Discussion paper

Philanthropy, non-government organisations and Indigenous development

20 Jun 2003

This paper is an exploration of the potential opportunities and costs of linkages between philanthropic bodies, non-government organisations (NGOs), Indigenous organisations and the academy. Following an overview of the evolution of the ‘Literacy for Life’ project, provided as a case study of the development of the type of collaboration we want to explore, the paper provides a discussion of the nature of philanthropy in Australia today and major changes afoot in the sector internationally. We then provide some examples of where philanthropic funding has been used to support initiatives in Indigenous communities and organisations. Next, we turn to an examination of Australian development focused NGOs and suggest reasons for why they have remained largely unengaged with Indigenous issues and communities in Australia.


Partnerships between philanthropic foundations, development-oriented NGOs and Indigenous organisations represent an exciting and important approach that addresses some of the seemingly intractable problems of Indigenous communities. These partnerships may also enable skill transfer and capacity development that has been difficult if not impossible for many Indigenous communities to achieve. In addition, they may allow long-term engagements and high-risk, targeted interventions, both of which government has been hesitant to support. We argue that these partnerships would enable a testing and evaluation of development initiatives that, if successful and sustainable, would shape policy makers’ perceptions of what is possible and desirable in terms of their own programs.


The paper concludes with recommendations for a survey of current philanthropic funding to and partnerships with Indigenous communities, the collection and publication of examples and case studies of best practice, the development of written advice and guidelines for setting goals and evaluating process and program outcomes for projects funded in Indigenous communities, and a conference for Australian NGOs on development partnerships with Indigenous organisations.

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