New philanthropy, old digs: why we invested in Yirranma Place
Professor Glyn Davis AC, Chief Executive of the Paul Ramsay Foundation, reflects on the challenges we face as we emerge from COVID and why a neighborhood built for social and philanthropic purposes is so important at this time.
As we slowly emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is becoming clear that the virus has reinforced the disadvantages of our community.
For a brief moment, Australia experimented with more generous payments to those dependent on public assistance, made childcare widely available and free for essential workers and helped the homeless find housing essential.
For a brief moment, we reduced poverty across the country.
Governments are now faced with the large deficits accumulated in the fight against the virus. Benefits have been cut, programs eliminated. Poverty is returning, silently, to many neighborhoods. Although Australia is one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, our poverty levels are above OECD averages. The data clearly shows that social mobility, although much expected in the land of fair go, is in practice rare. Life can be tough and relentless for those born into the toughest communities and social demographics.
If Australia is to ‘bounce back better’ from COVID, we need big ideas and innovative approaches, backed by evidence. We also need investment, lots of investment. This is a responsibility not only for the government, but also for individuals, businesses and charities.
Among the many actors seeking to contribute to a renewed national sense of fairness are foundations – organizations with capital to invest in non-profit partners, committed to a charitable mission and meeting certain needs beyond government programs.
Such foundations are familiar in American life, but are still few in Australia. From the honorable work of long-established foundations, a new group is emerging, fueled by the fortunes amassed over the past decades. Like the famous names in America – Rockefeller, Ford and Gates – Australian foundations offer the opportunity to support large-scale social investments, each pursuing a particular mission but collectively providing much-needed support to charities through this country.
Among them is the Paul Ramsay Foundation, set up by the late private hospital magnate, and committed to breaking the cycle of disadvantage by helping young people escape intergenerational poverty.
Philanthropy works best in partnership, and today collaboration will be on the mind when the Paul Ramsay Foundation opens the doors to Yirranma Place, a dedicated philanthropy district based in Darlinghurst.
See also: Opening of a new precinct for special purpose organizations in Sydney
During the COVID years, the foundation renovated a new home on Liverpool Street, in the restored and reimagined space of the iconic First Church of Christ, Scientist building. The goal is not just a permanent home for the Paul Ramsay Foundation, but a purpose-built community neighborhood for social and philanthropic purposes, a place for people and projects who share a passion for breaking cycles of disadvantage.
The name Yirranma Place emerged from consultation with Gadigal elders and language experts, roughly translating to “place of many creations”. It recognizes the long history of the land where this building sits and the desire to create a dedicated space where people from all walks of life can come together, share ideas and collaborate on ways to achieve positive social change.
As a modern philanthropic organization, the foundation’s approach is firmly based on partnerships for potential – collaborating and supporting frontline organizations, innovators and researchers working with communities and policy makers to break cycles that hold us back.
Yirranma Place is an invitation to the philanthropic community to share in this ambition and this space – a place of promise and purpose, a home for many people working in the purpose sector.
Emerging social enterprises will find their place in the building’s incubator space. Established social enterprise Two Good Co – which started locally as a soup kitchen – is moving in to operate the precinct’s cafe, restaurant and concierge services, employing women who have survived domestic violence. We welcome them into the founding community of Yirranma Place.
Engagement with our neighbors in Darlinghurst, as well as other members of the community, has been essential in the restoration and renovation work, with a series of public events planned such as lectures and recitals with the building’s historic organ. The building also includes shared spaces for community use and a public gallery showcasing contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and design.
Barkandji Elder Badger (William Brian) Bates designed the steel gates at the entrance to Yirranma Place, drawing passers-by with curiosity and wonder through a magnificent depiction of the Dreamtime stories he heard growing up on the Darling-Barka River in Wilcannie.
As you step through the gates, which were forged in the nearby town of Eveleigh, your eyes are drawn to a breathtaking story that unfolds overhead – a celestial tale of ‘the emu in the sky’, captured by Bates in black and White.
Looking at the stars, we are reminded of the possibilities of the universe and find inspiration.
Welcome to Yirranma Place.