Growing our own and supporting local community services
How do we care for our community, nurture it and help it grow? Buying locally, shopping locally, supporting farmers’ markets, businesses and artists? These are all familiar concepts; it helps us feel a part of something bigger, cultivates a sense of belonging, and promotes a feeling of ownership: I support my community; this is where I live and belong. However, there is one way of ‘growing our own’ often overlooked and undervalued - supporting our local community organisations.
Grassroots community organisations are built and sustained on the foundation of ‘by the community, for the community’. With this valuable narrative in mind, I propose that the government commit to supporting local community organisations before funding ‘out-of-state’ providers.
At the AIDS Action Council, we are scaling up our community work, with the backing and support of our great community. We are also gearing up to respond to the rapid growth of our city and taking the necessary time to strategically review our purpose and re-establish our mandate.
Our sex and gender diverse population is growing – not only with new migrants, interstaters and public servants, but also with record numbers of people who are coming out as gay, lesbian or bisexual. Our sex and gender diverse youth are more visible than ever, and more and more are coming out. Likewise, as our work progresses and people feel they can be themselves, the number of trans and gender diverse people continues to increase. As the city grows and our communities expand, the Council is positioning itself to ensure continued growth in the supply of services to respond to the community and people’s needs.
In order to fulfil our commitment, funding needs to be ongoing and sustainable. We rely on the success of tenders to increase our capacity and grow our service offering. The process for obtaining adequate funding is challenging, competitive and time-consuming. Unlike large organisations, we do not have access to grant writers or teams to work exclusively on writing applications. We do this work in, and amongst, all the day-to-day business requirements of running a community organisation. It feels like we are constantly swimming upstream. But we swim because without this capacity, locally grown and owned organisations will no longer be sustainable. It is a concerning and frustrating outcome, when large interstate providers are then awarded the tenders that would clearly benefit from being offered to community-controlled organisations who are better positioned to deliver higher quality outcomes.
Evidence demonstrates that organisations which are governed, led and supported by people with lived experience can achieve greater outcomes than mainstream, birth-to-death providers without a specialised mandate. Self-determined organisations allow the voice of impacted communities to be heard in a decision-making and decision-influencing capacity, and bring an authoritative voice to co-design and co-production that others are not able to provide. When communities actively inform local responses to need via their community organisations, and stakeholders partner together to create connections between individuals and groups, it makes a community unique, purpose-built and highly beneficial to all its members.
For this reason, I strongly urge government to recognise the vast benefits of supporting locally grown, grassroots community organisations before funding and promoting large interstate service providers with no first-hand knowledge or experience working with local community. Ongoing collaboration between local government and local community must be a high priority commitment so we can ‘grow our own’ and meet the burgeoning needs of our wonderful communities.
This article first appeared in the ACTCOSS newsletter, August 2019. Find out more about ACTCOSS here.