13 Working together

Money matters. It unlocks additional resources that can free up energy to experiment and engage with challenges in a much more substantial way. But funding is just one of the tools that can unlock more positive actions. By co-investing rather than donating, we purposefully put the Foundation on the same level as the fellow, establishing a true partnership in support of the shared vision.

In the current iteration of the fellowship, funding comes in two parts. The first, the fellowship grant, covers the cost of the fellow’s time for a year, to establish personal sustainability and free up their time and attention to focus on implementing their idea full-time. The amount is as close to a reasonable salary equivalent as possible, depending on each fellow’s circumstances. The fellowship grant is contracted up front and guaranteed for the year. This helps create a sense of freedom, allowing the fellow to experiment.

The second part is project funding. This is a budget given to all fellows equally for the implementation of their idea. Project funding is allocated per fellow to avoid competition, but not contracted up front. Instead, it is unlocked as needed through project pitches. People pay closer attention to the relationship between expenses and outcomes when they have invested more than just their time and effort. To this end, a fellow has to sacrifice some money from their fellowship grant to unlock ten-fold matching project funding from the Foundation. So $100 invested by the fellow is matched with $1,000 from the Foundation, resulting in a pitch unlocking $1,100 co-invested in service of the fellow’s vision for change.

The purpose of the project pitch is to help fellows systematically consider the relationship between their actions and their articulated vision for social change. How might an activity, along with the associated cost, contribute to change or learning? What is necessary to implement it effectively? What value will it create in exchange for the time and money spent?

The objective is not for the fellow to convince the Foundation it is the perfect action to take. Uncertainty is an integral part of finding new solutions. Being deliberate about identifying and tracking this uncertainty creates opportunities for discovery. The process is designed as a conversation between the fellow and the Foundation to outline the motivation and examine potential risks and benefits.

It is rare for a pitch to be dismissed outright. Pitches are moments in a continuous stream of engagement between the Foundation and the fellow. Pitches may be unconventional, but because of the partnership, there is a shared willingness to take the leap.

There are no preset restrictions on spending categories. Different fellows value and need different resources at different points in their trajectory. The process is designed to help the fellow figure out what matters most in reaching their goals. Do they need to cover overheads, equipment costs, travel or staff? One fellow needed a truck to reach remote locations and install equipment. Another pitched for ergonomic office chairs for their team who were working long hours in front of computer screens. Some pitch only for travel and bringing people together, some for staff salaries, and some only need overheads covered. The Foundation’s approach is to counsel, question, trust and review – not control.

Of course this carries some risk. Money can be wasted, but we mitigate risks by ring-fencing time and money. Each fellow has the opportunity to apply for up to three consecutive years, one year at a time. Within that year, each fellow has access to a set amount of funding, allowing the Foundation to determine the exact size of the financial risk it is willing to take. These limits create an opportunity for review and reflection on both sides, along with natural exit points should the partnership no longer work. We recognise there is a certain hypocrisy to imposing such limits on fellows when we aim to build lasting relationships centred on trust. But having these limits allows greater freedom to take risks within these confines.

Sometimes reapplications are not successful. It is a difficult decision to make, having come to know the individual and their work. It’s a tough time for fellows too, and in the weeks leading up to “that date” in the calendar, there is a noticeable air of apprehension. Astra Taylor said of her experience, “I was far more nervous about my reapplications than my initial application. Now I know what I’d be missing if I weren’t offered another year. As a result, I was even more delighted the second and third time I got a call to say I can hang around on the island a while longer.”

Even when reapplications aren’t successful, fellows are invited back to our space, included in the community, and given every opportunity to continue their participation. Every fellow brings a unique and lasting value to the fellowship.