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Michael Liffman with previous CEOs Moya Mills and Kate Latimer, and current CEO Vanessa Pigrum

The creation of Cranlana

12 August, 2019

Michael Liffman with previous CEOs Moya Mills and Kate Latimer, and current CEO Vanessa Pigrum


Michael Liffman and Ken Myer were the forces behind the development of the Cranlana Programme, which in April 2019 became the Cranlana Centre for Ethical Leadership when it joined forces with the Vincent Fairfax Ethics in Leadership Foundation.  Michael shared his thoughts and reflections on the organisation in the lead-up to the 25th anniversary celebrations.

On the reasons for the establishment of the programme:

“I think it reflected a number of things. It reflected an innate disposition of mine to be concerned about too easy, glib understandings about the way the world works and particularly I was concerned then, and I’m much concerned now, about polarisation and barracking for a particular opinion.  A different approach to understanding was required…[and] would be enriched by going back to other sources of debate and discussion. That sort of discussion and exploration should take place between people who don’t necessarily occupy the same structural position in the world or see the world in the same way… classic liberal consensus exploration. More pragmatically I’d run into the Aspen Institute in the United States and was impressed with what they did, and that gave me a more concrete sense of what might be undertaken here. A colleague of mine, Peter Sheldrake, was very sympathetic and understood the idea and [was] hugely helpful in framing it up and particularly in developing the idea of the Colloquium and the readings.”

Concerns about it being a middle-class indulgence.

“I’m hugely gratified that it exists and that people felt so positively about it, so clearly it is successful in all sorts of ways but there is still a little bit of me that thinks how ‘deeply does it affect people?’ So I still have that anxiety and I think that’s good. I think if we were entirely confident and complacent about it that’d take the edge off.”

Ken Myer was a great supporter because “he was certainly the most adventurous. He was certainly the greatest risk taker of that generation. He was the big risk taker.  He’d been the Chair of the ABC. He just loved doing things that were new, he loved ideas, he loved meeting new people and the fact that it was risky would to him have been an attraction, whereas to some others it would have been a caution.”

Would you propose Cranlana in the same format today?

 “That’s an interesting question. I think I would, but I think I would then do other things afterwards…for instance, one of the things I’ve long thought would be interesting to do would be to say – for a year we are not offering anything.  We are offering the space, there may be some funds, but you the alumni are now responsible…. now take an initiative yourself.  Decide what this experience has given you that you now want to take forward, or prove that it has given you…..that’s one of the ways I’ve sometimes thought you’d get a clearer sense of what’s coming out of it.”

Is he more or less hopeful about public discourse? What, if anything, has anything changed?

“I don’t know, I mean clearly there’s a coterie of people like myself who lament the fact that the world is so polarised, but it’s a pretty thin layer that sits on a much bigger body less open to this discussion.”

As the founder/architect/creator is he glad he created it?

 “Yes, and it’s obviously gratifying. The fact that it exists and at one level is clearly successful, in that you have a good reputation and lots of people and independent financing.  So clearly at that level it’s been extraordinarily successful and a great tribute to everyone who’d brought it to that stage so one shouldn’t be too critical about something which is clearly so successful. On the other hand that doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t look underneath the success and say that’s a sort of output measure but is there an outcome measure which needs to be a bit more penetrating?  I think that’s a significant measure but I don’t think that’s the sole measure. So yes, it’s enormously gratifying and, as I said, fantastic congratulations to all involved. It’s fantastic that it’s so successful.  I must say, if you’d asked me 25 years ago what it was going to look like I would’ve thought in 25 years they’d’ve been saying ‘the what programme? Whatever happened to that?’”

The guests at the inaugural weekend 24th and 25th July 1993 were Professor David Pennington, John Prescott, Fergus Ryan, Dame Margaret Scott, Professor Peter Singer, Sir Robert Southey, Sir Ninan Stephen, Noel Waite, John White, Joanna Baevski, Edmund Capon, Sir Roderick Carnegie, Professor Adrienne Clark, Ivan Deveson, Robert Ferguson, Carillo Gantner, Sir James Gobbo, Bruce Grant, Robert Kennedy, John Landels, Sam Lipski, Professor Malcolm Logan, Sir Russel Madigan, Rev Dr David McCaughey, Lady Marigold Southey, Baillieu Myer, Michael Liffman and Peter Sheldrake.

Michael Liffman has a background in social policy, research and community work. After working with the Brotherhood of St Laurence and the Ecumenical Migration Centre, he was the CEO of the Myer Foundation and the Sidney Myer Fund between 1985 and 2001.  Michael was appointed founding Director of Philanthropy and Social Investment at Swinburne University in March 2001. In this role he established the first academic qualification in philanthropic grantmaking in Australia, the Swinburne Master of Social Investment and Philanthropy (now known as the Master of Social Impact), in 2002. Michael was the first Australian elected to the coordinating committee of Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmakers’ Support (WINGS). He was also a Board member of the SouthPort Community Residential Home, the Alpine School, the Australian Council of Social Services and the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs. He has also been a member of the Department of Human Services Ethics Committee, the Community Advisory Committee of the Special Broadcasting Service, and the Immigration Review Tribunal. He is a former President of the Australian Association of Philanthropy, and currently a director of the Montsalvat Arts Community.

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