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6 min read

Peace, people and the environment: David Ritter

Profile of Nicole Richards
Written by Nicole RichardsPosted on 12/8/2022

The newest Director to join the Australian Communities Foundation Board, David Ritter, has a long and distinguished track record serving on the front lines of climate advocacy and First Nations rights.  

After working for more than a decade in law with a focus on native title, David joined Greenpeace in London before returning to Australia to take up the Chief Executive Officer of Greenpeace Australia Pacific where he leads a talented and determined team that is “campaigning for a green and peaceful future for all”.  

An author and commentator, David is one of Australia’s leading voices for environmental and social justice. His most recent book is The Coal Truth: The Fight to Stop Adani, Defeat the Big Polluters and Reclaim our Democracy.  

David recently shared his thoughts about the catalytic role of philanthropy, the importance of advocacy, his personal giving and more. 

David Ritter Greenpeace CEO

What was it that attracted you to ACF and made you want to join the Board? 

I was attracted because ACF is a structurally important institution, crucial to the mission of building a more deeply democratic and compassionate Australia – a nation with the best interests of people and nature at the heart of decision-making.  

I’ve also admired the organisational leadership of Maree Sidey and the enormous contribution to public life of Eric Beecher for some time, and it was an honour to be asked to join the Board to participate in helping drive ACF’s mission with them and other fantastic people involved.  

I also particularly noticed and appreciated the strength of the ACF community – it is a precious thing. 

What do you hope to contribute/achieve during your time on the Board? 

My background is a mixture of law – with a particular focus on First Nations rights, environmental campaigning for Greenpeace, and governance and strategy. I’m hoping that this assorted experience will enable me to make a useful contribution to the ACF board’s deliberations under the leadership of Eric.  

The special focus for me is the climate and ecological emergency that is confronting the planet – because if we do not rise to this challenge at emergency speed and scale, all that we care about becomes impossible – and ACF can play a vital catalytic role.  

ACF, and the Impact Fund in particular, tackle some of the toughest issues we face as a country. To your mind, what are the most pressing issues facing Australia today? 

Australia is on the frontlines of the global climate and ecological emergency. We must slash emissions at emergency speed and scale, adapt our systems as best as we can to secure the safety of our people and ecosystems in the face of the climate damage that is now upon us, and act as a great global citizen to drive collective international action.  

We are just at the beginning. The climate emergency is going to place unprecedented pressure on our nation – and the challenge and opportunity is how to seize this moment, to build a better, safer society for people and nature. 

What are your thoughts on the role of philanthropy and its ability to catalyse meaningful social and environmental change? 

There is no doubt that philanthropy is capable of enabling transformative social and environmental good.  

To speak from personal experience, Greenpeace is entirely independent – we accept no money from government or business anywhere, ever – so everything we have achieved in the world over the last 50 years for peace, people and the environment, has been enabled by private giving.

   David Ritter Greenpeace Australia

David Ritter, CEO of Greenpeace and new ACF Board member.

How important is advocacy to the social change equation? 

Advocacy is fundamental to achieving change. Advocacy enables getting to root-causes – to systems change – rather than being confined to addressing symptoms.  

When it comes to climate change, for example, we have the technical and policy solutions and the popular support that is necessary. What is holding us back are the vested interests of the coal, oil and gas corporations and other big polluters. I am talking about major companies like Woodside, Santos and others.  

Just recently, for example, it was revealed that major car companies like Toyota have been holding back the electric vehicle revolution in Australia. Only targeted campaign advocacy – supported and enabled by independent philanthropy – is capable of overcoming the malign influence of vested interests. 

There is no doubt that philanthropy is capable of enabling transformative social and environmental good

Can you tell us a little about your own personal giving, the causes you focus on and any philanthropic goals you may have? 

I’ve been a monthly giver to various causes close to my heart all of my adult life. In particular, I am proud to say that I was a monthly donor to Greenpeace, long before I worked for Greenpeace – as well as supporting a number of other charities.  

I am still a monthly donor – and always enjoy getting a call from the team, to see if I would like to learn more about Greenpeace! I’m also proud to be an intending bequester to Greenpeace. The power of legacy giving is such a beautiful thing, and it means a lot to me to imagine continuing to make a contribution to the mission of securing an earth capable of nurturing life in all of its magnificent diversity, even after I am physically gone from the earth. 

Is there anything you’d like to see philanthropic givers do more (or less) of? 

There are shovel-ready environmental and climate advocacy campaigns ready to go, just needing investment – and a dollar spent today is inherently more valuable than a dollar spent tomorrow, because we are in an emergency.  

It is fantastic to see that philanthropic giving is rising to this challenge, with more and more Australians being willing to chip in, according to their capacity – and thank you to everyone who is doing so – but we are coming from a low historic base of philanthropic support for climate and environment, so greater investment is needed – and every contribution is valuable and vital.