Shaking the global tree

When traditional models have failed, it takes vision and courage to seek out new paths to tackling the world’s most pressing issues.



Story By

Jen Waters

When traditional models have failed, it takes vision and courage to seek out new paths to tackling the world’s most pressing issues. This is the passionate intent of one exceptional couple whose significant financial gift will enable risk-taking research to bring about systemic and sustained humanitarian impact.

The Olivier Ferrer Fund – named for the artist, musician and philanthropist whose estate enabled the pair’s remarkable philanthropic gift – will support research under UOW’s Global Challenges Program’s ‘Building Resilient Communities Challenge’ over the next five years.

In 2020, the Fund is calling for globally-focused proposals targeting:

  • the politics of refugee and migrant movements in an era of populist nationalism
  • systemic entrapment, inequality and injustice
  • leadership integrity which values the common good, especially regarding climate, at a time of crisis in democracy

“The donors came to us looking for bold ideas that would make a tangible difference in vulnerable communities; they unequivocally want to ‘shake the global tree’,” says Global Challenges Program Executive Director, Senior Professor Chris Gibson.

“The Building Resilient Communities challenge is about building resilience against inequality, disaster and vulnerability in an era of growing uncertainty through driving transformational change in thinking, policy, infrastructure and everyday practice. This aligns intrinsically with the donors’ determination to enable extraordinary change in the world in the best way that they possibly can.”

The Fund will support projects with a global footprint (whether through location, engagement or collaborators) and a strong commitment to using research as a catalyst to shift public debate. It seeks to flush out audacious ideas that defy norms and tackle root causes, using engaged and participatory methodologies for real-world impact.

Deeply engaged with the process, the donors will work side-by-side with the Global Challenges team to set priority areas for each annual call for proposals and select the ideas and collaborations that best address them. The first round in March 2020 will focus on research around climate action, community transformation and the prevention of inequality and injustice at the source.

Funds will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the Global Challenges Program which this year supported projects tackling multifaceted issues including antimicrobial resistance, disability, education, structural barriers to women’s empowerment, greener cities, systemic entrapment of First Nations Peoples, digital welfare innovations, and more.

With the Olivier Ferrer Fund now extending the boundaries of the possible, Senior Professor Gibson says that there’s no telling just what kind of initiatives will be unearthed.

“The donors have made it clear that they’re not looking for incremental change. They want to really push the boundaries and look at these core, systemic causes of disadvantage and how we can boldly address them from different perspectives; that’s incredibly exciting,” he explains.

“Enabling our researchers to move beyond the scope of existing funding systems emboldens them to address complex challenges in radical new ways. There’s a freedom to take risks and engage more deeply with communities and issues at their source, and that’s a place from which genuine innovation and change can grow.”

UOW’s Director of Advancement, Monique Harper-Richardson, describes the couple – who wish to remain anonymous to ensure the focus remains on the research and the vision it will enact – as inspiring young philanthropists.

“They are enormously passionate and courageous, and they don’t want to wait to make positive change in these humanitarian issues that are close to their hearts,” she says.

“That they actively sought us out from the other side of the world as a partner that shared their ideals and goals and could help them bring about this fundamental change… I think that’s extraordinary.

“Philanthropy is about the opportunity to do things that you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to do. In supporting unconventional research that may otherwise not receive funding, they are enabling our best minds to come together to genuinely drive thought leadership and transformation for humanity. We’re enormously grateful, and deeply inspired by just what this partnership could create,” says Harper-Richardson.

Senior Professor Gibson agrees.

“We’re honoured that the donors have entrusted us with this opportunity to help them enact their inspiring vision,” he says.

“We truly believe that this will create real change in the world, and in our most vulnerable communities in particular.”

Global Challenges Program

UOW’s Global Challenges Program harnesses the expertise of world-class researchers across a variety of disciplines to lead transformational change across four key themes: Building Resilient Communities, Making Future Industries, Sustaining Coastal and Marine Zones, and Living Well, Longer.

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