Stories in philanthropy

Asking the big questions: Fay Fuller Foundation

Seeking to catalyse systems change that improves health outcomes for all South Australians, the Fay Fuller Foundation has commissioned and shared first-of-its-kind research that provides eye-opening insights for funders and anyone with an interest in population health.

Stacey Thomas, CEO of the Adelaide-based Fay Fuller Foundation, isn’t one to shy away from asking the big questions.

When the Foundation sought to increase its impact by narrowing the focus of its grantmaking, Thomas, in her characteristically thoughtful but direct way, posed two key questions:

“We knew that from a leadership perspective it was about asking ourselves the question of ‘Where to next?’”

“We also knew that we were in no position to answer the question of where our help was needed most. As board members, we felt we were in privileged positions compared to some members of our community; who were we to decide what our community needed?”

“It was a really interesting process from asking ourselves in the beginning, ‘What data do you draw upon to get a true picture of health in South Australia?’” Thomas says. “We knew we had to try to match this data with an understanding of the lived health experience of all our communities.”

The Fay Fuller Foundation duly commissioned the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) and The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) to develop a “holistic snapshot of the health system in South Australia” with three key aims:

  • to identify and examine existing research on SA health issues and priorities
  • to seek insights from stakeholders including health consumers and health care workers
  • to identify opportunities to improve quality of life and health outcomes for South Australians by highlighting community priorities, gaps in knowledge, and areas for improved efficiency and effectiveness.

Overlaying the research was a systems map that considers government targets and policies and where funding is rising or falling.

“Ultimately, this was about determining where our philanthropic dollars are best placed to influence health and wellbeing outcomes,” Thomas explains.

Unsurprisingly, the research has attracted the attention of the State Government and Thomas says the Foundation is keen to share its findings.

More surprising were the findings from a series of focus groups conducted as part of the research.

“The in-depth interviews told us that most people were more concerned about their interaction with the health system as opposed to the disease or health condition they were experiencing,” Thomas says.

“This was an important finding and underscored the role of media and prevailing narratives about the ‘broken health system’. It was surprising to us that even though one per cent  of the almost 3,000 people who responded to the research survey said that the health system was their biggest health or wellbeing challenge, 11 per cent said that the health system was the biggest challenge for someone else.”

By establishing a true (and robust) picture of South Australia’s health, Thomas says the Foundation is better positioned than ever to target its impact.

“South Australia has an ageing population, with just under a quarter of our entire population living in rural or remote locations,” she says. “We know what factors will lead adults and children to have a greater prevalence of certain diseases. We know that our Aboriginal population has a significantly younger age profile, higher rates of developing chronic diseases and longer periods of hospitalisation. We also know that our community members that come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds have specific needs that don’t currently have a policy framework to action or monitor their care.

“The bigger question is how do we design and deliver solutions that do more than acknowledge these facts?  How do we help people to live better, healthier lives and reverse these trends that are currently known to be true?

“As we all strive to provide better outcomes, knowing the data and a view from the individual to population allows us to create better solutions with the people whose lives we are trying to impact.

“We believe this research is an important step in providing transparency to all of the individuals, groups and stakeholders trying to improve health outcomes in South Australia.”


Download a pdf copy of the Health Needs and Priorities in South Australia report or the Health Needs and Priorities Systems Map from the Fay Fuller Foundation website.

Stories in philanthropy

Find the latest stories and developments in philanthropy from around Australia

See stories

Become a member!

Our mission is more and better philanthropy. Be part of the journey.

Join now