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Siobhan Henderson speaks at a conference

“Express your interest!”: The Bunya Fund, growing the next generation of co-operatives

June 6, 2024
May 23, 2024

Within Australia’s dynamic co-operative community lies a foundation of collective advancement and empowerment—the Bunya Fund. Initiated by the Business of Co-operatives and Mutuals (BCCM), through a strong collaboration with its members, the Bunya Fund serves as a pillar of support for upcoming social innovators.

At Bank Australia, we are proud to support this innovative fund that not only champions the co-operative and mutual business model but also aligns seamlessly with our values of mutual prosperity and community development.

We spoke to 2 Bunya Fund recipients, Fellan Buckley (KCLC) & Zane Alcorn (Earthworker construction co-operative), whose stories show us the impact that the Bunya Fund had on their businesses. 

Each is a testament to the Fund’s commitment to offering capacity building, education, and advisory services—a package valued between $5,000 and $25,000. These are not just monetary figures; they represent the tangible support and mentoring that support the transformation of ideas into impactful enterprises.

Bunya Fund recipients stand together smiling
Elena Pereyra, Zane Alcorn & Fellan Buckley - Photo credit: Richard Timbury, Casamento Photography

Can you share a bit about your co-operative or mutual and the problem it aims to address in the community?

F.B. We are proud to be Logan City's first worker co-operative. Our shared challenge is that there are many people from non-English speaking backgrounds in our community who find it difficult to access quality jobs and those who try to go into business for themselves find business reporting requirements overwhelming. Our goal is to establish a worker co-operative in Logan that can scale to take on many worker-owners, that can achieve financial stability for people and their families.

We chose the care sector because there is so strong demand for more workers in the industry and also the qualifications required to enter the industry are achievable for most people. To aid in this, we will be offering training programmes to equip multi-cultural members of our community as well as youth and other interested community members to not only become carers but to also understand the co-operative model, and how this model can help change the world for the better.”

Z.A. Internally, from the perspective of worker owners, ECC is about providing a “third path” for construction workers who would usually either sell their labour to a for profit company, or in some cases they might seek to start a small for profit company. Doing sole trader ABN work and being at the mercy of the company you are ‘subbying’ to is also common. ECC worker owners don’t want to be cogs in someone else's machine and nor do we want to run a for profit company where a small group of managers extract profit from the workers beneath them.

Outwardly, ECC are keen to go from our current status doing small carpentry and plumbing jobs and OHS training, and work our way up to building eco-friendly homes and renovations. We eventually want to try and make eco-friendly building methods like earth building affordable for working class people.

And as part of the broader Earthworker project, we aim to use demand for products and services in Australian cities to generate alternative employment in regions historically reliant on coal mining and coal fired power such as the Hunter Valley and Latrobe Valley. So in our case that would mean sourcing prefabricated building components and other building inputs from sister coops and mutuals in these regions. That’s a longer term goal, and we still have a fair way to go to get to that point.

Zane Alcorn speaks at a conference, holding a microphone
Zane Alcorn - Photo credit: Richard Timbury, Casamento Photography

How do you envision your co-operative's impact growing or evolving in the future, thanks to the assistance from The Bunya Fund? 

Z.A. In a nutshell, the $15,000 we received means we have needed to do a lot less fundraising to get infrastructure in place to start the coop. It has probably saved us a couple of years of limping along, cobbling together enough money to buy necessary insurances, pay for an accountant, website, scaffold etc and has meant we can focus on building the coop itself rather than focus on raising funds to get it started. So it has accelerated our journey towards being able to build innovative eco-friendly buildings and start building links with coal mining towns to help with the task of generating alternative employment in those areas.

F.B. With the support of the Bunya Fund we envision our co-operative expanding its reach and impact in our community and beyond. Not only will we supply our care work and training in Logan City as we mature, we plan to incubate other co-operatives in our community. For example, as we develop our multi-cultural workers, some from say our Congolese refugee community may wish to break off and form their own co-operative. We would be there to assist in the process of training, providing co-operative governance mentoring and back-office assistance such as HR, finance, and marketing. Our vision is for us to begin to generate a network of co-operatives that can grow organically in this way, and that to begin sharing services to help save on cost and to build a supporting network. 

We also envisage building a community health hub as a priority to spread awareness and help people get connected with the essential services they require to assist those suffering with isolation and loneliness with community engagement and group activities. We are also looking into affordable supported independent living housing and other affordable housing options for our clients. These are some of the things we wish to evolve the envelope in care factor. We have a big vision and aspirations for our co-operative to become a force of positive change, empowering people, creating financial resilience, cultural collaboration and sustainability as we serve our community.

Fellan Buckley sings on stage whilst playing music on an electric guitar
Fellan Buckley - Photo credit: Richard Timbury, Casamento Photography


What advice would you give to other co-operatives or mutuals considering applying for The Bunya Fund in the future?

F.B. We found the Bunya Fund application process very user friendly - which was such a pleasant surprise compared to our experience in applying for other grant programs. Our application was also a bit out of scope in that we were not an existing co-operative, which was a requirement for the fund at the time. The Bunya Fund was flexible in considering our potential fit to still approve us. Again this is something very unusual for a grant program. So, yes I would definitely say the BCCM are so inclusive, helpful and have a world of knowledge either way your business will gain!

Get in there! Apply! The Bunya Fund is about large, established coops and mutuals giving back and helping grow this important sector of the economy. That support is there for you to get on your feet, so you should reach out and connect. If you aren’t successful the first time around you should keep working on your project and then apply again the following year. If you get a Bunya grant it will provide a really useful boost to your coop or mutual and help you get on an even keel.

To learn more and stay updated on future grant rounds, express your interest via the
Bunya Fund's website. Keep an eye out for opportunities to join this empowering initiative! 

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