By Dom O’Donnell

Community development has always been a focus for Australian Communities Foundation funders, Peter van Duyn and Veronica Collins. Peter and Veronica established the Espero Fund in 2013 to improve access to education and support community development and advocacy. Peter and Veronica chose the name Espero – Spanish for hope – to reflect their aspirations of affording better opportunities for the next generation.

We briefly caught up with Peter to discuss one of Espero’s latest grants for community development.


Why did you fund this grant for the Human and Hope Association?

Community development is our focus and this often extends to international contexts. But funding international development can be an anxious thing sometimes – you often hear of volunteer programs that have little input from local communities and so there are questions around the kind of good they’re actually doing.

When we came across Human and Hope Association (HHA) – a grassroots community centre in Siem Reap, Cambodia – and learned their work is run entirely by a team of Cambodians, we wanted to find out more. As we read about the work they do, we really felt inspired by their holistic approach to creating sustainable futures for these local communities – not only through education for children, but also through vocational training and support for all community members, particularly for those most vulnerable.


Can you tell us a little bit about the process? How did you find out about HHA?

HHA actually came to us through our fund’s website. We set up the site when we established the Fund and have found it to be a very useful tool for our giving. I think it’s quite important for funders to be transparent about their funding interests and to allow their fund to be found by those seeking funding. So from the get-go, we’ve had our interest areas listed on the site and having these visible means the majority of proposals we receive are actually often quite aligned.

When HHA reached out to us, they were looking for funding to increase their student enrolment from 180 to 230. Such an increase would require an additional language teacher to reduce the pressure on the existing three education staff. After assessing our fund’s current capacity, we were able to offer support for the extra teacher’s salary, health insurance, training and development, and travel costs for almost 12 months.


What attracted you to HHA?

It’s important for us that community development is locally-led – I think that was the first and foremost thing that attracted us to the work. But on top of that, HHA is particularly focused on improving educational opportunities for women and girls. And in our experience, the proof is there that focusing on women and girls can achieve better outcomes – they lift their communities up.


Why do you like funding community development in particular?

For us, education and community development are two key pathways to change. When they are done right, we see communities empowered to create long-term and sustainable change for themselves. In many ways, they’re the building blocks for communities to then advocate for other kinds of change they want to see – whether that’s to do with the environment, democratic rights, gender equality, or whatever it might be.

But that’s not to say we aren’t interested in directly funding advocacy ourselves – we often fund the Human Rights Law Centre and Charcoal Lane; and we’ve recently supported the Public Interest Journalism Initiative and Medevac team at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre through ACF’s Impact Fund. So while we are particularly interested in education and community development, I don’t think funders should ever close themselves off from funding opportunities outside their focus areas. It’s important to know your funding interests, but I think you need to remain open so that you can fund responsively when the opportunities arise and maximise your impact.


Click here to find out more about Peter and Veronica’s Espero fund.

You can read more about the work of the Human and Hope Association here.