Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR)

By Jillian Kirwan-Lee, Head of Partnerships

While it’s always good practice to thank your partners, it is usually done privately – in letters or acquittal reports, in phone calls and emails or in face-to-face meetings – and occasionally, at an event or in media releases launching a new program. And rightly so.

But we want to take this opportunity to publicly give a shout-out to the Origin Energy Foundation. While there are other organisations that we have worked with for much longer – and to whom we are equally grateful – in the case of the Origin Energy Foundation we have worked with them in multiple ways – not just in a funder / grantee relationship.

FRRR and the Origin Energy Foundation first partnered on the Back to School program

This is a great example of the value of funders and grantees building trusting relationships, which support open and transparent conversations, as called for in the Paying What It Takes report.

The Origin Energy Foundation first partnered with FRRR in 2013 on our Back to School program. This initiative, now in its final year as a stand-alone program for FRRR, saw us provide $50 vouchers through a network of community foundations and community-based delivery partners to ease the financial burden on families at the start of the school year, ensuring that children in need had the basics required to start the year with the best possible chance of being engaged in their education. 

It’s a program that has had a significant impact, enhancing access to education for thousands of students and in the process, helping to build stronger, more vibrant and sustainable remote, rural and regional communities. As one recipient family put it, “My daughter is no longer embarrassed to go to school now that she has a new uniform and is no longer made fun of.” It’s hard to believe that $50 vouchers can do that – but they can, especially when additional support is wrapped around it.

We’ve experienced something similar with the Origin Energy Foundation. While they provided multi-year funding to the program for over a decade, supporting more than 20,000 families along the way, the Foundation has provided FRRR with so much more.

They advocated for us, introducing us to other organisations that could come on board as partners and writing about the importance of supporting education in remote areas in articles in mainstream media. Their staff supported the program, with matched donations through workplace giving and they shared impact stories through their employee communication channels. They helped us promote the program and its impact externally too, gifting us space in The Big Issue magazine, as well as paying for a trusted videography partner to work with us to develop two campaigns to help with additional fundraising. And when crises hit, like the Black Summer Bushfires, they contributed to an additional round of the Back to School program for students in affected communities to ensure children’s education didn’t suffer.

But perhaps most importantly, they put their trust in FRRR and provided flexible funding to direct the donations where they made the most difference, believing that we knew how best to support those that we work with.

Such collaboration and care are rare, with the philanthropic sector often directing support towards those areas that are meaningful to the funder, rather than what is needed by the community.

We take that locally-driven yet holistic approach in our own granting, as do the groups that we partner with on the ground. For example, as one of our community partners put it, “The vouchers allow us to keep an eye on the disadvantaged students and provide additional wellbeing support. Our students that receive support often do not display overt behaviours that would indicate the level of financial distress in the home. Each connection made through the vouchers allows the family to open up and share their stories, which at times has allowed us to connect them to other services in the community. Picking up the vouchers from the front office means we can connect with families that often don’t come into the school or are reluctant to meet with us.” Like the Origin Energy Foundation, we trust them to get the support where it’s most needed.

While FRRR will no longer be running the Back to School program, several Community Foundations will take it forward, customising it to meet the needs of their local community. We will have an ongoing role in building capacity of those groups, as we transition the program to local management.

Instead, FRRR will redirect our educational investment through small grants, which we know offers more flexibility to local groups to support their community in the most appropriate way.

So, while this current phase of our partnership with Origin Energy Foundation is coming to a close, we remain connected as we strive for better educational outcomes for young people living in remote, rural and regional Australia.

In the meantime, our deep thanks and appreciation to Origin Energy Foundation, for taking a flexible, generous and trusting approach for all you do for young Australians in need.