Stories in philanthropy

Mobilising the future: The Toyota Community Trust

Toyota Australia’s philanthropic activities have grown and evolved alongside the company’s operations. The closure of its Australian manufacturing plant in 2017 paved the way for a new philanthropic vehicle: the Toyota Community Trust, dedicated to advancing STEM education for the next generation of Australians. Toyota Australia’s Katarina Persic says corporate philanthropy is no longer the “last cog in the wheel”.

Nicole Richards, May 2019

A market leader in Australia for more than 16 years, and 2019 winner of the Most Trusted Brand in its category, Toyota remains one of the world’s most recognised corporate brands. 

The multinational auto manufacturer started its operations in Australia in 1963 and over the years Toyota Australia’s corporate social responsibility activities have spanned volunteering, community engagement with local councils, employee grants, disaster relief, matched workplace giving and more.

In 2017 when the company closed its manufacturing plant in Melbourne’s west, the Toyota Community Trust was established to leave a legacy that would provide long term benefits to the Australian community.

Katarina Persic, who manages the company’s corporate citizenship program and the Toyota Community Trust, has played a key role in the evolution of the company’s philanthropic activity.

“It takes time to build an understanding of philanthropy within a corporate setting,” Persic says.

“In business you’re not dealing with people who necessarily work in the area philanthropy’ so you’re sometimes translating philanthropic concepts into knowledge they understand.”

“Rather than being reliant upon operational funding which fluctuates from year to year, my dream was to have a separate amount of money held in trust for the company’s philanthropic activities,” Persic says.

The company, managed to bring that dream to fruition after three years of scoping, planning and advocating at the highest levels of the Toyota’s Japan HQ.

“There’s actually a very strong philanthropic tradition within the company,” Persic explains. “There are 14 Toyota Foundations around the world and there are three broad areas the company gives in: road safety, the environment and education.”

Toyota Australia’s 50-year discretionary trust was established with an endowment of $32 million. With a view to ‘enabling young Australians to reach their potential’ the Trust has a singular focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.

Specifically, the Toyota Community Trust aims to:

  • Address barriers to students pursuing STEM related studies
  • Provide students with access to quality learning environments and experiences
  • Support teachers to strengthen their STEM teaching skills
  • Address gaps between studies offered and employer needs.

“Education is a wide area and every Toyota country interprets it for what feels right for their community,” Persic explains.

“For us, the STEM skill sets will deliver the engineers and designers of the future.”

Since its inception in late 2017, the Toyota Community Trust has focused its support in Melbourne’s west with more than $1 million shared among 20 organisations including Western Chances, Code Like a Girl, Robokids and Maths Pathway. Grant submissions are by invitation only.

“One of the advantages of the Trust is that we have the flexibility to give to anyone who can do the job,” Persic says. “We’re not limited to giving only to charities but can give to businesses, schools and social enterprises.”

“Our Directors now have a good understanding that philanthropy is about risk capital and there’s even been a willingness to support a few start-up projects.”

Persic says that the Trust’s primary activity is currently in the experimentation phase.

“Right now, our main concern is ensuring that what is delivered is best value, is good quality and gives us some learnings,” she says.

“We’ve just finished our first formal grant round and we’ll be doing some evaluation as the results come in.”

Collaboration will be a key focus for the Trust, which has expressed its intention to collaborate with other funders and corporates and has attracted the interest of the Victorian Department of Education.

“I think the fact that we’re not government, we’re not a bureaucracy and we’re nimble and quick and able to go in and see what works is very appealing,” Persic says.

Persic, who studied Social Impact & Philanthropy at Swinburne University, says she is pleased that corporate philanthropy is finally becoming recognised for its contribution in the giving landscape.

Read more:

Toyota Community Trust’s first 12 months of project funding

Nicole Richards is a freelance writer, story coach and former Chief Storyteller at Philanthropy Australia.

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