In 2011, VFFF set out to adopt a ‘strategic focus’ by supporting particular geographies through 'place-based philanthropy'. To begin, we travelled to Condobolin, in the heart of NSW, to identify small actions that could grow into larger efforts, and to identify local champions inspiring and making change in the community.
Over the years, alongside many visits, VFFF has supported 11 different initiatives across the Lachlan Shire with $2.9m. There has been a particular focus on establishing and supporting Growing Lachlan, as a local asset for change. Many wins and breakthroughs have been made on the community’s priorities of community renewal, economic development, community safety, youth and elderly care. These have led to outcomes including job creation, better transition for school leavers, growth in skills and wellbeing, broadening of networks, positive role modelling and exposure to new activities, ideas and possibilities.
A culture of innovation is growing with many more locally-grown responses to local issues emerging. There have also been systemic changes in how community priorities direct investment, how people work together and the capacity of locals to drive long-term change.
Growing Lachlan has been a pioneer of community-led place based initiatives in NSW and has been an almighty learning curve for VFFF. What we learned:
- Change can only come from within communities, so build capacity in place
- Demand indicates opportunity for change, not need
- Hearing the voice of communities and those impacted is the only way to ensure demand exists
- Silos working in isolation do not dint multi-faceted issues, so connect and coordinate efforts and activities
We also saw that the many unresponsive and unconnected social programs operating in communities were not reaching into the bedrock of communities or combatting the root causes of their disadvantage.
Armed with these learnings, we started supporting other places having a go at tackling things differently – by inverting the system to being driven from the grassroots up, starting with the community in a place and their hopes and needs. Between 2012 and 2019, our investment has grown to $11m across these sites.
Achieving change in places that experience disadvantage takes trust and time, and is challenged by a constant turnover of leaders, especially in schools, councils and police. And although it is inch by inch, some of these communities are already kicking big goals.
Maranguka Bourke’s collective efforts were found to have saved $3m in 12 months in reduced crime and economic development. The Children and Prison Program Group in Dubbo have worked together to reduce youth crime and change policing practices since 2015. Their groundwork led to NSW Police establishing the state’s first Aboriginal Youth Liaison team, which has seen a 43% reduction in juvenile crime in 3 months. Logan Together’s work in early childhood is seeing Logan buck the trend of like communities by reducing childhood vulnerability.
What has this meant for VFFF?
We can now better direct the 60% of our funds that reach rural and regional communities and we ensure all our grants are for ‘demand driven’ work.
The place-based work also paved the way for our other strategic programs Children & Prison, Fair Education and CODE, and for moving beyond siloed funding themes to a more systemic approach with Thriving People and Places.
It also led to and informed our $5m investment in FRRR for Investing in Rural Community Futures, which kicks off in earnest in 2020 in Leeton, Nambucca Heads and Junee.