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Guiding a nation's generosity, Maree Sidey

Updated: May 15, 2023

Welcome to Purposely with Maree Sidey, CEO of the Australian Communities Foundation.


As a unique donor-advised fund with total funds of over £150 million, the foundation aims to activate a nation of givers. It was established in 1997 by Marion Webster OAM and Hayden Raysmith AM, with the assistance of the late Peter Hero from the highly successful San Francisco Community Foundation. They pioneered the community foundation model in Australia, initially establishing the Melbourne Community Foundation, which later became the Australian Communities Foundation in 2011.


Maree has been leading the foundation since 2015, and under her leadership, the organization has doubled in size, reach, and impact over the past eight years. In this episode, Maree discusses a wide range of topics and issues, both professional and personal. She shares her personal journey as the daughter of a minister, her passion for social justice, and the significance of values-based leadership and authenticity in the workplace (as well as at home as a mother to teenagers!). It's a fascinating conversation that showcases one of the success stories of people-powered philanthropy.


‘Social justice runs through my veins. As the daughter of a social worker and a Baptist minister, the values of justice, equity, privilege, inclusion, and giving voice to the marginalized were deeply ingrained in our family and shaped the way we perceived the world’.


Initially, Maree pursued a career as a social worker, developing a deep passion for a systemic approach to understanding the world. She analysed underlying dynamics and sought ways to intervene and create a fairer system. This focus has remained constant throughout her career, whether she was working in Child and Family Services, Youth Mental Health organizations, or even in the realm of drug and alcohol services and community sports clubs. Her goal has always been to promote social justice and effect positive change. Maree also explains how this commitment led her to her current role in philanthropy.


Maree is passionate about Australian generosity and is well-positioned to discuss it, comparing the local approach to that of the United States.


We tend to be less public about our contributions, which can pose a challenge in fostering a culture of giving. Peer-to-peer conversations play a crucial role in encouraging others to give by openly discussing the reasons behind our own philanthropic choices and the organizations or causes we support passionately.’


She also delves into the future direction of the foundation and its main areas of focus. The foundation's aim is not simply to promote giving for the sake of it, but rather to address pressing issues such as climate change and advocate for First Nations self-determination.


Maree discusses the referendum that aims to change the Australian Constitution, acknowledging and embracing First Nations people to create a fairer Australia. Granting them a voice in Parliament is seen as an essential step towards formalizing a treaty or reconciliation process, acknowledging past injustices, promoting healing, and moving forward together while honouring the wisdom and knowledge of the world's oldest living culture.


In addition to her role as CEO of the Australian Communities Foundation, Maree serves on the boards of Philanthropy Australia, Community Foundations Australia, and the Centre for Australian Progress.



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