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An Interview with Henrietta Marrie

Portrait by Zak Kalivas
Interview by Janne Ryan
Henrietta Marrie

HENRIETTA MARRIE: Advisor, indigenous philanthropy projects; Associate Professor, Office of Indigenous Engagement, CQUniversity Cairns

GAME-CHANGER: Being the first indigenous person, let alone indigenous woman, to work for a major USA-based philanthropic organisation [Christensen Fund 2003-2012]. Bringing this experience back to Australia, and applying it, is a game-changer for indigenous people.

ACHIEVING GOALS: Philanthropy has traditionally been framed through a Western viewpoint, where philanthropists give money and look for an immediate return on their investment. I am developing what I call an indigenous philanthropy, where there is a shift from short-term giving to long-term giving, embracing collaboration and partnerships. In Australia there has been a lot of short-term giving to indigenous projects – $5K-$20K – but this creates a dependence on philanthropy. Strategic longer-term philanthropy is needed to empower indigenous people.

GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT: Bringing home to roost here in Australia the need for philanthropists to think more seriously about the impact of their giving. My role now in academia is allowing me to explore the establishment of an indigenous philanthropy unit, to research what is happening in philanthropy. We need data on the impact of philanthropy, a baseline to measure against, so we can really know what impact the money spent and the collaborations are having.

GREATEST CHALLENGE: Up until recently indigenous organisations depended on government money. Many organisations didn’t really know about philanthropy, for example, they didn’t know that philanthropists require tax breaks. The categories under which organisations apply for Deductible Gift Recipient [DGR] status, through the Australian Tax Office, need re-thinking. I’m pushing for an indigenous criteria, a new way of describing what’s deductible.

GETTING STARTED: If you really want to create change for the betterment of society, you must think carefully about how you structure your giving. You need to think carefully about what is most valuable to you and how your gifting will make a difference to people’s lives. This is an area where philanthropists are failing at the moment, they are giving, but it is very short-term and this doesn’t bring about change.