Earlier this month, we were honoured to join in the celebrations at the launch of Victoria’s first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led philanthropic fund. ACF co-founder and Patron Hayden Raysmith AM delivered the below speech on behalf of CEO Maree Sidey.

A special thank you also to Aunty Di, and to the Wurundjeri people on whose land we meet and to their leaders, past, present and emerging.

We are delighted to welcome you here today to celebrate the launch of this ground-breaking fund, Koondee Woonga-gat Toor-rong (KWT).

Before we begin marking this important step towards Aboriginal self-determination, I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of this land and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging. I would particularly like to acknowledge and welcome Elders and other Aboriginal people here today.

We understand the importance of supporting these leaders to work within their communities on their identified goals and priorities.

Our community of givers at ACF has a proud history of supporting Indigenous self-determination. We have an extremely active Indigenous donor circle, made up of ACF funders who have been meeting regularly over many years to discuss how they can best support Indigenous communities.

In the past 4 years alone, 55 ACF funders have provided $3.6 million to Indigenous projects and communities. We always feel privileged at ACF to witness the amazing work of Indigenous leaders. We understand the importance of supporting these leaders to work within their communities on their identified goals and priorities. A great example of this work is the Fellowship for Indigenous Leadership which has had a sub-fund with ACF since 2003. The Fellowship invests in people and supports them to achieve positive outcomes for their communities.

Over the past 16 years, the Fellowship has supported four Fellows and 22 Emerging Leaders, many of whom are in this room today. Several of the leaders are involved with Koondee Woonga-gat Toor-rong, with Peter Aldenhoven as Executive Officer and Stephanie Armstrong, Jody Barney, Terori Hareko-Samios and Kathyrn Coff on the Board.

ACF’s longstanding partnership with Woor-Dungin has been another relationship that has deepened our understanding of Indigenous philanthropy. It was a particularly proud moment last year when we received the Australian Philanthropy Award alongside Woor-Dungin for Best Indigenous Grant for the Criminal Records Discrimination Project. The project resulted in a formal apology in State Parliament and the introduction of new laws to ensure historic care and protection orders are not treated as convictions or findings of guilt. A bill to legislate for a spent conviction scheme in Victoria has recently been introduced to Parliament and its passing will be a further victory for the project.

australian communities foundation woor-dungin

Today is another special moment as we publicly launch Koondee Woonga-gat Toor-rong, the first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-led philanthropic fund to be established in Victoria. We’re very proud that it operates as a sub-fund within the Australian Communities Foundation. The origins of the fund date back to 2006 when Sid and Julia Spindler and several of their friends initiated the Towards A Just Society fund with ACF. Holding true to the belief that self-determination requires control over the funding decisions made for Indigenous communities, the fund’s committee set about transitioning to a fully Indigenous community-led philanthropic sub fund.

It’s time for philanthropy to start reviewing its own operation in the Indigenous funding space and explore what a more culturally sensitive and responsive practice might look like.

Two years later, and after an extensive consultation process within the Aboriginal community, here we all are, celebrating the launch of this fantastic initiative. As with much of our work at ACF, this is a true collaboration. Beyond the transfer of TJSF funds, the initiative is also supported by the BB&A Miller, Williams and Beeton sub-funds. In addition, the Dalton family is delighted that a bequest recently made by the late Les Dalton will now form part of the corpus of the KWT fund.

Today, we are standing on the cusp of what I hope is the future of philanthropy. A new type of giving in which Indigenous people are not only fund recipients, but philanthropic decision-makers. Philanthropy has become very focused on measuring the outcomes and impact of the grants it makes. It has not been quite as focused on turning the gaze on its own performance and outcomes.

It’s time for philanthropy to start reviewing its own operation in the Indigenous funding space and explore what a more culturally sensitive and responsive practice might look like. These efforts can only be helped by having more Indigenous people involved, both modelling a different way of doing business, and challenging the conscious and unconscious bias that exists in the philanthropic sector, as it does throughout society. The hard and uncomfortable truth is that the wealth enjoyed by settler Australia is based on the dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is only right that more philanthropic funds are directed towards self-determination agendas and goals.

At ACF, we see the establishment of the Koondee Woonga-gat Toor-rong fund as a small but very significant step towards truly empowered Indigenous philanthropy.