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7 min read

Giving together for women-led environmental and climate action: WELA Giving Circle

Profile of Dom O'Donnell
Written by Dom O'DonnellPosted on 9/3/2023

A new giving circle is tackling the climate crisis by getting behind women leading positive change.

“Women and gender diverse people all over Australia are stepping up to the challenges facing our planet,” says Victoria McKenzie-McHarg, Strategic Director of Women’s Environmental Leadership Australia (WELA), a not-for-profit connecting women for environmental and climate action.

“But women-led projects are chronically underfunded with less than 0.2 per cent of global charitable funding going to women’s environmental action,” says Victoria.

Enter the WELA Giving Circle – Australia’s only giving circle dedicated to funding women’s action on environment and climate issues.

In this recent conversation, Victoria reflects on women’s leadership in environmental and climate action, and the value of collaboration, in both leading and giving to the movement.

Refresher: Giving Circles
Giving circles encourage participatory philanthropy by inviting people to come together and pool their resources to support a specific cause or community. Each member is usually involved in deciding how the pooled funds will be distributed. WELA has established a Collective Giving Fund at Australian Communities Foundation to support its recently launched Giving Circle.

Tell us about Women’s Environmental Leadership Australia and the work you do.

Victoria McKenzie-McHarg: WELA is a community connecting, training and funding generations of women and gender diverse changemakers so that together we can transform Australia’s response to our environmental and climate crises. 

Victoria McKenzie-McHarg, Strategic Director, WELA

Australia has a long history of women-led environmental action. How has that history shaped WELA into the organisation it is today?

VM: WELA was founded in 2016 by a group of women who are essentially the matriarchs of the environment movement in Australia. These women ran the campaign to save the Franklin River, founded the Wilderness Society and established Bush Heritage. If it’s been a big win for our environment in the last 40 years, chances are they were there.

First Nations women have been leading for Country, Community and Culture for millennia.

But they were seeing the same gender-based issues playing out that had plagued their whole careers. They decided to do something about it and started WELA, and now the organisation is supporting diverse women who work in paid or unpaid positions for our environment and climate across all sectors and in communities right across the country.

It’s important to acknowledge that First Nations women have been leading for Country, Community and Culture for millennia. We recognise the strength of that leadership, and the central role this must play in any sustainable future we aspire to. It’s a privilege to learn from First Nations Elders throughout WELA’s programs, and to connect First Nations leaders into our programs in all ways – as participants, speakers and facilitators.  

We offer a range of scholarships to support First Nations engagement. One example is the Alumni-Funded First Nations Scholarship, which ensures the ongoing support of WELA alumni in centring the leadership of First Nations leaders in the network. 

Evidence shows that when women are at decision-making tables, you get better environmental outcomes.

Why fund women’s environmental leadership?

VM: We know that only 0.2 per cent of global funding goes to women’s environmental and climate action. We need to change that. 

International evidence shows that when women are at decision-making tables, you get better environmental outcomes. And while women across Australia are already leading for our environment, often this work is unrecognised, unsupported, and unfunded, limiting its impact and influence. If we want better outcomes, we need to support diverse women from all communities and backgrounds in their leadership and work for our environment.

Collaboration is key to WELA’s approach. Why is collaboration important for environmental leadership?

VM: Collaboration is the genesis of innovation. And we need innovation at a scale like never before. So collaboration is a core leadership skill for a sustainable future.

This is also a leadership style that is prevalent in women’s environmental leadership, alongside working with strong networks, empowering others, and being connected to and responsive to communities. Given the scale of the challenges we face, we need more of it.

When we give together, we can multiply our impact, increase connection and build power.

What advice do you have for funders looking to support climate action?

VM: There is no shortage of opportunities to have an impact, and there is so much great work taking place across the sector. If you find a project or a group that inspires you, go for it.

There is no one right strategy or one approach to the change we need. Find the people and the approach that gets you excited, and connect with them. Your commitment, your approach and your support is so valuable.

But when we give together, we can multiply our impact, increase connection and build power. That’s why we’ve started the WELA Giving Circle.

It’s exciting, and so powerful to bring people together to make and fund change. The benefits of a giving circle extend beyond the funds raised and granted, and into the power of networks to connect, inspire and enable impact and action.

How can people join the WELA Giving Circle?

VM: It is super easy! When you become a member of the WELA Giving Circle, you’ll give $20 per week or $1,000 a year. Then each year, we pool the money we raise with 50 per cent granted to women-led environmental and climate action and 50 per cent supporting WELA’s ground-breaking leadership programs.

And the best bit? All the members have a say and get to vote on where the money is going and the kind of impact we want to create. And the more members we have, the more projects we can fund.