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Building local drought plans at heart of new grants

September 01st, 2022

Drought in Australia can mean different things to different communities: what looks like days of dry at Cape York, the northern point of the nation, is not the same as drought in northern NSW. The landscape is different, the language that captures the baked and arid land can be different and the communities, in size, location, and impact, are often quite different. So, planning for drought and how to mitigate its effect can’t be one size fits all. This week, the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR) and the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation (ALRF) announced the first instalment of the Helping Regional Communities Prepare for Drought Initiative. At its core, the program is designed to give locals the resources to create their own plan to tackle drought. 

The program is funded through the Federal government’s Future Drought Fund. Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said earlier this week that the Fund was to help support regional communities preparing for the return of dry conditions.

And while flooding rains have been the most recent and devastating climatic issue for many parts of regional Australia, there are still some areas of Queensland that are technically in drought. Few people doubt that there will be more long periods of drought to come, and it will impact a whole range of regional and remote communities.

“We’re actually trying to build the human architecture for the next drought,’’ Nina O’Brien, FRRR’s Disaster Resilience and Climate Solutions Portfolio Lead says.

What that looks like is a series of grants valued at between $200,000 and $500,000 that will be delivered to projects in 35 regions across the country to help them prepare for drought. Overall, the three-year program will invest almost $30 million in proactive drought-planning across rural, regional and remote Australia.

The program relies on a local NFP taking on the project application and being supported through the grant to develop, co-design and deliver projects that support drought preparedness. These Community Impact Grants will be teamed with Community Leadership Activities, which brings ARLF into the picture, to provide funded leadership development activities to help community leadership evolve and to foster the networks that will be integral to preparing a local drought response.

“The overall aim of the program is to facilitate increased social connection, strengthen network opportunities and link capacity building opportunities to ensure widespread local benefit, so that communities are better prepared for the future,’’ Nina explains.

The Community Impact Grants can be used to fund specific projects, events, training, capability building and small-scale community infrastructure projects.

It builds on FRRR’s previous work, with the Tackling Tough Times Together program, which received an Australian Philanthropy Award in 2020 for helping communities to find the resources they needed to support each other through the drought. The 4T program, which provides grants of up to $10,000 for local projects, showed the effectiveness of locally-driven solutions to the impact of drought.

This proactive approach also emphasises the importance of community leadership. “Building leadership is a critical component of this approach,’’ Nina says.

ARLF will offer leadership development activities that will help strengthen local leadership capabilities that are integral to building community drought resilience.

ARLF’s CEO Matt Linnegar said there were five leadership activities, each of them based on adaptive leadership, resilience and network leadership.

The locations and projects in each of the 35 regions will be chosen based on potential drought impact, community readiness and complementarity with other government and philanthropic investments. Expressions of interest close on September 26.

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