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4 min read

Meet Maree Sidey, Chief Executive Officer

Profile of Nicole Richards
Written by Nicole RichardsPosted on 7/10/2021

Maree Sidey is resolutely not the kind of person who thinks small.

“I’m the daughter of a Baptist minister and a social worker, so social justice runs through my veins,” Maree says. “My passion has always been macro projects in systems-based work.”

Throughout her career Maree has sought maximum impact, whether in her earliest days as a social worker, as co-author of a violence prevention initiative in schools that went on to have global reach, or now in her role as Chief Executive Officer at Australian Communities Foundation – a position she has held since 2015.

Maree with her family.

“I started off in family services, working with kids in out of home care and that’s a really tough end of the sector where it can feel like there are very few wins,” Maree remembers.

Maree went on to spend 20 years in the non-profit sector with organisations such as Berry Street, Orygen Youth Health, Headspace and Australian Drug Foundation, in roles spanning community programs, communications and public relations. This deep immersion in the NFP sector, she says, is what enables her “to put myself in the shoes of the organisations we give to and understand the challenges NFP leaders face”.

Activating a nation of givers

In her six years at the helm of Australian Communities Foundation (ACF), Maree has overseen the organisation’s substantial growth to become one of the largest and most active donor communities in the country.

Maree in her beekeeping suit in her garden.

Under Maree’s leadership, the Foundation has doubled in size and scope, expanded its services to include support for private foundations and become a recognised leader in responsible investing – all while holding true to its mission of making giving easy and accessible.

“We have become a home for ordinary Australians who want to make a difference on issues of social and environmental justice”

“All the amazing ingredients that make ACF what it is have always been there,” Maree says. “What we’ve done over recent years is take those ingredients and amplified the message to make sure that everyone can see both what we stand for and the shared values that are at the heart of the Foundation”.

“I feel that we’ve found a way to tell the story about ACF and the people who join us and the work we achieve together, that really resonates and inspires people to get involved in giving. That’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”

“We have become a home for ordinary Australians who want to make a difference on issues of social and environmental justice, who want to learn from others, give together and have a sense of being able to make a difference on issues that can sometimes feel insurmountable.

“I’m also really lucky in that I work with hands-down the best team in philanthropy. We have great leadership across the organisation and a group of passionate, enthusiastic professionals who come from many different walks of life but are united around the belief that we can support people and inspire great giving.”

With the number of funds and foundations at Australian Communities Foundation about to surpass 400, the giving community and the social and environmental change it enables, is a constant source of inspiration for Maree.

“Talking to the donors and hearing about what they’re doing with their generosity is my favourite part of the job,” she says.

“ACF donors are people who care deeply about the tough issues facing Australia and the world, and that flies in the face of the gloomy narrative that we’re constantly fed about our society becoming more individualistic.”

“What we see at ACF is the counternarrative, it’s one of those bright spots that we don’t always hear about. It breaks down that myth that philanthropists are all uber wealthy – that’s just not the case. More often than not, they are ordinary, generous people who want to make a difference,” Maree continues.

“Ultimately giving is an expression of who you are in the world and what you believe in. When we have large groups of people giving together through vehicles like the ACF Impact Fund or National Crisis Response Fund it is incredibly satisfying because we have been able to achieve real change on issues such as refugee rights, abortion reform, gun control, pokie reform, LGBTIQ equality, gender equality and saving the reef. And that’s the power of a Foundation like ACF.

That’s not to say that Maree is ready to take her foot off the accelerator. Looking ahead, she says there are several areas in which she would like to be able to make a difference.

“There are the complex issues of First Nations self-determination and decolonising wealth that I sit with and think about,” she says, adding that she’s looking forward to getting a First Nations Advisory Group established within the Foundation.

“I am glad to see the dawning realisation in Australia that we can’t support First Nations groups well philanthropically unless we’re actually putting the decision making of Indigenous communities at the front and centre of the work.

In her own personal giving, Maree’s instinct and intent for systems-wide change is no less pronounced.

“For me, I continue to be deeply concerned about the growing inequity in Australia,” she says with a sigh.

“As a mum to three kids, gender is another issue that keeps me awake at night. And of course, the environment, which from my perspective this is THE issue of our time, the one we will be called to account on by our children and their children.

An avid gardener, beekeeper and chicken enthusiast, being outdoors in nature is one of the places Maree regularly retreats to in order to rest and recharge.  

“Any downtime I have I spend it in my garden, growing fruit and vegetables and creating beautiful landscapes with living things – that’s my flow task and creative outlet,” she says.

“I also love cooking and if the weather keeps me from the garden, then my next go-to is putting on some music, donning the apron and cooking big meals with a glass of wine on hand. It’s even more enjoyable if I’m nicking back and forth to the garden to get herbs and vegies – I love it!”

Maree Sidey is Chief Executive Officer at Australian Communities Foundation and Non-Executive Director at the Centre for Australian Progress and Australian Community Philanthropy.