Youth crucial to grants program’s success

Posted on 07 Aug 2023

By Matthew Schulz, journalist, SmartyGrants

A youth grants program targeting big issues for that generation is kicking goals by recruiting young people to be closely involved in key decisions.

The Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR) – which funnels funds from a myriad of philanthropic, government and private funding sources – says the participatory model of the FRRR ABC Heywire Youth Innovation grants program has proven its worth over the past decade.

That’s because the program has demonstrated it can address issues that matter most to young people by getting youth peers involved at every stage.

FRRR’s program has distributed $1.4 million to 128 communities over the past 10 years. The most recent round saw grants of up to $10,000 each handed out to 19 groups, with total funding of more than $172,000.

FRRR Youth Innovation Grants
FRRR and the ABC rely on young leaders to develop the themes for its grants round.

The grants are based on priorities generated by young Australians in remote, rural and regional areas, and further developed by emerging youth leaders at an annual Heywire summit hosted in Canberra.

Grants based on those themes are then opened to applications nationally.

In 2023, youth at the National Heywire Youth Summit in Canberra, developed project concepts across six themes: Easy Access, We Are not Alone, Homegrown Hub, Boredom Relief, Idea4Change, and Hear Our Voices.

Those themes addressed (in order) mental health, disability, food relief, safe spaces, education, and youth representation.

Heywire Pic From FRR Rsite
Heywire participants pitch their case at Parliament House, Canberra, in March. Picture: Bradley Cummings/FRRR

Young people invited to lead grants program

Deb Samuels
FRRR's Deb Samuels believes her organisation's programs are better for their youth involvement.

Deb Samuels, FRRR’s people portfolio lead, said the program gave young people a say in the grants targeting them, while also preparing them for community leadership roles.

“This program not only gives young Australians a platform to champion the causes that matter to them, but more importantly, it puts their thoughts and ideas into action. Young people are the future and the initiatives being funded are a great example of how they can have a direct and positive impact on regional Australia.

“The young people who participate in this program – either in developing the ideas or helping them come to life in their community – often go on to do great things in their communities and beyond,” Ms Samuels said.

Several ABC Heywire alumni, as well as producers from the national broadcaster, FRRR staff and key donor partners, sit on the panel that recommends grant applications for approval by the FRRR board.

Ms Samuels said the decision-making structure involved young people in each step of the program, ensuring they had a strong say in which initiatives best aligned with the issues affecting them.

That committee role also gave participants valuable insights into the world of philanthropy and grants assessments, with the support of FRRR directors and staff.

FRRR programs
A snap summary of the youth innovation grants program. Picture: FRRR

FRRR focused on supporting youth in grants decisions

Ms Samuels said youth involvement had been “fundamental to the Heywire model and FRRR’s partnership” for the past decade.

“FRRR manages the nuts and bolts of delivery for the Youth Innovation grants program, but the youth assessment panel ultimately decide which projects best match the project ideas.”

This also means the panel is presented only with worthy applications.

“The FRRR staff do all the due diligence to make sure that projects are fundable and those that are in alignment with the Heywire grant guidelines are presented to the youth panel,” she said.

“They then have complete discretion to make recommendations knowing that the heavy lifting has already been done, and that anything put to them is grant worthy, but they make the actual decisions about what to fund and what is important to them.”

She said young people on the panel provided thoughtful, well-researched and well-considered evaluations of the proposals and were “passionate advocates for projects that really resonated with them”.

She said the only challenge for the organisation was being able to make time and find ways to connect with such diverse panel members, and she advised funders to be flexible.

“Young people are busy with school, work, caring responsibilities and so much more. We are asking them to volunteer for the youth assessment panel so it's important that we really value their time and find flexible ways to connect. Meeting them where they are is important.”

Young grants reviewer invited to be brutally honest

Tess Deak
Young disability and chronic illness advocate Tessa Deak

Young Mt Gambier disability and chronic illness advocate Tessa Deak, who lives with myaglic encephalomyelitis (also known as chronic fatigue syndrome), has experienced the FRRR program from a “full circle” perspective over the past few years.

Ms Deak, 23, was first involved in Heywire through its leadership development program Trailblazers a few years back, where she spoke up for the need for more action on chronic illness and wellbeing.

That Trailblazers event ran alongside the 2020 Heywire Canberra summit, where Ms Deak watched young leaders pitch the big themes for that year’s youth grants funding round and was inspired to make her first ever grant application.

After winning funds for a Let’s Talk About Disability program for schools in South Australia’s Limestone Coast region, Ms Deak won an internship with FRRR, which asked her to provide critiques of applications.

Her frank commentary in a series called “my honest opinions” was used to help an assessment panel to assess applications, and her accounts were given a great deal of weight.

Ms Deak said the experience of being involved in grants assessments behind the scenes ­– including during pandemic restrictions – opened her eyes to the “why” of grants, to what made some grant applications stand above the rest, and to why winning applications were likely to be tailored to the brief, realistic, achievable and adaptable.

"I was able to see what takes a grant submission from good to great, and what can cause a grant to be put into the 'no' pile.

“Sometimes it was uncomfortable having to not recommend applications where you knew that they could be really good, just wasn’t ready or failed to meet the grant’s themes.”

Far West UC
With a $7,269 grant, Far West University Centre hosted a "Discover Your Future" event, aimed at giving young people a chance to explore career options.

‘Nothing about us, without us’

The experience reinforced Ms Deak’s belief that youth should be involved heavily in the youth-based grants program.

“You wouldn’t distribute farming grants where you hadn’t spoken to or understood the needs of farmers, and it’s the same for young people: they’ve got to be involved the whole way through.

“That same principle is true in the disability space, and I support that phrase that’s often commonly used across many marginalised groups: ‘Nothing about us without us.’”

Ms Deak said it was obvious when applicants had not properly considered youth.

In those cases, she was prompted to ask: “‘Is this actually going to be something that kids are interested in?’, because I’m not sure I would have been, as opposed to ones where you’re like, ‘Wow! There are young people at the forefront of this, this looks fabulous, and I can see it getting off the ground straight away.’”

She said FRRR and the ABC were committed to making real connections with youth.

“You can see that at every point they’re trying to include young people, which includes workshops and other activities to support them putting forward a grant.”

Ms Deak said funders should be conscious that as young people couldn’t accept money for projects, they must be auspiced by the right kinds of organisations. Young people were often inexperienced in seeking funding and needed support and guidance with applications and project management.

To round out her grantmaking journey, Ms Deak was later employed on a short contract with grant partners the ABC to produce disability-related content and to promote the Youth Innovation grants across Australia.

Clearly, she was well placed to advise groups on how to craft better applications, including putting more effort into budgets and ensuring applications met the brief.

“I really enjoyed helping people improve those applications, and it’s always exciting … when they get announced to see what people have come up with.”

Funding for the 2023 grants program is expected to be announced in September.

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