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December 14, 2016

Summer treats: staff picks 2016

A collection of SVA staff recommendations for your holiday reflections and inspiration.

As the SVA team goes about its work to address disadvantage, we’re inspired by many articles, podcasts, books, videos and films that touch on sector topics. Thought-provoking, challenging and sometimes very moving – these recommendations from the team may give you pause to reflect on the community we are, care deeply about and want to become. Happy reading, listening and watching. And do let us know what’s inspired you this year, so we can share it too.


Simon Crabb

Simon Crabb, Project Manager, Venture Philanthropy, Vic

Friday essay: the untold story behind the 1966 Wave Hill Walk-Off, The Conversation

The story of the Gurindji people’s walk off from Vestey’s Wave Hill Station includes stories from community members alongside historical facts.

I found it gripping as well as informative. It really put into perspective the strength of mind needed to stand up for what is right. It’s an important part of Australia’s history that provides a lesson for all.
catherine feeney

Catherine Feeney, Director, Marketing and Communications, NSW

The incredible story of Bobbi Gibb, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon by Brigit Katz, Women in the World, in association with The New York Times

When Bobbi Gibb snuck into the 1966 Boston Marathon women were not permitted to run in the race for fear the exertion would literally kill them. Not only did Gibb complete the race, she placed in the top-third of runners and was greeted at the finishing line by the Governor of Massachusetts.

The story reminded me that human rights and equality are hard won by single acts of defiance and bravery, made over and over again. My young daughter, a keen runner herself, would be abhorred to learn that women were ever not allowed to do anything. And for that I thank Bobbi Gibb and all the women before her, and since, who refused to stand quietly on the sidelines.

Ferdi Hepworth

Ferdi Hepworth, Director, Partnerships, Vic

Measuring what matters by Marc J. Holley, Cheri A. Recchia, & Valerie Bockstette, Stanford Social Innovation Review 

Five grant performance measurement traps and how to avoid them.

This is a practical and interesting article on the challenges of impact measurement and a good reminder to keep focused on the big picture of why you are measuring your impact with a clear eye on what you want to achieve.

Alex Humphry

Alex Humphry, Consultant, NSW

Western do gooders need to resist the allure of exotic problems, The Guardian

This article posits that problems in countries far from home can somehow seem far easier to solve. And suggests it’s far better to lean into and embrace the complexity of the issues ‘at home’.

This piece struck a chord for me. My career has been a mix of international development and tackling issues in the UK and Australia. It helped me to think about the motivations and differences between these two areas. Especially now being with SVA, it helped me to understand why the work we do is so important and how complex it is, despite sometimes not being as ‘sexy’ as work in more exotic locations. It also helped clarify why it is important for me, as an Australian, to be working on these problems that are a part of my society.

Shiri Leventhal, Associate Director, WA Venture Philanthropy

How grantmaking can create adaptive organisations, by Douglas Easterling, Stanford Social Innovation Review

This article explores how to be an ‘evocative grantmaker’ that supports organisations to adapt and change effectively. It provides guidelines on helpful practices and the skillset required.

It interested me as it highlighted different behaviours and attributes needed in funders to support organisations to be more successful and effective. These behaviours centre around being ‘evocative’, asking the right questions, pushing at the right times, but also giving the space and flexibility to allow organisations to adapt and grow effectively. The four critical practices it describes are helpful to keep in mind with our new ventures, to ensure we are supporting them in the best way possible to achieve greater impact.
Kobi Maglen

Kobi Maglen, Associate Director, Strategy Implementation, Vic

What works to prevent violence against women and girls? by Dr Emma Fulu, The Huffington Post

This post references some really exciting, cutting-edge projects, and evaluation and research from around the world about what is working to prevent violence against women and girls.

Dr Emma Fulu presented at an internal meeting at Oxfam Australia (my former employer) on this topic. Emma is an impressive presenter. Meeting her prompted me to find out more about innovative approaches to end violence against women and girls. This post was one of them. There’s more here: Equality Institute.


Ben Gollow

Ben Gollow, Associate Consultant, WA

From the cell to the sell, Startup podcast

This podcast follows a criminal who went from running a multi-million dollar, drug operation to sitting in solitary confinement. But it’s here, alone in his cell, where he gets the idea for his next business: a fitness company inspired by his time behind bars. Building a startup is a tough and uncertain endeavor for any founder. But for one with a criminal history, the journey is far morecomplicated.

This story gives a great insight into life behind bars and how to provide sustainable pathways beyond the system. It interested me as it is relevant to the work we’re doing with the Youth Justice Services in the WA Department of Corrective Services.

Jonathan Finighan, Associate Consultant, Vic

The calling of delight, On Being podcast

An interview with Greg Boyle, Founder and Executive Director of Homeboy Industries, a Los Angeles-based non-profit working with men who were previously incarcerated or involved in gangs.

The way Boyle talks about purpose and values, and what drives him and the work of Homeboy Industries is humbling and awe inspiring. For him, doing ‘for purpose’ work isn’t about a one-way relationship between the helper and receiver, but a mutual one about building kinship and community – and to me that’s an inspiring vision of social change!

Rob Koczkar

Rob Koczkar, CEO, NSW

Duty calls, #334, This American Life podcast

Josh Bearman grew up in California with his father, stepmother, and brother. But they’re not his whole family. His mother and half-brother David live in Florida. Josh hadn’t lived with them since he was nine and they didn’t play much of a role in his daily life – until duty called. His mother was in hospital, near death, and David was on his way to jail. They had no money and couldn’t take care of themselves. So Josh flew to Florida and tried to step in.

It highlights how events beyond your control can drag you into vulnerability from which it is extremely difficult to recover. It also shows how close this reality is to a ‘normal’ life.
Suzie Riddell

Suzie Riddell, Executive Director, Strategy and Projects, NSW

One last thing before I go, #597 This American Life podcast

Producer Miki Meek tells the story of a phone booth in Japan that attracts thousands of people who lost loved ones in the 2011 tsunami and earthquake. The phone booth isn’t connected to anything. It made me cry.


Shona Saxton, Marketing Associate, NSW

Graham Long and Wayside: the perfect fit, Conversations with Richard Fidler podcast

Richard Fidler talks to Graham Long, Pastor and CEO of the Wayside Chapel in Sydney’s Kings Cross, who has developed a reputation as a compassionate, irreverent and wise man who provides, and leads an organisation which provides, love and care to the homeless and vulnerable.

Graham has a great outlook on life and the good (and funny) in people, and a chuckle that makes you smile. He has some poignant sayings that so nicely sum up his beliefs. For example, he lives by the creed that ‘people are not problems to be solved, but people to be met’.


John Bush_BW_Portrait_Web ready

John Bush, Associate Director, Evidence for Learning, NSW

Learning to improve: how America’s schools can get better at getting better, by Anthony M. Bryk, Louis M. Gomez, Alicia Grunow and Paul G. LeMahieu

This book is about applying the principles of improvement science, typically applied in other fields such as health care, to education. It provides a model of identifying and addressing local challenges in a rigorous, systematic way, drawing on the best wider evidence and using local expertise and data to design solutions and track progress. Within the Networked Improvement Community model, schools go through the improvement process in a community of other schools facing the same challenge.

It seems like a great marriage of the benefits of disciplined innovation, evidence-informed practice, and well-structured social networks. I think there are many implications for effective practice across the social sector, not just in education.

Sofie Desmet, Manager, Events and Marketing, NSW

Thinking, fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman

This book offers a whole new look at the way our minds work, and how we make decisions – often irrationally. It reveals the two ways we make choices: fast, intuitive thinking, and slow, rational thinking and how our minds are tripped up by error and prejudice (even when we think we are being logical).

I’m half way through this massive read but it’s interesting and entertaining. I like the many experiments and the colourful anecdotes about the author and his research partner. It got me thinking about judgment and choice, how we sometimes make automatic decisions and assumptions, and how it relates to memory. The key message is that to make better decisions, both personally and as a society, it’s important to be aware of these biases. Then you can work towards finding workarounds.

Nick Elliott, Director, Consulting, NSW

Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

This book argues for a reconsideration of the hunter-gatherer tag for precolonial Aboriginal Australians. The evidence insists that Aboriginal people right across the continent were using domesticated plants, sowing, harvesting, irrigating and storing – behaviours inconsistent with the hunter-gatherer label which Pascoe challenges as a convenient lie.

Two things fascinated me: the narrative of a community that had farming capacity and was engaged in farming and how that didn’t match the notion of terra nullius. Also, it had me wondering about the potential of crops that naturally grow in this climate/environment. Are we missing a trick in terms of national and global nutrition?

Diana Suen

Diana Ferner, Consultant, NSW

Your strategy needs a strategy: How to choose and execute the right approach by Martin Reeves, Knut Haanaes & Janmejaya Sinha

With so many changes in the sector right now like the national reforms in aged care and disability, it’s easy to wonder whether it’s worth having a strategy anymore. The thinking often goes something like: if we can’t predict the future, we shouldn’t lock ourselves into a strategy. This book provides a refreshing take on strategy, acknowledging that different environments will require different types of strategy. The typical classical, deterministic strategy may no longer be relevant, and this book offers some alternatives and a useful framework for thinking about which one is appropriate and when.

Olivia Hilton, Executive Director, Consulting, Vic

Sellout by Paul Beatty

Very clever idea. A black man acting as a proponent of segregation is obviously unusual but the storyline itself takes a back seat to race relations in America. There are a lot of insightful observations cloaked in humour and sarcasm. In the midst of the racial turmoil in the US it is pretty amazing that a book like this was published. It tackles head-on all the racial discrimination and stereotypes suffered by African Americans from slavery to police brutality, but turns them upside down by having the main character, a black man, reintroduce racial segregation in the Los Angeles ghetto of Dickens to empower the people! As Graham, my partner commented, ‘This book has balls’.

Susie King, Director, Consulting, Vic

Hope: An Anthology

A compilation of 10 short stories submitted to the Brotherhood of St Lawrence’s inaugural Hope Prize, established to encourage writing that transcends stereotypes of ‘the poor’ and reflects the resilience we know that people show in the face of poverty and testing times.

I’d highly recommend this compendium of prize-winners and shortlisted stories. What struck me reading these varied but powerful accounts was the optimism and resilience of the protagonists. I’d particularly commend Catherine Moffat’s ‘Better Homes and Gardens’, the story of a homeless single dad doing his best to provide a stable and loving family life for his two young children – and contrast it with Ellie Young’s account of a courageous young girl, juggling her adult role as sole carer for her blind father and aspirations for a normal adolescence.

Videos, films, TV programs and campaigns


Dina Jak, Manager, Qld Venture Philanthropy

How great leaders inspire action by Simon Sinek, TED talk

Simon Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership — starting with a golden circle and the question ‘why?’ His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers.

I heard this talk for the first time a few years ago but rewatched it this year and it still resonates. It helped me to completely flip the way I talk about our work. We often naturally start ‘pitching’ what we do, where as Simon Sinek emphasises that we need to start by selling ‘why’ we do what we do. This has a lot more value for people looking to engage with our work.

Ian Learmonth, Executive Director, Impact Investing, NSW

I, Daniel Blake, general release film

This is the latest film from master UK social filmmaker, Ken Loach illustrating the mind boggling challenges that the UK welfare system poses to its users, particularly the main character, Daniel.

I kept wondering if the Australian equivalent (Centrelink) would be just as heart breaking. The film also reveals the impossibility of living on such a small fragile income. While like many, I appreciated that already, it was good to be reminded in such a powerful way.

Susan Metcalf, Chief Operating Officer, NSW

The Salvation Army Domestic Violence appeal with Myer

This appeal is an outstanding alignment of a corporate and its target audience with a real and desperate need in the community. It is elegantly and sensitively executed without sensationalising a deeply personal issue that leaves many women traumatised and penniless.

I really admire the restraint shown in this campaign, when the temptation could be to heavily promote what they are doing – and potentially do more damage than good. I thought it was a great reading of the audience, and lovely implementation of a campaign to address an ugly issue.
Mark Peacock

Mark Peacock, Director, Impact Investing, NSW

Being Invisible by Bryce McLellan, video

This short documentary allows two young (brave!) women to tell their stories of becoming homeless and the support they received at a refuge. They reveal how quickly and ‘easily’ this can happen to young people – at a time when they are particularly vulnerable.

I’m constantly surprised (and disappointed) at how little coverage homelessness receives in our mainstream media. This documentary puts a face and a person and a name to the complicated tragedy that is homelessness for young people. It spurred me on to continue to work with partners on initiatives to fight against any young person identifying themselves as homeless.
Jenna Palumbo

Jenna Pelumbo, Director, WA

Putuparri and the rainmakers, film

The story of Putuparri Tom Lawford, a 44-year old aboriginal man from north-west Australia. The film spans 20 transformative years in Putuparri’s life as he navigates the deep chasm between his Western upbringing and his traditional culture. Set against the backdrop of the long fight to reclaim their traditional lands, Putuparri and the rainmakers is a story of love, hope and the survival of Aboriginal law and culture against all odds.

I saw this movie with seven Australian born and educated friends who I consider pretty liberal and informed. I was struck as others were by the deep spiritual connection between the Indigenous people and the land, and the beautiful imagery of the film. But what shocked me was how surprised my companions were about the central family’s powerful relationship with the land, and their resilience in the face of a baffling and arduous battle for land rights. It made me realise how far we have to go as a society for Australia to recognize and appreciate Indigenous culture, Indigenous people and the battle they have been fighting for generations now.

Karen Prout, Editor, SVA Quarterly, NSW

Constance on the Edge, film

Filmed over 10 years, the film is an unflinchingly honest portrayal of one refugee family’s resettlement story in Australia. Constance, originally from the Sudan, shares her experience of what it takes to forge a new life and to belong in a new land far from home.

I was moved by the courage, joy and resilience of Constance and her family. Their stories and experience revealed the impact of refugee trauma, and how hard it is to start a life in a new country, in this case in regional Australia. I appreciated that the film showed the challenges and the successes for the family, and the difference that the broader community plays in supporting a sense of welcoming and belonging.
Steph Shorter

Steph Shorter, Principal Consultant, WA

Predict my future – the science of us, SBS

This 4-part series explores the Dunedin Study – a longitudinal study that has been running for over 40 years tracking over 1000 people born in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1972. They are now dispersed across the world but amazingly 96% of them still take part. The series looks at the findings from the ultimate nature-nurture test and tries to unpack what makes us who we are.

The study concludes that ‘nature loads the gun but nurture pulls the trigger’. It’s an amazing reminder of the importance of a nurturing home environment and access to opportunities in the early years, and how this can be such a huge predictor of future health and prosperity. We spend so much time trying to help people who are homeless, unemployed or wrapped up in the justice system, but this program makes me feel really strongly that as a society we should be investing more in the early years and in supporting communities. As one acquaintance said to me, ‘we have to stop parking the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff’.

Karishma Tanvi, Accountant, NSW

Indigenous episode of You can’t ask that series, ABC

The series gave members of the public a chance to ask awkward, embarrassing, naive, silly, compassionate, even prejudiced questions they’ve always wanted to ask, but never had the courage or proximity to do so. These questions were put to people who often get reduced to stereotypes (e.g. users of wheelchairs, Muslims, transgender people) giving us as viewers a better understanding.

I particularly enjoyed the Indigenous episode as it refreshingly humanises the issues faced by Indigenous Australians. It stays away from statistics instead talking about the issues with humour and sensitivity.

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