Lani Evans

Lani is currently the Foundation Manager at Vodafone Foundation, Director of Thankyou Payroll and Vice Chairperson at Action Station – just to name a few of the things that keep her busy. Her most recent adventure overseas saw her researching participatory philanthropy as part of a Winston Churchill Fellowship. We had the pleasure to catch up to hear more about her adventures in the world of generosity. 


Lani, can you tell us a bit about your new role as Manager of the Vodafone Foundation?

The Vodafone NZ Foundation starts with the premise that all young people are incredible, but there is unequal access to support and opportunity. Our goal is to support organisations, individuals and innovations that provide extra opportunities and [a way] to help young people achieve their goals. We provide funding, networks and technical support to youth development practitioners and organisations from all over Aotearoa through programmes like the World of Difference, Fellowship and our brand new Technology Development Grants. We also help to manage Vodafone New Zealand’s humanitarian crisis response through the Instant Network programme and engage Vodafone staff in community sector projects, through volunteering and fundraising initiatives. My role is to ensure we make strategic, effective investments, build strong cross-sector relationships and look for opportunities to build and strengthen our community partners and the youth development sector as a whole. 

What are some of the most significant changes you’ve seen in the charitable sector over the past 5 years?

The growth and recognition of the social enterprise movement in New Zealand has been a game-changer. Celebrating long term social enterprises, like Kilmarnock Enterprises, and highlighting the innovations of new organisations like Cultivate, have helped to shift our understanding of what’s possible. I think it’s opened up exciting opportunities for charities (and businesses) to reconsider the ways in which they create value and interact with the community around them. But that’s happened alongside some less positive changes – most importantly there has been a reduction in the advocacy functions of community organisations that ultimately makes it harder for us to tackle wicked problems.

You recently went to the States to explore participatory philanthropy. Anything that got you jumping with excitement?

I went to North America and Europe on a Winston Churchill Fellowship to examine citizen-led philanthropy and I am really, really excited about it. Philanthropy was always supposed to be a radical disruptor, a sector that provided strategic funding to create systemic social change. I think we’ve struggled to take on that role, in part because we have failed to include a wide range of voices in our decision-making. Participatory, citizen-led philanthropy aims to include the voices of communities and individuals who are affected by our funding, in the decisions that affect their lives. There are some incredible, inspirational organisations engaging in participatory practices, like the Wikimedia Foundation in San Francisco and the Red Umbrella Trust in Amsterdam – as well as some great local organisations (like the Thankyou Charitable Trust, which I am lucky enough to co-chair).

Many businesses say we are in the experience age, in your eyes, how can charities improve the giving experience for donors?

I love the idea of making it easy to give, investing in storytelling so people understand the value and importance of the work, and making sure that everything you do with donors is authentic, meaningful and driven by your organisational values.

What’s the most generous thing someone has done for you this month?

We held a two day hackathon earlier this month and twenty wonderful people gave up their entire weekend to share their skills and expertise for good. We spent the time developing a new digital platform that will help children and young people in Foster Care connect to each other, access information about their rights and hear stories from other awesome care experienced young people. It was an amazing weekend, with a diverse group of people – designers, developers, youth workers, gamers, teachers, care experienced young people, government workers and Vodafone staff. I am so grateful for their generosity and the event generated some great ideas that we’re testing right now. 

A huge thank you to Lani for generously sharing her words and her wisdom with us. Download a copy of her participatory philanthropy report here.