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Long-sighted Investment: Wicking Trust, TACSI and 5.3 million Baby Boomers

Author: Carolyn Curtis, TACSI and Tabitha Lovett, Equity Trustees
Published Date: 20 July 2015

This article originally appeared in Generosity Magazine.

Carolyn Curtis from The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) and Tabitha Lovett from Equity Trustees bring their unique perspectives to a grant that seeks nothing short of systemic change.

Investing to Understand the Problem Before Building the Solution 

For decades we’ve been hearing about the coming demographic transformation, when millions of Baby Boomers will move beyond their middle years into their senior years. This transformation is now upon us. Yet, this social challenge remains stuck in concern at every level.

At TACSI, we’ve been given a rare and exciting opportunity, through the leadership of the J.O. & J.R. Wicking Trust and Equity Trustees, to find new ways to meet the needs of the 5.3 million ageing Baby Boomers in Australia.

The Wicking Trust’s investment will help us make a systemic impact in ageing, funding a significant project rather than smaller scale programs for a short period.

So often when applying for funds you have to be able to articulate upfront the precise solution that will create impact. The exciting opportunity here is philanthropy investing in an organisation to understand the problem before building the solution.

This $1.7 million grant over three years will give us an opportunity to understand the diversity that exists within the Baby Boomer population and develop solutions that reflect that diversity.

Through the participation of Baby Boomers, policy makers, funders and organisations we will imagine what a system looks like for the transformational demographic change upon us; a system that enables people to live the lives they want as they age.

Part of this process will be embracing failure, learning from it and trying the next thing.

Our mission for this grant is to develop and spread six solutions that improve the experience of ageing for our Baby Boomer population and demonstrate the role of innovation in improving people’s quality of life.

Between TACSI and the other organisations funded by the J.O. & J.R. Wicking Trust there is an exciting opportunity to influence policy and the broader system.

TACSI exists to demonstrate how innovation changes lives – The Wicking Trust have given us an outstanding opportunity to move one step closer to ensuring Baby Boomers experience positive ageing.

By Carolyn Curtis, The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI)

For more information about TACSI’s innovative work, read this: Shifting Big, Stuck Problems: What is TACSI? or  take a look at their website.

Supporting the Design and Test Phase to Develop Long-Term Solutions 

The J.O. & J.R. Wicking Trust was established through the Will of John Oswald Wicking who passed away in June 2002.

The Trust which is now worth close to $100 million distributes around $5 million annually through strategic grants and is one of Australia’s most significant charitable trusts. Equity Trustees is the sole trustee of the Wicking Trust.

John and Janet Wicking were remarkably generous people. They met and fell in love before WWII but had to wait until 1946 to marry when John returned home after four years as a prisoner of war.

Janet Wicking was a member of the Ramsay family which founded the Kiwi Polish Company. In 1964, John was invited to join the Kiwi Polish Company Board and in the 1980s he was appointed managing director of what was by then was an international, public company.

John was the driving force between the merger with Nicholas Aspro, a Melbourne-based pharmaceutical company.  In 1984, the company was bought by US-based Consolidated Foods Corporation and, in 1985, John retired as chairman. John was a board member of Vision Australia for 18 years and in 1986 was awarded an AM for services to industry and the blind. Janet was a generous supporter and volunteer with many charitable organisations which informed the focus of their philanthropic legacy.

The 2012 Strategic Review of the Wicking Trust provided an opportunity to review and reflect upon the first eight years of the Trust’s operation and the ways in which philanthropy could affect systemic change in a particular area.

The feedback from grant recipients and the sector indicated that while the Trust was supporting great work in the area of aging and Alzheimer’s, it was falling short of the Trust’s stated goal of achieving systemic change.

Subsequently, the Trust’s guidelines were amended: “To invest in organisations that seek to make systemic impact in the wellness and quality of life of the aged and/or those with or at risk of Alzheimer’s disease.”

Equity Trustees was impressed by TACSI’s innovative approach to tackling social problems. TACSI’s co-design process seeks to engage all parts of the system (including, and especially, those most affected by the social issue) and is firmly fixed on developing and testing solutions.

In particular, we looked at the success of TACSI’s Family by Family peer-to-peer program – how it was developed and the results it is achieving.

Our research also indicated that TACSI is well-led and has a strong board with an appropriate mix of skills and expertise for the type of work that it undertakes.

We were aware that TACSI had previously had to make some strategic and operational decisions to ensure its long-term viability and we were satisfied that the organisation was on a good footing and had a good trajectory.

The Wicking Trust has committed to funding TACSI for three years and from the outset, we spoke with TACSI about how they might use the Wicking Trust’s funding to help them undertake work for which it is difficult to attract funding.

The design and test phases and other early stage work are vital to the development of long-term solutions, but to other funders it may seem a bit risky or ‘not concrete enough’. 

In terms of the longer-term impact – which will likely take more than the initial three-year funding period currently committed by the Trust – we are hopeful that TACSI’s work will create:

- an environment in which Baby Boomers are actively involved in designing solutions at all levels

- innovative ideas which are scalable and adaptive to the diverse needs of aging Baby Boomers

- diverse and scalable business models that can reduce predicted economic repercussions of our ageing population

- shifts in societal attitudes which recognise the potential of older people

- political commitment to new policies and systems that harness innovation and improve outcomes.

By Tabitha Lovett, General Manager Philanthropy, Equity Trustees

To learn more about Equity Trustee’s philanthropic services, click here.