Investment to build new generation of leaders

A seismic US$50 million investment in societal change in Australia and New Zealand by US-based Atlantic Philanthropies will create a new Fellowship program led by the University of Melbourne that will train a new generation of leaders committed to tackling social disadvantage.

With an additional $40 million in support from the Australian Government, the new Pacific regional hub of the Atlantic Fellows for Social Equity Program will award 25 new Fellowships a year for 20 years. Total funding will amount to $160 million, including contributions and in kind support from the University of Melbourne and its partners including the University of Auckland, Queensland University of Technology, the Brotherhood of St Laurence, the Business Council of Australia, and Jawun.

A major focus will be on recruiting potential leaders from excluded groups, particularly Indigenous Australians, to drive change from the grass roots up.

It will create over its lifespan a cohort of up to 500 leaders from a range of backgrounds, sectors and disciplines to help future proof the country against the corroding affects of social exclusion that governments around the world have struggled to address. It is one of the largest philanthropic contributions to an Australian university and is unique in being specifically targeted at positive social change.

Professor Marcia Langton, AM, says the program is unprecedented its ambition and the range of partners involved, making it nothing short of “nation building”.

Marcia Langton Professor Marcia Langton says the program is nothing short of “nation building’’. Picture: Alan Porritt/AAP

“There is a growing realisation around the world that social exclusion, especially economic exclusion, is putting democratic societies at risk, and that makes an investment like this in future leaders from excluded populations a nation-building exercise that will help ensure a healthy and secure society,” says Professor Langton, the Foundation Chair in Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne.

The program was announced in Canberra by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis on October 14.

It will be initially focused on Australia and New Zealand, but will be expanded to other Pacific Nations to create a regional hub of leadership training to combat disadvantage.

“When people consider the need for major investment to improve the county and prepare it for the future they often think of investing in infrastructure. But what is forgotten is that it is people who drive positive change and this is what the Australian Atlantic Fellows are all about,” says Program chairman Professor Tom Calma, AO, one of Australia’s foremost social justice campaigners and Chancellor of the University of Canberra.

“It is about investing in human capital and leadership rather than in physical capital.”

Professor Calma is a former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and Race Discrimination Commissioner, whose landmark Social Justice Report in 2005 was the catalyst for the Close the Gap campaign. The ongoing campaign, which was taken up by government, calls for the life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians to be closed within a generation.

Read the full story in Pursuit