Building capability and resilience in times of crisis and beyond

Key themesWho we are


Civil Society is where we act not for profit or because the law requires us to, but out of love, anger, creativity, or principle.
By capturing and sharing Australian and international insights,  stories and strategies we support civil society to become a powerful engine of creativity, connection, knowledge and innovation grounded in everyday lived experience.
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Why do we need this now?

In moments of crisis like the catastrophic 2019-2020 bushfire season or the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us come to rely on each other, our communities, and Australia’s many independent, non-government for-purpose organisations to survive and thrive.

From advocating in the halls of government for essential policy measures to coordinating food deliveries to people in need and looking after our neighbours – these are times when we take action and step up, when organisations work around the clock to provide essential support to the community, and when wholly new groups and networks emerge to help and connect with people who are at risk of ‘falling through the cracks’.

Always, and especially at times of crisis, it is vital that our civil society is vibrant, responsive, courageous, well-connected and in touch with the people who rely on it most.

These times also hold crucial reflections and experiences – about weaknesses or shortcomings in our organisations, systems and even leaders, but also about new opportunities or different ways of doing things, and bold and creative initiatives and innovations.

The stories and the lessons about what has worked and what hasn’t must be unearthed, captured and shared. Together, we can release their potential, so that we all have ideas and strategies at our fingertips to learn, act, support each other and drive positive change in these rapidly changing times.

Key themes

How can we build a more powerful and re-energised civil society? Whether we lead or work in organisations, are active in our communities, invest through philanthropy or want to provide support in government – what will this require from all of us?

By bringing together experiences and expertise of practitioners and community groups across Australia and drawing on leading thinking from around the world, we will together explore these questions through four key themes of leadership, community connection, systems and networks, and influencing and advocacy.

Are ideas changing about what it means to ‘lead’?

Leadership isn’t a position, it’s a practice. So what kinds of skills are needed to lead an organisation or a community, during and beyond of times of crisis? How do leaders balance the need to be decisive with the need to encourage leadership in others? This review area examines the kinds of leadership exhibited across Australian civil society, including how prepared leaders have felt to meet the challenges of COVID-19, where they have drawn support from, and how this relates to experiences in other sectors and internationally.

How well do we listen to the communities we represent and serve?

Governments, businesses and for-purpose organisations all talk about the importance of community engagement, but how genuine is this commitment and what does ‘engagement’ really mean? How do we get past token consultation into genuine relationships? This review area examines how different for-purpose organisations have attempted to  connect with people and communities, before and during COVID-19, identifying success stories and learning from tough challenges. It asks questions such as –  have those who needed help “fallen through the cracks” and failed to receive the supports they need? What role can technology plan in delivering services and building social connections?

How do we collaborate and coordinate effectively?

Working together as part of a team – whether within or across organisations or groups – is a fundamental feature of a strong civil society. Sadly, the value to collaboration of shared spaces and relationship building can be difficult, if not impossible, to quantify. So how do we ensure our funders and leaders understand their importance? This review area explores how existing systems and networks were put to the test during COVID-19, and investigates how important the strength of existing networks was to meeting community need. Were our systems up to the task of responding to fast changing circumstances? What new connections do we need to make to prepare for the future?

Are we changing the way we think about achieving change?

Ongoing crises, new technologies and political polarisation are forcing activists and for-purpose organisations to re-examine the methods they use to try and bring about change. But who benefits from our campaigns and advocacy? What is the difference between campaigning for people and campaigning with them? This review area looks at attempts to influence public policy during COVID-19 – what did the crisis reveal about how much government requires the expertise and connection of for-purpose organisations? How do rapid-response campaigns differ from working for long-term systems change? Did COVID-19 push certain issues and groups of people off the agenda entirely?

Let's collaborate

Through conversations and interviews, roundtables and workshops, community events and panels, academic research and discussion papers, we are creating a space for civil society leaders to share their own insights and reflections.

Are you interested in this work? Would you like to share your story, or that of your community or organisation? Participate and join the conversation!

Together, we will discuss how our world and the nature of civil society is changing, the impacts of increasing demands and stresses on our organisations and communities in times of crisis, and capabilities we need to build in order to be able to rise to these challenges, adapt and emerge stronger.

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Strengthening Australian Civil Society

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