Claire, Nic, Jonny, Jasmine and John founded the donkey wheel Charitable Trust and Fund in 2004. With backgrounds in economics, the arts, design, and film, they wanted to create an organisation that wouldn’t simply follow in the path of others, but would try different ways of creating change, that would be audacious, a catalyst, and that would fund projects others wouldn’t. They wanted to search for stories that would both light them up and light up others, inspiring other people to take risks and try new ways of addressing old problems.
donkey wheel has never had one specific area of interest. Instead we have searched for projects that inspire. These are some of the grants that have shaped our identity.
In 2006 donkey wheel funded the Stolenwealth Games campaign $1,000 for a sign to go on the Southgate foot bridge over the Yarra at the start of the Melbourne Commonwealth Games.
“There were Aboriginal protesters who definitely didn’t have any commonwealth. There were African athletes arriving without runners, the Commonwealth was not common wealth. Those letters only stuck on that bridge for half an hour maybe. They weren’t there very long, but then they went up to Camp Sovereignty, up on the Domain, and stayed there, which was available for aerials for the whole of the commonwealth games.
“The last radio report I heard on the queen was that the queen has left Australia today, and her parting words to Prime Minister Howard were “I do hope the Aboriginal people are sharing in the wealth of all Australians”. And I just thought, maybe. Maybe she saw it. Who knows. Something like that you’ve got no idea what it does.”
Claire Brunner, 2014.
the burning season
The Burning Season is a documentary by Cathy Henkel released in 2008 that looks at the wide scale clearing of rainforest in Indonesia resulting from the palm oil industry, the plight of the orangutangs that lose their habitat, and the ethical implications and possibilities of carbon trading for Indonesia. It follows Dorjee Sun, an Australian environmental entrepreneur, Achmadi, a small scale palm oil farmer, and Lone Droscher Nielsen, a Dutch conservationist.
“Claire’s support made [it] happen,” said Cathy. “She was the first person to see its potential.”
donkey wheel offered Cathy a grant, but she insisted that it be seen as a loan instead. If the film was successful she would be able to pay it back, and the money could then be invested in another project. The Burning Season went on to win the Brisbane Film Festival Audience Choice Award 2008, the Inside Film Award for Best Documentary, and Cathy was awarded the Screen Producer Association of Australia’s Documentary Producer of the Year Award for her work on the film. It was also nominated for an EMMY for Outstanding Documentary on a Business Topic.
After the film’s success, instead of accepting repayment of the loan, donkey wheel ‘regranted’ it to pay for an Indonesian translation of the documentary so it could be distributed as widely as possible.
The Australians for Affordable Housing campaign aimed to highlight the lack of affordable housing for people on low income. It was launched in 2007.
“We became aware of the project and liked its potential for widespread change. We didn’t want to put money into the general research. We felt that was already being looked after by the interested parties. However we did want to do something. What we were concerned about was that there would be good quality research that may not go anywhere. So we talked to David Imber and suggested we would like to provide a grant for what happened after the research was done to ensure that the information was disseminated far and wide. It was about getting the information out to the wider community. I think it is vital for philanthropy to be proactive and to be that encouraging voice behind making change happen.”
Claire Brunner, Time Will Tell: showcasing stories of good philanthropy, Helen McPherson Smith Trust