Natalie Egleton (FRRR) on Community Foundations and regional response

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On 5 May, ACP hosted a workshop as part of Philanthropy Australia’s online National Conference 2021. Entitled ‘Place-based, community-led and long term: Community Foundations and regional emergency response’, the session featured a panel of speakers from the Foundation for Regional & Rural Renewal (FRRR), Marysville & Triangle Community Foundation, and Northern Rivers Community Foundation.

When the workshop was first proposed, some of the Black Summer fires were still burning and the COVID-19 pandemic hardly registered on our radars. In the year since, Community Foundations in Australia and around the world have been working with and in their communities to support recovery, build resilience, and provide strength for whatever lies ahead.

As such, the hour-long session explored what makes the Community Foundation model so effective at supporting communities at times of challenge and adversity: a focus on place, strong connections to the community, and a long-term commitment to supporting local action on the ground. This is also key to building stronger communities when times are good.

In this series of articles, we’ll be reproducing the contributions presented by our guest speakers for those who weren’t able to make the workshop, or who want a refresher on what was said. First up is Natalie Egleton, CEO of FRRR. Throughout its 21-year history, FRRR has been a catalyst for the development of Community Foundations in Australia, with many of our regional community foundations established with targeted assistance from FRRR. Natalie brings a national perspective to the issue, drawing on FRRR’s extensive experience of working with regional Community Foundations in the aftermath of disaster.

Regional & Rural Australia, Community Foundations and Recovery

Natalie Egleton, CEO of FRRR

Community Foundations are a big part of FRRR’s DNA. FRRR’s model was in fact inspired by the Nebraska Community Foundation and the role that Community Foundations could play in building community wellbeing in a large country of disparate regions.

As such, FRRR has supported the development of the Community Foundation sector in Australia since the early-2000s. It was recognized in those early days that reversing rural decline needed to be tackled from all angles, with a core requirement being the ability for rural communities to play an active leadership role in changing the course of their community’s future.

The role of Community Foundations is becoming more and more relevant and needed the more globalized we become. Of course, the situation now includes more frequent and severe natural disasters including prolonged droughts, and these factors have been combined with an ageing population, changing economic base, and a global pandemic. This has thrust rural communities into overdrive to keep up with new and existing demands on housing, health and education services, and employment.

FRRR has worked strategically in supporting community-led recovery and preparedness to natural disasters since 2006, and it is during these crises that we often see the value and essence of Community Foundations really come into view. But it’s vital that we understand the value of Community Foundations in this context as being far more than an emergency response vehicle – their great strength is in their longevity and their proximity to the problem as it evolves.
The continued and successive disruptions to our social, economic, and environmental systems require a long-term and interconnected approach and Community Foundations are a powerful model for enabling this at a hyper-localized and regional scale.

Our agenda at FRRR is about building national resilience led from rural Australia. We are inspired by the Stockholm Institute’s work on resilience, and especially their definition of the term, which focuses on how humans and nature can use shocks and disturbances like a financial crisis or climate change to spur renewal and innovative thinking.
It speaks directly to the role of Community Foundations and the intersections they can work in. If we think back to last summer’s bushfires, the ongoing drought, or the floods that have so often devastated communities in Northern NSW, Community Foundations were the first local organisations that FRRR identified in our mapping of partners and networks to promote to funders and work with in the recovery.

As a national organization, we need partners in communities who can literally look over the fence, be connected and in-the-know. As an example, through our ‘Back to School’ program, we partner with Community Foundations to provide gift cards to school children in need, with discretion, and care. We also partner with Community Foundations to facilitate donations and grants to community foundations and to facilitate grants to local community groups.

These partnerships leverage the best of our organisations, our capabilities, and assets. For FRRR, it provides confidence that local people are receiving charitable funds and that grants and donations are being matched with identified local needs and priorities. This is one of the biggest challenges that we hear governments and corporates wrestle with – how do we know what the local needs are and how can we have confidence that our money is going exactly where it is needed. Well, we know that giving away money well is far harder than it would seem, but at least when partnering with Community Foundations, there is absolute knowledge that money is staying local and can be used as and when needs change.

It’s important that Community Foundations are better recognized, and I think they should be formalized in official disaster recovery frameworks alongside the likes of FRRR and Blaze Aid, for their very unique and critical role in long-term localized resilience building. We need rural communities to play an active leadership role in addressing challenges and strengthening their resilience and Community Foundations are an essential long-term model to enable this.

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