Crowdfunding the Gap

29 Aug 2015

As many Indigenous specific programs and services continue to downsize or disappear altogether due to Federal and State governments cutting funding and withdrawing support, many are turning to the online community to keep their doors open.

Disclaimer: The author, Luke Pearson, is the owner of IndigenousX which has a partnership with crowdfunding platform StartSomeGood – bringing an awkward and uncomfortable new meaning to the phrase ‘native advertising’.

As many Indigenous specific programs and services continue to downsize or disappear altogether due to Federal and State governments cutting funding and withdrawing support, many are turning to the online community to keep their doors open.

Crowdfunding is a great tool for raising funds for one off events, campaigns, or projects. It is also great for startups who aspire to make themselves sustainable but need that initial capital to get the ball rolling; but can it be an effective means of maintaing essential services and programs designed to impact positively on the lives of Indigenous people?

Sustaining Indigenous services programs on short term funding cycles has long been a challenge for many organisations, and has been a longstanding criticism of government funding processes. It makes long term planning almost impossible and it can make it difficult to retain qualified staff or expand scope due to organisations never knowing if their funding will even be there in 3 years, or even in 12 months time. Reliance on ‘goodwill’ from governments has never been a particularly safe place for Indigenous peoples to be, and this is especially true in a political climate defined by massive across the board funding cuts to Indigenous affairs, and a highly criticised and problematic funding process in the form of the ‘Indigenous Advancement Strategy’.

Unfortunately though, crowdfunding is not long term funding either, and it can be very difficult to raise amounts large enough needed to sustain such services without an extensive online campaign , but it can buy some much needed breathing space. It can keep the doors open for a few more weeks, months, maybe even a year or two, depending on the nature of the program or service in question. Time that can be used to garner public support, renegotiate with government and NGOs, or seek out other potential funding opportunities.

But if there is not a change of approach from government in the long term then the majority of such crowdfunding efforts, successful or not, will likely just be delaying the inevitable.

What crowdfunding can help to do, however, is to show the real world impacts of what happens when governments withdraw much needed support, and make it abundantly clear that it is not simply ‘red tape’ that is being cut in Indigenous affairs. Instead it is family support, health, legal aid, community safety and education, along with countless other essential programs and services that are being directly affected.

This means that crowdfunding for Indigenous programs and services will often, directly or indirectly, take on additional roles of lobbying, awareness raising, and ‘naming and shaming’ governments and politicians as well as trying to securing additional funding. This is important if it is to have long term success not just for individual programs, but for improving the nature of government funding long term as well.

The obvious down side of this is that individual groups may rightly fear that they will find it much more difficult to secure government funding in future once they have been seen to publicly embarrass them over their withdrawal of funding and support. This is a risk more and more groups are seeing as worth taking though, as without fighting back and looking for alternate funding opportunities, many more will soon be gone anyway.

IndigenousX has had some crowdfunding success via the crowdfunding site StartSomeGood (nine successful from ten attempted projects, and two more currently underway), and has seen many other comparable projects on various other crowdfunding sites. The successful campaigns are usually anywhere between $3000 and $80,000, much less than is often needed to employ full time staff, maintain a site of operations, and buy and develop additional resources.

It is enough to buy some additional time, raise awareness of why such programs or services are needed, and to contribute to the ongoing battle with bureaucrats and politicians to reverse funding cuts and introduce a sustainable funding plan to ensure progress towards ‘Close the Gap’ targets.

One such project which is turning to crowdfunding due to a loss of funding from government is being lead by the Jimmy Little Foundation (JLF), established by the late Dr  Jimmy Little AO, a proud Yorta Yorta man who during his life was renowned as being one of Australia’s most beloved singers and entertainers, as well as an early pioneer for Aboriginal musicians achieving mainstream success, and as a man who earned the love and respect of many Australians from all walks of life.

Uncle Jimmy established the JLF in 2006 ‘to improve renal health across Indigenous communities in regional and remote Australia’. This mission is being continued by his long time friend and manager, Graham “Buzz”  Bidstrup and cotinues to ‘provide health and nutrition education and to strive for excellence in health care for Indigenous Australians’.

The Foundation initially worked closely with the “Purple House” in Alice Springs to help raise awareness of the lack of renal services in remote communities and the complexities of the tri state ( NT, SA, WA) agreements relating the chronic disease management. In 2010, a large proportion of a grant given to the JLF from Medicines Australia was used to manufacture a mobile renal truck ( called the Purple Bus) that still operates out of Alice Springs.  The representatives of the Foundation have also presented papers and delivered lectures at major health conferences across the country, highlighting the need for strategic action on many issues including aged care, alcohol and other drugs and chronic disease management.

The Federal Government has unfortunately discontinued funding for the innovative  ‘Thumbs Up!’ school and community health and well-being program which has been developed for children living in remote Aboriginal communities. The Thumbs Up! “Good Tucker – Long Life” nutrition education program has been successfully delivering preventative health messages across Australia since 2009. Thumbs up! has gathered many supporters in communities across Australia due to it’s whole of community approach and engagement with many sectors who work in the community.

Elizabeth “Ganygulpa” Dhurrkay, from Milingimbi NT, believes that Thumbs Up! “gives a message clear and simple to us here in the community — eat good tucker to live a healthy life… You have got to start somewhere and the kids are the start of that change” (You can see a full interview here: )

Kevin Bennett, a Gamilaroi man who is a Thumbs up! facilitator, has seen first hand how the program impacts the children. ” It is essential to maintain the delivery of these programs because after 6 years we are seeing real change in the eating habits of the young people and we are close to a 10 year delivery that will see a generational change in the health of those in the community”

Jimmy’s daughter Frances Peters-Little is the chair of trustees for the Foundation.  “I believe there is so much more that the JLF can do to help Indigenous Australians. My father was a  humanitarian who was always thinking about his fellow man.”

The JLF have not given up on the idea that the government may recommence funding, but is planning to use the time this crowdfunding campaign will buy them to explore other options as well as continuing to lobby and negotiate government for support.

Jimmy Little Foundation CEO and Managing Director of Thumbs up! Graham “Buzz” Bidstrup said “While we were very disappointed that the Government did not re fund our chronic disease prevention program, I will continue to press the Federal and State Governments to at least recognise that preventative health  initiatives are worth funding. I honestly don’t mind if they don’t fund us to do it…. just as long as someone is funded to continue preventative health initiativesas we the taxpayers will be the ones paying for the large spike in future hospital and treatment costs…  Of course as an organisation who has a great track record in delivering health and nutrition programs it would make sense for us to be re funded!”

So while the future of long term Indigenous funding remains in question, it is becoming increasingly clear that there are many who will not go down without a fight. And while it is unlikely that crowdfunding alone will be able to sustain every attempt, it will undoubtedly become a strategy that more and more organisations and programs turn to in days ahead if we do not see a massive shift from governments in prioritising, and making long term commitments towards, their own Closing the Gap targets.

NB: You can find out more about the JLF campaign and how you can help, here:

And you can learn more about the campaigns supported so far by IndigenousX on StartSomeGood, here:

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