Skip to main content

The Strengthening Australian Civil Society research team is excited to launch its first major report – Nurturing Links Across Civil Society: The Australian For-Purpose Sector’s Response to COVID-19.

Built on in-depth conversations with civil society leaders from across Australia between 2020 and 2021, this new report from the Sydney Policy Lab offers crucial insights into the for-purpose sectors ability to help people in need during crisis and beyond.

The report signals the end of the first phase of the Sydney Policy Lab’s strategic partnership with the Paul Ramsay Foundation – Strengthening Australian Civil Society. 

“Building the civil society of the 21st century has never been more important. It involves strengthening and agitating existing organisations, as well as creating new institutions. Reflecting on this practice in partnership with others, with the discipline of research partners, can have a long-term benefit to the civil society groups that are essential to our common life and democracy. Devett Kennedy, Queensland Community Alliance (p.13) 

This report explores in-depth and expands on the interim findings released in August 2021, structured around four interconnected capability areas which for-purpose leaders need to grapple with, to support people and communities in crisis and beyond: leadership, community connection, systems and networks, and advocacy and influence.  

To support for-purpose sector reflection and learning, the research identifies various barriers and enablers to working in each of these capability areas.

The report illustrates how Australian civil society leaders grappled with these challenges through numerous case studies, along with four COVID-19 Stories illustrating the interconnectedness of the capability areas: Responses to COVID-19 from Australia’s First Nations; The Melbourne Towers COVID-19 lockdown; Food Security and COVID-19; and Non-citizens and COVID-19.

Cutting across multiple capability areas, the report identifies six core recommendations for nurturing and strengthening the links across civil society: 

For civil society organisations: 

  1. Organisations should develop or renew their strategies and plans to deepen collaborations and share power with communities beyond the organisation itself. 
  2. Larger organisations should consider how to share power and resources to create opportunities and platforms for smaller organisations and communities. 

For legislators and policy makers: 

  1. Encourage advocacy and constructive criticism from across civil society. 
  2. Devolve strategic decision-making to local communities. 

For philanthropists and other funders:  

  1. Increase funding for intermediaries and hubs 
  2. Increase funding for organisational collaboration and relationship building 

The Strengthening Australian Civil Society team would like to thank our research partners and the civil society leaders who shared their stories and insights throughout this first phase of the research process – through interviews, workshops, public events and direct feedback on drafts of the report. 

In the next phase, our research team will test and expand upon these findings, exploring their application through place-based capability-oriented workshops co-designed with local partners, engagement with a broader cross-section of civil society leaders and practitioners, and through a series of public events. 

We would love to hear your thoughts on this report! If you are interested in getting involved and sharing your reflections, feel free to contact Project Lead Leah Emmanuel on 

The full report is available for download here. 

Mark Riboldi

Mark Riboldi

Mark is a researcher at the Sydney Policy Lab, with a focus on collaborative policy development and the intersections between communities, governments and civil society.