Pathways is a targeted career-planning and training program that supports young people finishing their education at the Berry Street School to pursue further education and vocational opportunities. The program was only made possible because of the support of some generous philanthropists.
For Michael Barr, Chairman of the Barr Family Foundation, the program struck a chord. With 2 of his children completing apprenticeships, Michael recognised some of the problems young people at the Berry Street School could potentially face.
You are talking about some of the most disadvantaged children… and they deserve to have the same opportunities as people who might go to a private school or a well-resourced public school.
Michael regards himself as an “accidental philanthropist” who came into the role by chance. “I had to learn how to become philanthropic,” he says frankly. He also regards good communication as key. “I think [you should] keep contact with the organisation you are funding and talk to them about it without micro-managing.”
One of the ways the Barr Family Foundation has evolved is in how they support projects. Initially, it was mostly through grant programs, but the focus now is on “building the capacity of organisations to seek new grants and leverage off the fact that we have funded them.”
This is exactly how it worked for Pathways. Berry Street needed a substantial amount for Pathways, which is not eligible for government funding. Michael offered to support half the costs and encouraged us to leverage this to raise the remainder. It worked.
Michael has an adventurous approach to his choice of projects and says, “I think you must be a risk taker at times with philanthropy…we’ve funded some very innovative projects in early childhood, in grief therapy and helping victims of domestic violence. These pilot programs were proven to be successful and now attract significant government funding. I understand governments are responsible for taxpayers’ money and cannot be seen – as much as I would like them to – to fund unproven projects... We are prepared to take that risk.”
We are grateful to Michael and the Barr Family Foundation for their enthusiastic, perceptive and engaged approach, and for their partnership with us.