Investing in the potential of people

The Atlantic Fellows for Social Equity is an Indigenous-led lifelong collaborative Fellowship program and platform for systemic change. One of seven global hubs, the Australia, Aotearoa and Pacific Region program was established through the largest gift to the University of Melbourne and the vision of Chuck Feeney, founder of The Atlantic Philanthropies. Ariadne and Tania are part of the lifelong Fellowship having completed their foundation year in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

Ariadne Gorring and Tania Pouwhare, two remarkable women, living and working in two different countries, are agitating for a common cause: unlocking human potential to bring community and humanity to the heart of climate solutions.

In Australia, Ariadne had been involved in Indigenous-led cultural conservation for more than 20 years. Tania, from the Ngāi Tūhoe tribe in the Bay of Plenty, was a Social Intrapreneur in Auckland Council's social innovation team.

Ariadne Gorring

Ariadne Gorring
Photo credit: James Henry 

A life-changing experience awaited both women when they were accepted into The Atlantic Fellows for Social Equity, a lifelong Indigenous-led Fellowship program created to amplify hundreds of social change-makers' impact.

As their Foundation years began, each was clear on their purpose and the social change they wanted to create.

Drawing on the seed of an idea incubated at the Kimberley Land Council, Ariadne’s project was to grow a global learning network connecting Indigenous groups and practitioners working on place-based economies and climate solutions. And for Tania, it was an opportunity to think more strategically about her economic development portfolio within Auckland Council.

Finding reciprocity, discovering identity

Having spent 20 years working within an Aboriginal organisation, Ariadne had become comfortably immersed in their story, but had lost sight of her own.

“I suddenly realised I was completely enmeshed in everyone else's stories but had no idea about mine. All I could do was ask, 'who am I, what’s my family story?'”

Using the Fellowship as an opportunity to peel back her past and reconnect with her identity proved invaluable. Ariadne says her unique ancestry, upbringing and passion for social justice and nature guide much of the work she does now.

I’m thankful to Chuck Feeney for his remarkable vision. His legacy - his final philanthropic investment - is giving life to the belief that ‘people change the world’. That flows through to the work I do. I’m honoured that Chuck and all the supporters to take that legacy forward, and to invest in the potential of people, because people change the world.

- Ariadne Gorring, CEO, Pollination Foundation

Sharing proved central to Tania’s experience of the Fellowship and instrumental to her sense of growth.

Throughout the Fellowship, Tania valued the mutual reciprocity of the exchanges with AFSE staff, other Fellows and presenters. “Even if the topic wasn’t related to my project, I always learnt new skills and experiences that were highly transferable.”

The catalyst for progress

Ariadne and Tania have both leveraged their experiences from the Atlantic Fellowship to lead innovative, sustainable and community empowering initiatives.

In New Zealand, Tania is engaged with a hugely ambitious Green New Deal project that aims to unlock economic opportunity through environmental practices.

Tania PouhwareTania Pouwhare
Photo credit: James Henry

Part of the plan is to build a bespoke, 10-hectare, circular economy business park in South Auckland that will transform Auckland’s residential and commercial waste by diverting up to 70 percent of it away from landfill and back into productive economic use.

The site will host a range of for-profit, Indigenous-led businesses using wasted resources for reuse, remanufacture, recycling, or repair. But Tania says its true purpose is to “create economic equity for Māori and Pasifika peoples in the poorest parts of Auckland.”

She has unwavering commitment to creating a more just economy for the Māori and Pasifika diaspora. “This flagship Green New Deal project aims to shift that ownership, capital and wealth into the hands of those who haven't shared in Auckland's growth and prosperity.”

Leaning into challenges, embracing opportunities

Entrenched problems demand radically new ways of thinking. And Tania’s not afraid to lean into the challenges or the opportunities.

“We're looking at how we can incentivise worker-owned cooperatives and living wage accredited businesses. We’re promoting greater opportunities for R&D and more joint ventures between businesses working with different materials. And the Eco Park must be a beautiful place that local people are proud of. This will not be a traditional transfer station. This has to be inspirational, hopeful and catalytic.”

Artist's impression of Eco Park

In addition to Eco Park, Tania and her team are looking to establish a $50 million investment fund, backed by central government, for Māori and Pasifika businesses already operating at scale in the circular economy.

"This investment fund would enable us to get that resource into local economies immediately, whereas the Eco Park is a longer-term project. Our aim is to grow the investment platform ten-fold by leveraging the public investment to attract impact investors.”

It's an initiative Tania hopes will shift how economic development takes place in poor communities by combining productivity with equitable economic recovery. “We're talking about it as an example of mana-enhancing economy – opportunities that enhance the dignity and agency of ordinary people and protects and regenerates our natural world for future generations at the same time.”

I'm truly grateful that the Fellowship exists, and that I was fortunate enough to be a part of it. It has been life changing. If I hadn't been part of this Fellowship, I don’t think I’d be leading a project this audacious.

- Tania Pouwhare, General Manager, Auckland Council

Assembling ideas with impact

Separated by the Tasman, but joined in common cause, Ariadne is seeking to advance a similarly just economic transition for Indigenous communities in her post-Fellowship role with Pollination.

Founded by a group of leaders wanting to accelerate the transition to a climate resilient future, Pollination was developed to increase capital flows to climate solutions, and support governments, corporations and investors to develop net-zero emissions strategies. Nestled inside the group, and led by Ariadne, is the Pollination Foundation.

Within Pollination Foundation Ariadne is looking to change the way we achieve conservation at scale, investing in community to deliver nature and climate solutions for the benefit of us all. The Foundation is home to the global learning network designed during her Fellowship year. And Ariadne has been working on another impactful project too – the International Savannah Fire Management Initiative. It aims to reignite traditional fire management practices around the world to create a three-fold impact: reduce carbon emissions, create livelihood opportunities and cultural regeneration, and improve biodiversity.

“The theme that unites it all is our passion for a nature positive future, and so our focus is on accelerating nature-based initiatives that bring community and humanity to the heart of climate solutions.”

Ariadne Gorring and controlled traditional burning

Moving forward, looking back

As Tania’s initiative has grown to become something far larger than the original intent, so too has Ariadne’s.

“Time after time, we’ve seen incredible ideas Aboriginal people living on-country have about the types of nature enterprises they could run. On the demand-side, we have corporates wanting to invest in projects that not only reduce their carbon footprint and offset their nature risks, but support the communities impacted by these risks too. So, we're in the early stages of designing what we’re calling the ‘On Country’ Incubator to harness that knowledge, expertise and investment on-country – and support community to structure their enterprise ideas and connect with market opportunities.”

Both Ariadne and Tania are committed to ensuring systemic changes leave an enduring legacy, a core sentiment supported by lifelong Fellowship.

Ariadne says: “My other Fellows work in different spaces, but we continue to stay strongly connected. That diversity, of perspectives, ideas, skills and expertise is remarkably special. We share passions together. And we’re doers. That's something quite unique about the Fellowship. We’re a collective of people who just want to get out there and do things.”

The Atlantic Fellows for Social Equity is a global program that seeks to create systemic social change built upon Indigenous knowledges and lifelong Fellowship, empowering equity change-makers like Tania and Ariadne.

Demonstrating the strength of the partnership and the trust in the University, the $65 million grant made to the University to establish the program in 2016 was the first investment The Atlantic Philanthropies had ever made to directly support Indigenous or First Nations peoples. That grant is the biggest donation in the University’s history and remains one of the largest single philanthropic gifts ever in Australia.

In September 2020, the final chapter for The Atlantic Philanthropies was written, with Mr Feeney and the Board signing the formal documents to dissolve the foundation. After dispersing in excess of $10 billion in grants across the world, Mr Feeney has well and truly fulfilled his lifelong purpose of Giving While Living. The University of Melbourne is privileged to play a small part in this remarkable story.