get worse because of a lack of educational opportunities and failures in school to employment transitions.”

An ACOSS report released this month identified that the number of people living in poverty is growing.

“We haven’t had the conversation in Australia about what we want our society to look like,” said Carnegie. “As a nation, we don’t understand that more equal societies are better societies on all the indices.”

“The silent majority of successful Australians has to find a way to engage and mend and weave the 15% back in,” said Carnegie.

Both Carnegie and Traill identified the need for systemic change and measurement of what is being achieved.

“You won’t solve this with just government and family. You need to reconnect the social fabric at the community level which means government has to find a way to fund outcomes,” said Carnegie.

Both speakers highlighted the inadequacies of current funding time frames dictated largely by the political cycles.

“The way grants are allocated in a three year cycle doesn’t work,” said Carnegie. “You need 10 year contracts. You need 10 or 20 years to truly understand the issue; you need the institutional memory.”

Traill agreed that to create social change a funding horizon of 5-10 years is pivotal. “Currently we have this disconnect in government and in philanthropy which tends to fund the start up for three years.”

“Government needs to focus on long term funding. We need to have a clear idea of what system change is needed and the time it takes.”

Traill also emphasised the need for people across the sectors to be involved in the solutions and to have “skin in the game”. He cited Goodstart as an example of a variety of stakeholders investing in the solution.

“We can identify the problems, but we need to be more thoughtful and mindful to achieve the systemic change.”

“We’ve learnt the lesson that it’s not just about giving money. Organisations need to offer some clarity about the gains they are achieving. We need to connect a clearer narrative.”

The conversation was facilitated by Duncan Peppercorn, Executive Director of SVA Consulting.