Last financial year was one of change, as we grew both our networks and programs to meet the ever-evolving needs of rural, regional and remote communities.
Shortly after joining FRRR as CEO, I agreed six areas of focus with the Board. We address progress on the financial and relationship strategies elsewhere in this report, so in my review of the year, I will focus on our activities in service and program development; raising our profile; sharing our knowledge; and building organisational capacity.
Programs and services
“Rural communities” are not homogenous: each is unique and while there are common issues, the way in which these issues are tackled differs in nearly every situation. This diversity means that we need to have a range of services and tools.
In 2012/13, we delivered 14 programs. This included a new program that will run over the next five years, to support those affected by the 2009 Victorian bushfires. Grants for Resilience & Wellness (GR&W) was developed in conjunction with the Victorian government, and has been funded by a grant from the balance of the Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund. We thank them for their faith and trust in awarding us these funds which we have begun to grant to affected communities.
We also agreed to fund a new program focused on engaging youth in rural, regional and remote communities. The Board agreed to fund the ABC Heywire Youth Innovation grants, to offer communities the opportunity to bring to life some of the great ideas developed by young people who attend the annual Heywire Youth Summit.
Increasing prevalence of place-based programs
There was increased emphasis on place-based programs during 2012/13, and we worked more closely than ever with local communities on whose behalf we hosted Donation Accounts, and with Community Foundations. We have been able to take these models and share them more broadly across the community.
There is evidence of community organisations working more frequently alongside philanthropy to solve local issues.
A case in point is the Lachlan Region, where the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation is working with Western Plains Regional Development Inc and FRRR to run a small grants program, among other initiatives to identify and implement what needs to change in the coming years to create a diverse, vibrant and sustainable community.
Evaluation and continual improvement
To ensure our programs meet the needs of both donors and community groups, we regularly undertake formal evaluations of our programs. This year, we engaged ACER to examine the Back to School (BTS) and the REACH programs. The findings for both of these programs were almost universally positive. That is not to say that there weren’t suggestions for improvement. We’ve used the information to shape our new education program REAPing Rewards, and are well underway with incorporating the feedback into the Back the School program for 2014.
We have scoped and begun planning for a number of new programs to meet the changing needs of rural communities. These new areas include:
- Mental health
- Sustainable agriculture
- Leadership capacity
While these programs are all still in the formative stages, with support from our generous donors and partners, we can engage and support even more communities and help them solve more issues.
Sharing our knowledge, raising our profile
FRRR is in a privileged position: each year, we receive thousands of applications from community organisations (1,923 in the 2012/13 financial year) and get to see first-hand the issues they are facing and the innovative solutions that they develop and implement to address these challenges.
We believe that an important part of our remit is sharing these lessons – particularly the strategies and ideas that have worked - as widely as possible. In 2012/13, we did this by attending and often presenting at more than 30 conferences and events. A common theme was sharing the lessons from our role in supporting recovery following the 2009 Victorian bushfires. We spoke at several conferences and issued a written report. We wrote several blog posts and hosted a number of round-table sessions to talk about how philanthropic organisations and corporations could contribute to more effective natural disaster recovery programs.
We believe that we have an obligation to speak on behalf of rural, regional and remote communities, and to share insights into their challenges with the broader philanthropic community, as well as with government and other entities. For this reason, we are delighted to chair the Rural and Regional Affinity Group within Philanthropy Australia. Our aim is to be a catalyst for government, corporates and philanthropists to think differently about how they support rural communities.
In 2012/13, we devoted considerable effort to raising our profile. In addition to the speaking opportunities noted above, and the round-tables and blog posts previously mentioned, we increased our online presence. While it’s still in its infancy, we have launched a YouTube channel, sharing films of project outcomes. We continue to be active on Twitter and Facebook, and now distribute our monthly newsletter to nearly 6,000 people. The aim of this is to raise awareness among community groups of how we can help them to help themselves, and bring to light for the broader community the challenges and opportunities facing rural, regional and remote Australians.
Our ability to deliver on these expanded programs of work is dependent both on ongoing and indeed increasing donor support. As the Chairman has mentioned, we are grateful for the generous support that has been forthcoming. Our donors are incredibly supportive and I thank them for their willingness to collaborate with us.
The success of the Foundation is also highly dependent on our staff – be they permanent, casual or contracted. I want to formally record my appreciation to all of our permanent staff, who continued to demonstrate - in so many ways - their belief in the work we do. I also want to thank our casual staff, all of whom have committed to more hours with us each week, as well as the students, temporary and contract staff who helped us manage the increased and changing workload.
All in all, it has been an effective and productive 12 month period, which has set us up for an even stronger 2013/14. I look forward to reporting to you again next year, and in the meantime, invite you to explore this report in detail to gain greater insight into our achievements.
Chief Executive Officer