Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR)
By Nina O’Brien, Disaster Resilience and Recovery Lead
The call to action at this year’s Australian Disaster Resilience Conference is deeply apparent and has been reflected in most of the presentations, including my own – we must expand our understanding, balance investment, and elevate the voice of community, particularly First Nations people, to reduce the risks and impacts of a changing climate, and build collective resilience towards the increasing severity and frequency of disasters.
At FRRR, we are addressing this call to action by working deeply with local groups that are on the ground, working to enhance the preparedness and resilience of their remote, rural and regional communities. Programs like Disaster Resilient: Future Ready, as well as the thousands of grassroots, community-based projects we support through small grants like SRC Prepare and Recover , and others such as Rebuilding Futures, allow us to learn from local leaders about the needs and priorities of their communities, and how we can best support them to build local resilience and disaster recovery.
My presentation spoke of the importance of balanced investment in people and processes, not just products and ‘things’ across the entire disaster cycle, with a specific focus on preparedness. Social, cultural, political, and human capital are equally as vital as built, financial and natural capital in bolstering resilience. This approach takes a holistic view that acknowledges the interconnectedness of all these facets of community life.
This is why I advocate that we must shift our focus from (often) the disproportionate investing in products and things (hard infrastructure, as we often refer to it) to prioritising people and processes (or the soft infrastructure).
Ultimately, it is the people and processes that really make communities tick and make a difference in effective disaster response, recovery, and preparedness.
This is reinforced by the findings of ongoing research that FRRR has commissioned alongside our learning partner, University of Sydney.
“Working in a community led way to build local resilience means that local community members act as equal decision makers with a range of other stakeholders (local government, emergency services, service providers, business) to address issues which are priorities for that community. Rather than a top-down approach, where decisions are made outside a community or are made by government or other formal authorities, community led resilience building starts and continues with listening and collaborating on the priorities of community members. Genuine ownership by the local community requires their active involvement in all aspects of resilience building, not merely consultation.”Howard, A., Rawsthorne, M. and Joseph, P. (2022) Critical Dimensions in Community Disaster Resilience [FactSheet], University of Sydney for the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal
The formal study has reinforced our anecdotal observations that when communities take the lead in driving resilience-building efforts, remarkable things happen. Whether tackling natural disasters like cyclones, bushfires, floods, or adapting to community shocks such as the loss of major services or industries, community-led initiatives tend to persist longer and have ongoing positive impacts. They foster local strengths that can adapt to a wide range of challenges over time.
This work provides an important formal evidence base for supporting grassroots not-for-profit organisations that are critical to nurturing the vitality of regional communities.
It also validates FRRR’s preferred approach of working alongside communities, mapping their assets and systems of interconnectivity, understanding their particular strengths and nuances, and viewing community life through resilience dimensions that help to identify and craft locally driven resilience initiatives.
Through diverse funding mechanisms that prioritise people and processes, we’ve seen tangible dividends in increased resilience. These include support for locally conceived projects and initiatives; building volunteer capacity and strengthening networks; resilience coaching, mentoring and support; strengthening internal organisational capacity; and fostering long-term project delivery capability through sustainable local partnerships.
And as a side note from ADRC23; the feedback from communities is clear. They want flexible funding criteria, longer timelines, negotiated measures of success, simpler forms and reporting – and patience from funders. As a mechanism to deliver support to approximately 1000 small projects per year; with around half of those related to disaster impacts; FRRR is working hard to meet these requests with flexible guidelines, negotiated timelines where possible, agile timing, and a streamlined approach to applying and reporting.
Without deliberate, balanced investment in social, cultural, political and human capital, alongside traditional capital, the impacts and harm from disasters will continue to escalate in our communities. We need a systems-based lens that prioritises people and processes to meet future community needs and challenges effectively.
The long-term benefits of this shift are significant; capable local individuals, agile community-based networks, strong not-for-profit organisations and ultimately resilient remote, rural and regional communities become the norm. This paves the way for a future where communities can thrive, adapt and face the uncertainties of a changing climate, with resilience and hope.
By Caroline Larcher, Disaster Resilient: Future Ready Program Manager
I‘m now three months into the role of Disaster Resilient: Future Ready Program Manager with the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal – an organisation I’ve long admired. I’ve watched the work they’ve been doing to support recovery and resilience building over recent years. So, when the chance came to join them, I jumped at it.
Sadly, natural disasters are impacting rural, regional and remote communities more frequently, with significant consequences, including mental health and wellbeing issues, financial impacts and increased disadvantage.
Through our Disaster Resilient: Future Ready (DR:FR) program, FRRR and our partners have been working with communities to explore, learn and build on their existing strengths and capacities with a specific focus on increasing resilience to natural disasters.
Communities that are engaged, connected, empowered and have high social capital tend to respond and recover better from natural disasters than those with less capacity in these areas. They are also best placed to determine the most effective approaches to building their capacity and capabilities for their particular context.
Discussions at community and regional levels have highlighted that smaller, more isolated rural communities are often not specifically captured in formal emergency response management plans. These communities can be particularly vulnerable to disaster impacts, lacking local emergency services and waiting considerable time for response efforts, including periods of time when they may be physically cut off from outside support.
From early DR:FR projects, FRRR has developed a deeper understanding of effective ways to work with communities to build their capacity and help mitigate these issues. I’m delighted to be continuing this work in Victoria and in Queensland, working alongside local leaders to explore different ways for communities to get engaged and solve these issues.
One thing that’s increasingly apparent and comes up time and again in local conversations is the need for clarity in community-led disaster resilience work, especially around the role of community and where it intersects with the responsibilities of formal emergency response agencies. As the evaluation FRRR commissioned University of Sydney to do on the first DR:FR program showed, the time between disasters is an ideal opportunity for dialogue with communities about disaster information, communication and planning. This increases community ownership, engagement and action. And in the current communities, that’s exactly what we are doing.
Ideally, community-led approaches to resilience building should become more embedded in emergency planning, with communities recognised as equal collaborators in disaster resilience. This can require a change in thinking within the formal planning and response agencies, to adopt more agile and flexible approaches.
We know these things both from formal research but I’ve also seen it first-hand, supporting communities in their preparedness and recovery activities. Community-led disaster resilience thrives on local relationships. Supporting practical links between local community organisations and networks of people enables different stakeholders to mobilise and complement others.
FRRR’s latest DR:FR program is being delivered throughout the Burnett Inland in regional Queensland, in partnership with locally-based Red Earth Community Foundation, and with the support of the Australian Government and Minderoo Foundation. The aim is to build and retain capacity and knowledge in the region. This local focus is further embedded through the establishment of a regional program steering group, comprising local and state government, service providers, FRRR and Red Earth.
I had the opportunity to visit the community for the first time in April and meet DRFR Internal Advisory Group. It includes representation from North & South Burnett Regional Councils, Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council, Qld Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and local service agencies, bringing a rich variety of local perspectives to the program. This meeting opened up opportunities for further discussions with Council officers and business groups, as well as travel to different communities to get a first-hand view of their location and environment. It is expected that future trips will allow for other communities to be visited, to build a richer picture of the diversity of the region and the environmental challenges faced in different locations.
This kind of place-based, long-term work on the ground in communities is required for change and impact. This work is not without its challenges. The effort that communities invest into resilience and disaster preparedness takes time and this needs to be recognised and valued. Community capacity, exhaustion and volunteer fatigue will mean that additional resources working alongside and supporting communities will be important to initiate and maintain momentum.
Our hope is that through developing greater resilience and preparedness for emergencies, communities can help mitigate and alleviate the trauma that eventuates from a disaster. I look forward to walking alongside the Burnett and Victorian communities as they continue their work.
A new initiative to enable Burnett Inland communities to be disaster resilient and future ready has begun to roll out.
The three-year project is a collaborative delivery approach between Red Earth Community Foundation and the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal, in partnership with the Minderoo Foundation and the Australian Government.
Almost $982,000 has been provided by the Australian Government, through the National Emergency Management Agency, under the Preparing Australian Communities Program – Local Stream. This funding is part of the $150 million awarded for 158 projects across Australia that are improving the resilience of communities against bushfires, floods and tropical cyclones. In addition, Minderoo Foundation is contributing $1,895,737.
The Disaster Resilient: Future Ready Burnett Inland initiative will mean that local community members, grassroots community organisations and community networks across the region can develop and lead initiatives that strengthen their awareness, increase their preparedness, and enhance their capacity to thrive and be resilient to the impacts of climate, natural disasters, and other disruptions.
Partnering communities will have access to flexible funding for activities that support their community innovation and design process, as well as the activation of ideas and actions.
Melinda Jones, General Manager, Red Earth Community Foundation says that the focus is very much on community-led resilience-building activities – with the agenda and solutions driven by local people, for local people.
“There’s been a lot of talk about the different things that we could do to ensure that our region is better prepared for, able to respond to and recover from natural disasters. This initiative will give us the chance to agree on exactly what those things are and then work together to put the strategies and tactics we develop into action at a grassroots community level.
“The role of Red Earth will be to act as the local program coordination point. We’ve already had input into the program approach and as we move into implementation, we’ll coordinate program activities, ensuring Burnett Inland communities and regional stakeholders have the chance to get involved. But our key role will be to ensure that all aspects of the project bring value to the Burnett Inland region and add capacity to existing systems, processes, and local work to date,” Ms Jones said.
FRRR’s Disaster Resilience and Recovery Lead, Nina O’Brien, said FRRR is delighted to be working closely with Red Earth to implement the Disaster Resilient: Future Ready program in the Burnett.
“From our work with remote, rural and regional communities over the last 22 years, we know that every place is different – and even within a region, there are nuances and different needs. We also know that locals usually have the answers to the challenges around preparing for and responding to our changing climate.
“That’s why we are excited to bring this program to the Burnett. The generous support of the Minderoo Foundation, who bring an adaptable approach towards community resilience planning, means that we can take the time necessary to have conversations in each community, co-design strategies and solutions and, importantly, to activate the ideas and actions that have been collectively prioritised to strengthen resilience to cyclone, flood and other climate impacts.
“Having piloted this model in regional NSW and now working with several communities in Victoria, we know the processes, strategies and actions will look different in each place. In some places, it might include things like workshops to increase understanding of resilience, or strengthening connections within the community, or enhancing local knowledge of climate risks specific to your area or small locality. In other places that might all exist and what’s needed is a clear strategy for adapting to change and disruption, or a focused effort on disaster preparedness that adds value to existing systems and processes.
“Whatever it is, our team will be there to support the local community in prioritising, developing, testing and implementing those ideas,” Ms O’Brien said.
Matthew Chesnais, Resilient Communities Mission Lead at Minderoo Foundation’s Fire and Flood Resilience initiative, believes the project is critical for the region.
“The communities in the Burnett Inland each face different opportunities and challenges. We look forward to working with Red Earth Community Foundation and FRRR to reference the Resilient Communities Framework as part of the project to help the communities consider a systemic and inclusive approach towards their resilience planning.
“Our mission is to strengthen the resilience of identified communities at risk of disasters and we hope to take the learnings from this project and share them nationally to help other communities be disaster resilient,” Mr Chesnais said.
Another stream of the initiative will be to support collaboration across regional agencies and organisations and the development of regional level resilience building initiatives for collective impact.
Find out more about the DR:FR Burnett Inland program and sign up here to receive regular updates and be notified about how you can get involved.
Three regional communities to take part in multi-year initiative
FRRR’s Disaster Resilient: Future Ready (DR:FR) Victorian program continues to build steam, with three regional communities selected to partner with the Foundation to strengthen the resilience and preparedness of their regions.
Korumburra, Myrtleford and Whittlesea township and surrounds will receive support as part of a multi-year, community-led program that is supported by a number of philanthropic organisations.
Nina O’Brien, FRRR’s Disaster Resilience and Recovery Lead, said that the DR:FR initiative works to better prepare communities to address the impacts of climate change, natural disasters and broader disruptions that affect the sustainability, vitality and resilience of remote, rural and regional communities across Australia.
“This is a place-based initiative, whereby FRRR works at a hyper-local level with grassroots organisations and community representatives who are interested in collaborating and leading initiatives to increase community preparedness and strengthen resilience capacity.
“The model is designed to help communities identify and then enact solutions that are held in local knowledge and the intersections of people and place. It creates space, facilitates processes, builds relationships and provides resources for community-generated resilience conversations and initiatives to be held at a pace and style that is appropriate for each local community,” Ms O’Brien explained.
Late last year community representatives were invited to submit an Expression of Interest (EOI) to become partner communities. Over the past eight months, FRRR’s DR:FR Program coordinator has engaged with representatives from the shortlisted communities, listening and learning about what is unique and important to each place and exploring their readiness, willingness, and capacity to participate in this intensive process.
This process helped FRRR understand their shared aspirations, what they believe is important about their community and demonstrated the commitment and interest in participating in the program.
“The emphasis is on the communities being actively engaged and involved in the process. Our aim is to empower local people to build and adapt the strengths, tools and resources that already exist in each community to further strengthen the resilience and preparedness of each place. It will be community-led and tailored to each community, with support and resources provided to allow them to identify, create and sustain their own resilience-building approaches,” Ms O’Brien said.
The program will start in the next month, beginning with a series of activities to bring interested community members together and start engaging with the broader community around aspirations for the future. In addition to the facilitation support from FRRR, the communities will have access to funding for community activities that support community engagement activities and a seed funding pool to engage a local community connector and activate priority actions identified through the DR:FR journey.
More communities waiting in the wings
“While three communities have been selected, there is strong interest from other places to participate in this program,” Ms O’Brien said.
“We have several communities keen and ready to jump on board and we would love to work with them. Our hope is to expand this program to at least one other Victorian community, and we also have groups in other states wanting to be involved.
“But this requires further funding, so we and our partners can work alongside and support local leaders to create meaningful and lasting change that means they can endure, adapt and evolve from disruptions and disasters more quickly, positively and strongly.
“We are grateful to our current partners for making the Victorian DR:FR program possible. We’d love to hear from others with the capacity to partner with us to expand the program,” Ms O’Brien said.
The DR:FR initiative is kindly supported by the following partners: Sidney Myer Fund, Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, Maple-Brown Family Foundation, Simon Kucher and Partners, Ronald Geoffrey Arnott Foundation, H & L Hecht Trust, Suncorp, Pinnacle Charitable Foundation and the Doc Ross Family Foundation.
For more information about the program, visit https://frrr.org.au/drfr-victoria/.