Creative sourcing for philanthropic leverage: a client case study 

by Fiona Higgins

The Ward Family Foundation Fund (WFFF) was established in 2016 as a giving fund of the APS Foundation by Kevin Ward and two of his children, Julie Ward and Stephen Ward, with the support of their siblings, Donna, Colleen and Caroline.  

During the first COVID-19 lockdown in March to May 2020, director Stephen Ward negotiated some innovative sourcing deals to ensure WFFF’s philanthropic funds were leveraged for greatest impact, specifically to assist children experiencing educational disadvantage in the radical shift to an online learning environment.  

Stephen Ward (pictured right) explains:  

‘We were concerned about how many students were out there without digital access to laptops and internet connectivity. I’m passionate about education and pedagogy. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, so I’m four years into my part-time Bachelor of Education with two years to go. After 40 years pursuing a very different career path in financial services, my goal is to spend the last ten years of my working life educating kids in mathematics.  

We reached out to Story Factory (SF) in the first instance and had a chat to Cath Keenan. There’s a bunch of schools she works with where children don’t have access to laptops and equipment, or five siblings are sharing a laptop, and it was important that her creative writing programs kept being offered to marginalised young people during the pandemic.  

Students of Chifley College, Shalvey Campus, involved in the Story Factory program.

Meanwhile, we also learned about the work of Public Education Foundation (PEF) and spoke to David Hetherington about their scholarships for kids in Years 10 to 12. Our particular interest was to focus on removing barriers for Year 12 kids who were experiencing so much disruption to their HSC year, but we wanted to do it in the most efficient and leveraged way.  

We landed on the concept of providing 100 laptops to PEF and 200 for the SF, but we negotiated the purchase of them in an innovative way, through WorkVentures. I’d come across WorkVentures in my work in recent years at Social Traders. They’re a certified social enterprise that inspires social inclusion through technology.  

WorkVentures has an incredible service where they take donated laptops and other hardware from corporates and turn them into top-spec items. They increase the RAM of each item, do upgrades to the latest operating systems and software, and offer six months of free support from their helpdesk. The helpdesk is manned by young people experiencing disadvantage who are trained up to work in tech, so it’s a virtuous circle of support. 

The WorkVentures team building laptops for Public Education Foundation & Story Factory 

We bought the laptops from WorkVentures and made sure we provided some extra funding to cover distribution and delivery to SF and PEF. One of the biggest challenges, of course, was getting connectivity for the laptops. We explored a few different avenues and, in the end, went with Optus; they have an innovative program called Donate Your Data, designed to help Australians who need data.  

We’ve been led by PEF and WorkVentures on evaluating the impact of the programs. From our end, there are no onerous acquittals necessary – we don’t expect deep analytics on how the kids used the laptops. For the SF, the fact they’ve been able to give infrastructure to help needy kids continue with their creative writing might help attract more kudos with their key stakeholders. Certainly the anecdotal feedback from kids involved in the programs has been encouraging: 

A participant in the Public Education Foundation program.

Having a laptop would mean so much to me and my single mum, to better my education. (SF) 

I have four siblings and we share one laptop for studying online which is hard for me to follow my schedules on time. I tried to borrow a laptop from the school but they said there are no more laptops, so the really important thing now for me that I get a laptop for my studies and also to be able to work on my homework easier and faster. (PEF) 

Our giving fund isn’t a large one, we’ve got about $650,000 in it and we’d already fulfilled our 4% when the pandemic hit – but here we were thinking about donating another $120,000 through this initiative.  

We sat down and had a family discussion about it and thought, well, it’s at times like this that philanthropy is really needed. We’re not going to see anything like this again in our lifetimes. The market reduction isn’t important from a giving perspective – that’s exactly the time when you need to ramp up, rather than worry about diminishing returns. So we decided to jump in and give more than the 4% mandated minimum. 

My sister Julie and I then started hatching a plan for a bigger campaign around this initiative. We were interested in proving it in pilot form then spreading the word so we could scale it. That’s a bit more difficult to do now for a few reasons, including the fact that the kids all went back to school at the end of last term, so the urgency around infrastructure for home-schooling decreased – but that might change, of course, at very short notice. The shifting nature of the pandemic could see rolling school closures, which only makes this kind of support more important. 

Overall, we’re really pleased to have played a part in supporting three top organisations to deliver critical infrastructure to young people experiencing educational disadvantage during such a difficult time.’ 

Stephen Ward