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4 min read

Transforming policy through rapid advocacy

Profile of Nicole Richards
Written by Nicole RichardsPosted on 26/5/2020

“What we’re hearing consistently is how much the Covid-19 crisis exacerbates inequality,” says Kirsty Albion, Executive Director at Australian Progress.

“Whether that’s homelessness and housing, people in the criminal justice system, remote Indigenous communities, young people on casual work contracts or refugees who can’t access the health system, Covid-19 has made life for these communities so much harder.

The Covid-19 Rapid Advocacy Fund established by Australian Progress, together with Australian Communities Foundation and Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), is a donor pool designed to rapidly inject funds into strategic advocacy campaigns demanding ambitious policies in response to the pandemic in Australia.

“We have to make sure we come out the other side with better policies that represent the interests of our communities”

The Fund, Albion says, is not just about responding to the crisis in the short-term “but also advocating for better policies in the long term”.

“We have to make sure we come out the other side with better policies that represent the interests of our communities.”

“We know that’s possible because we’ve seen early wins from groups like Better Renting which has secured wins for renters’ rights and helped shape state policies around rental evictions. The First Peoples’ Disability Network has also helped ensure First Nations people living with disability aren’t left behind during the pandemic.

“There’s also been a lot of media attention generated for key issues and political engagement through meetings and briefings,” Albion says.

In its first month the Fund raised $100,000 and true to its name, it has quickly distributed $70,000 across 14 advocacy campaigns after receiving 80 applications from grassroots organisations.

“We have a lot of flexibility in terms of who we can give to,” Albion explains. “It can be small non-profits or small community groups.”

A joint decision-making committee comprising representatives from Australian Progress, Australian Communities Foundation and ACOSS meets each Tuesday with major donors welcome to join the committee.  

“The committee uses a rolling basis of philanthropists,” Albion says. “It’s designed to be a space where you can be really involved in the granting decisions or not at all but we’re hearing from some of the committee members how great it is to get a finger on the pulse to see some of the most innovative advocacy campaigns that are taking shape.”

Backed by early support by the Mannifera funders, Besen Family Foundation, Vasudhara Foundation and individual donors, the Rapid Advocacy Fund now aims to raise $20,000 each week to fund high impact advocacy projects across Australia.

Philanthropy has a key role to play in advocacy Albion says, and increasing numbers of philanthropic funders have begun to step into the advocacy space.

“The marriage equality campaign was such a big moment where philanthropy had a very clear impact on public policy,” Albion says.

“Advocacy is most effective when it’s led by the people who are being affected by the issues”

“Philanthropy is an extremely powerful lever to pull when it can help unlock billions of dollars for social housing or health services in remote communities or access to health for refugee and migrant communities or a social security net for casual workers. Dollar for dollar, it’s an extraordinary investment.

“I think people are moving beyond funding the band-aids at the end of a problem and instead they’re thinking about how we attack the root causes.

“Advocacy is most effective when it’s led by the people who are being affected by the issues,” Albion continues. “That’s what the Rapid Advocacy Fund aims to do; fund the communities most affected by these issues.”

As we contemplate what Australia and the world will look like post-Covid-19, Albion stresses the potential of this moment.

“It’s so important that we don’t underestimate the power of working together and what is possible,” she says.

“This crisis has shown us we can provide hotel rooms for every homeless person if we want to; we can make sure every person has a roof over their heads and is able to feed their family. In this crisis we’ve made extraordinary choices to keep people safe but some choices have exacerbated inequality for others.

“We need the courage to say no one should be left behind and when we pool our resources we can create a fairer future for everyone.”