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9 min read

Catalysts, connectors and citizen activists: NEXUS 2021 Australia Summit

Profile of Nicole Richards
Written by Nicole RichardsPosted on 29/1/2021

This story has been produced through the Australian Communities Foundation and NEXUS Australia partnership.

If you feel a surge of positive energy in the social change space in early March, there’s a good chance the NEXUS 2021 Australia Summit will have had something to do with it.

NEXUS gatherings are renowned for the connections and crackling energy they generate, and next month’s Australia Summit (2-4 March) will bring together 200 next-generation changemakers spanning the fields of philanthropy, social enterprise and public influence.

Lucy Steggles, Regional Director and Co-Chair of NEXUS Australia, says the fifth Australia Summit which will be virtual with some in-person events, promises to be the best yet.

“It was challenging to decide to go digital with this Summit, but it has meant that we now have access to more incredible international speakers and delegates, so the networking sessions will be more international,” Lucy says.  

The speaker line-up includes iconic conservationist, Dr Jane Goodall, mental health advocate Zak Williams, leading Indigenous advocate Apryl Watson, climate activist Doha Khan, Chris Cooper, campaigns director at Purpose and many more.

Rachel Gerrol, NEXUS CEO and Co-founder says the global network of changemakers is governed by the paradigm that “we are all in this together.”

“NEXUS members tackle global issues supported by a strong and active community of brothers and sisters from around the world,” she explains. “That’s why we call it the NEXUS family and use the hashtag #weareNEXUS.”

In the lead up to the 2021 Australia Summit, Rachel and Lucy shared their thoughts about the power and possibility of next-generation changemakers.

So much social change has been led by young people for decades – why do you think next-gen leaders are so critical to the social change equation?

Rachel Gerrol: History shows that young people are often key drivers of social progress at the local, national and global level. As catalysts, connectors and citizen activists, young people are taking to the streets and the internet superhighways in the name of social change. They dare to dream – to imagine a world better than the one we have today – and are unafraid of using their voices in the name of the issues they stand for.  

These young social change leaders have an almost bottomless well of bravery and they are undaunted by challenges that rise up around them. They share a collective and palpable sense of relentless optimism, untarnished by years of pushing up against systems of change, which has often led older generations to grow understandably weary of the fight. Young leaders are creating a ripple of hope that all generations are touched and inspired by and using new tools and tech to do so.  

Lucy Steggles: Young people have the ideas, the creativity and the energy to create a better world. Young people are also full of hope; and through innovation and imagination, they find new ways to solve complex problems.

With regards to philanthropic giving, Australia is on the cusp of the largest intergenerational wealth transfer in our history. $AU 3.5 trillion of wealth will be transferred over the next 20 years from the baby boomers to the next generation. The next generation of philanthropic donors are going to be the most significant philanthropists in history. They will have more resources to give, and they want to give those resources over the course of their entire lives, and they want to change and innovate in the way we give.

After the tumult of 2020, what do you see as the biggest opportunities for change in 2021?

LS: 2020 created a tipping point, giving us time to step back and look at how we want to do things differently, and how we want to build back as we move through 2021 and beyond. For many, I believe the bushfires highlighted the need for more urgent action on climate, so we are really starting to see communities, funders, corporate leaders, and advocacy groups activating more around that issue.

I think 2020 also proved that when put to the challenge, social and environmental change makers can move fast, be agile and innovative; and when supported by flexible and adaptive funding partners, great change can happen quickly. I’m hopeful that we can maintain some of that agility and innovation into 2021 and beyond. 

RG: More than ever before the younger generation sees themselves as global citizens – and they are leveraging their tech and social media savvy to connect with one another, learn each other’s stories and about the challenges different communities are facing around the world. They are finding ways to collaborate in making change happen at scale, borrowing best practices from one another and leaning into newfound skillsets of political advocacy and community organising that proved successful in 2020 in countries across the world.

What does it mean to be part of the NEXUS community? What’s unique about it and personally, what does it mean to each of you?

LS: I would say that the key differentiators for NEXUS are that firstly and importantly it is a place for the younger generation (2040) to connect and learn; it’s an international network (I now have NEXUS contacts all over the world); and it’s uniquely energising, inspiring, and driven by action.

I was first connected to NEXUS in 2015. I was pretty ‘green’ at the time, but since then I have been to two Australia Summits and three NEXUS Global Summits and I have learnt so much through participation in NEXUS events. I can honestly say that being a part of the NEXUS community has allowed me to meet some of the most inspiring, creative, incredible and compassionate people of my life. You become part of an international community of like-minded peers, all who are using their time, treasure and talent to dream of a bright future.

RG: When you travel as a NEXUS member, you never travel alone.  I firmly believe that it’s the chances you take and the people you meet – that come to define your life.  

As a NEXUS member, you are part of a global community with members from over 70 countries who share your desire to create a better world through philanthropy, impact investing and social entrepreneurship. You will meet people from diverse backgrounds that you would otherwise never have the opportunity to meet and find lifelong friends and allies who inspire you and seek out ways to amplify your efforts to better the world. Collaboration is the essence of NEXUS and there are few other communities you can join where you know that a key reason anyone wishes to be participate is because they want to help accelerate the dreams of the members they meet!

What are your thoughts on the evolution of philanthropy in all its guises, including impact investing and social entrepreneurship?

RG: There are many types of wealth and many types of currencies for doing good. I see young people leveraging them all! Currencies of philanthropy can include access, influence, stature, time and talent in addition to philanthropic and investment capital and family business opportunities.

Whatever your currencies for doing good are, my challenge is to ask, ‘What are you going to do with them?’ Whether you are deploying capital in new ways, thinking creatively about how to use family business for social impact or leveraging the stature of your family name to press for social change – never hold back. Give it all you’ve got because the world needs leaders just like you. 

LS: Philanthropy is changing. There are so many new ways that you can have impact from impact investment and socially responsible investing, to advocacy, and new tech-enabled social impact models. The next generation is revolutionising giving. We are entering a new age of philanthropic innovation and expansion.

In terms of thematic cause areas, traditionally a lot of funding has gone to health and medical research, but with the next generation coming through, we are seeing a generational move towards more funding in things like climate and environment, mental health, and racial/ justice and diversity.

Who are some young leaders to watch?

LS: I’m going to pick three Australians, because I think we have some of the best talent in the world:

Josh Ross and Adam McCurdie two young Australian blokes who founded Humanitix, a ticketing platform (and registered charity) taking on the global ticketing industry, aimed at transforming the billions of dollars in booking fees into charitable donations. Soon after launching, the organisation was funded by the Atlassian Foundation and NSW Government and won the Google Impact Challenge.

Doha Khan – an 18-year old climate activist, based in Adelaide. At 16, Doha was involved in co-founding the South Australian branch of the School Strike 4 Climate movement, inspired by Greta Thunberg. She also played a leading role in organising the Australian #ClimateStrike events in 2018 and 2019 which saw close to 20,000 South Australians take to the streets in support for action on climate change. Doha is speaking at our upcoming NEXUS Australia Summit.

Grace Forrest Grace is co-founder of Walk Free, a global organisation to end modern slavery, and a director of the Minderoo Foundation. Grace is the youngest appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Association of Australia and was selected as one of ten global leaders in One Young World’s Young Leaders Against Sexual Violence initiative. Grace is the daughter of Andrew and Nicola Forrest. She spoke at the NEXUS Australia summit in 2018.

RG: Two Australian leaders I am incredibly excited to meet and learn from are Benson Saulo, Australia’s first Indigenous consul-general appointed to the United States, and climate activist Doha Khan. I’m also looking forward to hearing from Zak Wlliams, son of the late actor Robin Williams, who has dedicated his life to tackling the mental health crisis through his investments, his new business venture and by serving on philanthropic boards to break stigma.

The delegates coming to the NEXUS Australia summit are quite simply some of the most exceptional leaders of our generation. They are bright, articulate, observant, creative, ambitious, self-reflective, and kind.  I suggest that these are the essential ingredients of a remarkable human being, and our delegates have them in abundance. My favourite moment of each summit is actually the very closing minutes, when although we think the journey has come to an end, we realise that it is JUST THE BEGINNING of all we are going to do together, for Australia and the world!