Philanthropists unite to back resilience in the bush

Posted on 28 May 2024

By Greg Thom, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

Australian country town

A quartet of philanthropic organisations has banded together to help regional not-for-profits tackle some of their communities’ greatest challenges.

The Ross Trust, the William Buckland Foundation, the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust and the Jack Brockhoff Foundation will contribute $5 million over five years to strengthen the capacity and resilience of rural Victoria.

The funding is designed to enable local NFPs to become more confident and collaborative in their approach to improving and sustaining the vibrancy, resilience and liveability of their communities.

The initiative, which will be delivered by the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR), follows the success of FRRR’s NSW-focused Investing in Rural Community Futures program (IRCF).

The three Victorian communities that will participate in the new program will be announced later this year following further research and expressions of interest via a community consultation process.

Once communities are selected, a local facilitator will work with NFPs there to identify priorities, gaps and opportunities.

Established more than 50 years ago to act as the custodian of the estate of Roy Everard Ross, the trust has distributed more than $130 million to support vulnerable Victorians.

The trust says it aims to help address disadvantage and inequity and facilitate change by targeting a range of social, economic and geographical issues, along with environmental protection and preservation.

Since its establishment in 1965, the foundation has distributed more than $141 million in grants toward improving the lives of disadvantaged Victorians.

The foundation focuses on funding better housing, health, education and employment opportunities along with bankrolling initiatives designed to build resilience in rural and regional communities.

The trust was established in 1951 following the death of Helen Macpherson Smith, who left the majority of her wealth to establish a perpetual trust to benefit Victorian charities.

More than $137 million in grants have since been awarded to a wide range of Victorian charitable institutions and a diverse range of projects, with the trusts primary focus on building community and addressing educational disadvantage.

The foundation was established in 1979 by the late Sir Jack Brockhoff, former chair and managing director of Brockhoff Biscuits, which was established by his grandfather in 1880.

The foundation has distributed more than $90 million in grants to support the health and wellbeing of all Victorians.

Windmill Australian bush
“Investing in the social and economic fabric of Victorian rural communities fosters long-term resilience.”
FRRR CEO Natalie Egleton.

FRRR CEO Natalie Egleton said she was confident many Victorian communities would be enthusiastic about the opportunity to participate in the program.

“Investing in the social and economic fabric of Victorian rural communities fosters long-term resilience,” she said.

“We know that our model can deliver these outcomes and the multi-year model builds a whole-of-community approach,” she said.

The NSW-based IRCF program started in 2018 after FRRR recognised that many grassroots organisations were “locked out” of philanthropy and were unable to access opportunities to invest in their own capacity.

The plan to bring a similar program to Victoria began in late 2022 after discussions between the four participating organisations and FRRR.

Co funders IRCF VIC May 2024
Investing in rural resilience: From left: Ferdi Hepworth, Foundation Lead of William Buckland Foundation; Louise Kuramoto, CEO the Jack Brockhoff Foundation; Debra Morgan, CEO, Helen Macpherson Smith Trust; Natalie Egleton, CEO, Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal; Sarah Hardy, CEO, The Ross Trust.

Ms Egleton told the Community Advocate many regional communities faced unique challenges such as isolation and remoteness which placed them at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing services.

Natalie Egleton
FRRR CEO, Natalie Egleton.

“They need a range of different types of investment to support their work, keep their towns going and keep their people well.”

Ms Egleton said regional communities generally scored poorer on many quality-of-life indicators while also struggling to deal with to challenges ranging from energy transition and natural disasters to drought, climate change, housing shortages and family violence.

“So, lots of smaller towns need little bits of money to keep them going but if they’re wanting to really address some of those big structural issues, they actually need a more sustained type of investment.

“We really need to skill up and we need to build capability and resilience in the organisational infrastructure within communities so that they can respond more effectively.”

Ms Egleton said many NFPs in the bush punched above their weight despite being volunteer-run or operating with limited paid resources.

“But they never have the capacity to invest in themselves or invest in their capability in order to be more impactful or strategic or collaborative and really work on those big, structural issues that every regional community is facing into.”

Ms Egleton said she believed more philanthropic foundations were recognising the benefits of pooling their resources behind a common idea to achieve better outcomes.

“A quote from one of the foundations involved in this program was that alone, it would have been very difficult to fund something of this scale, but together and collectively, we could bring it to Victoria.”

Ms Egleton said the program was also an opportunity for philanthropists to practise what they preach.

“Philanthropy is often asking communities to collaborate, so it makes sense for us to be able do it too and make it easier for communities to not have to deal with four or five different foundations and just deal with one, which is FRRR in this case.”

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