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One woman's philanthropic vision to put play back on education agenda

Within 12 months of considering such issues, Marylou and her research colleagues had not only discovered a generational shift towards less constructive play in Australia's primary school children, but they also unearthed an innovative concept in the UK that reversing such a shift.

Encouraged by her CEO, Michael Traill, to not "die wondering", Marylou gathered her own stores of funding, resilience and tenacity, and over the last two years has been helping primary schools around Australia to transform children’s experience of school by installing a Play for Life Pod in their schoolyards.

The pods are modified shipping containers full of clean, safe scrap (fabric, tyres, milk crates etc) and the simple approach is fostering more creative, equitable and physically active interaction at lunch times in schools across Australia.

In the UK, research on the pods has found a reduction in bullying, boredom and anti-social behaviour, and an increase in school attendance, social cohesion and brain development within children. Some are even heralding the pod concept as the most powerful advancement in play since the invention of the swing.

For Marylou, it's philanthropy at play in its most pure form: "The essence of philanthropy for me is helping to birth innovation and social change through seed-funding projects of progressive organisations, lead by social entrepreneurs, which may not attract funding from traditional philanthropic sources.

"I believe social change happens at the edges of civil society and this is where strategic investment from “engaged philanthropy” can help bring about this change,” she says.

Indeed, as opposed to charity and philanthropy, social entrepreneurship can provide dynamic entities for corporations to collaborate with. At its best, this form of “engaged philanthropy” is underpinned by a robust, sustainable business model, with a community reach that provides a strong value proposition.

And there’s always scope for more women to get involved, such as through Social Ventures Australia and the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Melbourne and Sydney. (This first appeared at www.womensagenda.com.au, where Julia Keady is a contributor on philanthropy and social change)

The Xfactor Collective is a community of pre-vetted specialist consultants who help social change makers achieve their social mission. We have a diverse range of specialists across 300+ areas of specialisation, and this article was written by our Specialist Consultant Julia Keady. To find out more about working with Julia, or how the Collective can help you, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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