Group 301

Contributing to Society: Insights from 2.5 years of granting

L-R: Jenny Wheatley (VFFF CEO), Tahlia Azaria (Foundation for Young Australians), Oliver White (National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect), Natalie Rose (Shopfront Youth Arts Co-Op), Rosemary Vilgan (VFFF Chair)
L-R: Jenny Wheatley (VFFF CEO), Tahlia Azaria (Foundation for Young Australians), Oliver White (National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect), Natalie Rose (Shopfront Youth Arts Co-Op), Rosemary Vilgan (VFFF Chair)

‘Young people face significant challenges but are passionate about creating a better world for themselves and future generations… It is not enough to ask young people to be their own advocates or tell their own stories – they require resources, skills and infrastructure to be heard.’ - Foundation for Young Australians, Amplifying the Voices of Young People

More than three years ago, VFFF embarked on a strategic review process that culminated in the Backing Young People strategy. This process shaped the development of our Contributing to Society focus area, which responds to:

  • a problem – young people feel underrepresented in discussions and decisions that affect and matter to them; and
  • an opportunity – young people want to be actively involved in effecting positive social change, and organisations, institutions and broader society are strengthened by their input.

Since the launch of Backing Young People in July 2021, VFFF has granted $7.3M across nine grants in the Contributing to Society focus area. We are pleased to support a diverse range of work with the common goal of increasing young people’s agency by building their capacity and opportunities to drive change on the issues that matter to them most.


In March 2024, we invited representatives from three organisations funded under our Contributing to Society portfolio to share their work, insights, and stories of impact with VFFF. We were pleased to hear from:

  • Tahlia Azaria (Acting Executive Director, Civic and Cultural Engagement at the Foundation for Young Australians)
  • Oliver White (Chair of the NYSO Youth Advisory Group at the National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect)
  • Natalie Rose (Chief Executive Officer, Shopfront Youth Arts Co-Op).

This was an opportunity for our Board, team and grantees to come together and reflect on this unique part of VFFF’s work.

So… what did we learn?

This granting portfolio is diverse, because there are many approaches to supporting young people to contribute to society. This focus area encourages organisations to look inwards at how they can better listen to and engage with youth voices, so that young people are represented in the services they access. This might mean funding towards youth representation in governance or employment structures. It also supports organisations looking outwards, identifying ways for young people to be heard across society. This might include building young people’s capacity as changemakers, connecting them with decision makers, and/or opening up new influencing opportunities across different fields, sectors and institutions. We know that young people are not a homogeneous group – so by supporting different models, we are able to help facilitate opportunities for different groups of young people.

To enable young people to thrive, we have to both trust and support them – in the face of significant social, economic, and environmental challenges, young people are community-driven, empathetic and generous. This does not mean that community work and youth advocacy is not taxing for young people, particularly those impacted by compounding challenges. It is important that organisations embrace youth perspectives, while also respecting them by compensating young people for their time, providing wraparound support, and communicating the impact of their contributions.  

This work is hard to get right, and progress is often slow and rarely linear – the organisations VFFF funds under Contributing to Society are often implementing best practice approaches to youth participation. None are without challenges and every organisation is on a different pathway. We have learnt it is important for organisations to be realistic about the context they are operating within – thinking seriously about where and how young people can have input on decisions. Over-promising can be disempowering, and it is better to do this work well than quickly.

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