To improve wellbeing and equity in local communities, United Way Australia and Mission Australia with other members of the Strengthening Communities Alliance, have joined forces to launch a Strengthening Communities Position Paper and call on the Federal Government to lead systemic responses that will scale up place-based community-led initiatives across Australia.

Place-based community-led initiatives are collaborative, long-term approaches to building thriving communities where many people and organisations work together towards a shared vision for their community. The newly formed Strengthening Communities Alliance is a growing network of organisations that currently has eight members, committed to supporting this approach to creating positive social change. 

The Alliance says that these initiatives lead to positive outcomes in communities where traditional service delivery models have failed despite massive financial investment in support services of around $64 billion per year across the country.1

The new Paper reveals that postcodes often determine disadvantage, and a small number of communities experience complex, entrenched, persistent disadvantage. 

It notes that increasingly, community members, groups, services and governments are working together to understand the drivers of disadvantage and create long-term change. However, many disadvantaged communities miss out, without the opportunity to do this type of work.

The Alliance’s paper shows what is preventing place-based community-led initiatives from expanding to more communities across Australia such as the way competitive funding processes discourage collaboration, and restrictions on access and sharing of data that would help communities make decisions about priorities and solutions. 

The Alliance says six key opportunities, with national leadership and support, will build the needed infrastructure and ensure more people across more locations can work together to strengthen their local community. 

The Alliance’s key recommendations are for the Federal Government to develop:

  1. A national centre of excellence
  2. A place-based investment framework
  3. A national effort to improve outcomes measurement and evaluation approaches
  4. A national clearing house
  5. An audit, review and realignment of existing place-based programs
  6. Guidelines to incorporate place and community-focused principles into all programs  

The organisations note opportunities in the upcoming Federal Budget for greater Government focus on scaling up place-based community-led work.

It comes with the backdrop of recent Federal Government recognition of the value of this type of work through its Stronger Places, Stronger People initiatives and investment in the National Centre for Place-Based Collaboration (Nexus Centre).

United Way’s CEO, Clayton Noble says: 

“Place-based approaches are fundamentally different to traditional top-down government-funded programs delivered in vulnerable communities. Rather, it’s about meaningful engagement with community stakeholders with a focus on a community’s strengths. Creating long-term sustainable change is only achievable at a local level by addressing challenges important to a specific community, alongside or led-by, the people who live there.

“Community service organisations can play at important intermediary role in helping to facilitate this change. For example, over the last seven years, United Way, Jesuit Social Services, and Baptist Care Hope Street have been collaborating closely, along with other partners, to see systems change for Mt Druitt families through the work of The Hive which uses a holistic and inclusive approach centred around community voice and aspirations. The Hive is a great model that shows how scaling up community activity, linking with policymakers and supporting shared action can elevate community concerns and deliver better outcomes for residents.”

Mission Australia’s Executive of Practice, Evidence and Impact, Marion Bennett says:  

“At Mission Australia, we see what so many communities, governments, service providers and Trusts and Foundations already know and witness the immense value of place-based work for the communities we serve. But place-based work isn’t yet where it should be in Australia.

“To address the entrenched disadvantage that exists in some locations, we’re calling for a systemic response to scaling place-based community-led work across Australia. With coordinated national leadership in the development of supporting infrastructure, local communities can unlock opportunities to work towards positive change and create a new vision for their community.

“At Mission Australia, we have made a strong commitment to partnering to strengthen communities. We leverage and focus our resources to contribute to place-based initiatives. We have seen communities achieve outstanding results.

“One example is our first Community of Focus, which is in Cairns South and has gone from strength to strength. Recently, our local team has worked alongside more than 100 community members of ‘Cairns South Together’ to co-develop and launch a Community Plan, website, and Community Data Dashboard.”

Members of the Strengthening Communities Alliance:

BaptistCare HopeStreet
Brotherhood of St Laurence
Jesuit Social Services
Key Assets Australia 
Mission Australia
The Smith Family
United Way Australia
Uniting NSW.ACT

1Welfare expenditure - Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

Read the report

Strengthening Communities Summary Paper

Strengthening Communities Position Paper

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