“For a lot of Aboriginal organisations, philanthropy is a bit of a black box,” says Kirsty Sword Gusmão, CEO of Woor-Dungin, one of Bank Australia’s 2023 community customer grant recipients. “You know that there's funding out there, but how do you actually secure it? It’s not always easy for First Nations organisations to navigate.”
Established in 2004 as a training program for Aboriginal organisations, Woor-Dungin is now dedicated to connecting First Nations-led organisations to philanthropic funding and pro-bono service providers.
“Our main mission is to build relationships,” Kirsty says. “We know that a very small percentage of philanthropic funding is actually channelled to Aboriginal-led initiatives, so we’re trying to boost that amount by establishing relationships of mutual trust and understanding.”
When it comes to First Nations initiatives, Kirsty says self-determination is key. “Aboriginal communities have been coming up with solutions to issues that affect them for decades, whether or not they have philanthropic funding or government support,” she says. “If philanthropists want some really transformative outcomes, they need to take this approach of allowing Aboriginal people to decide what a project looks like, how much money is needed to execute it, and how to evaluate success. It's for everyone's benefit – not just the First Nations organisations, but also the philanthropists who want really good outcomes.”
Kirsty and her small team – they have just one paid staff member who’s supported by a team of volunteers – don’t just contact organisations on others’ behalf. They actually get philanthropic organisations on Country, meeting with local community groups and seeing their impact first-hand.”
“We take philanthropy and pro-bono providers by the hand and take them on Country,” Kirsty says, “to meet with Aboriginal organisations, and see with their own eyes the work that they're doing to create thriving and healthy communities. For a lot of organisations, it’s the first time they’ve had an opportunity to do that, even if they’ve been working in the area for quite some time.”
Kirsty says most philanthropic groups have good intentions – they want to support First Nations groups and initiatives – but they lack those on-the-ground relationships, so they don’t know where their funding will do the most good, or how to approach those conversations.
“Sometimes philanthropic groups think, ‘Will we be treading on toes if we do things in a particular way? Who should we partner with? How do we find out about the work they’re doing?’” Kirsty says. “So we’re kind of that bridge. We help build those relationships.”
Alongside building relationships, Woor-Dungin is developing a resource and workshop called ‘Decolonising Philanthropy: Cultural Audit and Toolkit’ to support philanthropists in their grant making journey alongside First Nations organisations. For First Nations organisations, Woor-Dungin also helps demystify the whole philanthropic funding process, providing grant-writing assistance and hands-on governance training to help Indigenous groups achieve their self-determined goals.
Rebecca Sloan, a First Nations Advocate, Intervention Program Manager and Founder at Upbeat Health, has benefited immensely from Woor-Dungin’s support, with the team contributing to the Grandmothers Against Removals project and providing practical human resources help as well.
“Throughout this year when I've needed support, I’ve been able to reach out and ask if they could come find the time to lend an ear and have a coffee,” she says “They've always made time for that – and that in itself is priceless.”
The Bank Australia community customer grant will go towards running a series of Gatherings to help support Woor-Dungin’s core mission of creating partnerships for self-determination. The first of these, the ‘Cultivating Connections’ forum that brought together representatives from 18 Aboriginal organisations across Victoria and 12 philanthropic bodies, was recently held at Bank Australia HQ.
“We’ve really loved that it’s not just a grantor-grantee relationship with Bank Australia,” she says. “The community grants team has participated in our yarning circles, and they’ve really embraced the opportunity to see this as a genuine partnership. An opportunity to learn together.”
Learn more about Bank Australia’s community customer grants.