Supporting indigenous Australians

Grants to indigenous Australians and indigenous communities are most effective when they support community-led projects backed by organisations with strong governance.

Where do we start?

Non-indigenous grantmakers can find the prospect of investing in indigenous communities challenging, either because they feel they are lacking in cultural understanding or because indigenous disadvantage seems to be such a complex problem. But experts say the answers to the problems are known, and indigenous Australians are of course people first, even though there are certain protocols that pertain to working with people in indigenous communities.

A Worthwhile Exchange: A Guide to Indigenous Philanthropy, a booklet produced by the Rio Tinto Aboriginal Fund and others, says the most effective grantmaking supports community-led ideas backed by organisations with strong governance.

It advises grantmakers to trust that indigenous communities know who's who and who has what experience and therefore who should be involved. It also encourages grantmakers to recognise that one-third of Australia's indigenous population lives in urban areas, so indigenous need should not be seen as exclusively rural and remote.

Former Reconciliation Australia chair Mark Leibler identified three keys to success in overcoming indigenous disadvantage:

  • local solutions
  • indigenous involvement in program design and decision-making
  • respectful, consistent support, both human and financial, by non-indigenous community members.

What if we want to support children in particular?

Our Children, Our Future: Achieving Improved Primary and Secondary Education Outcomes for Indigenous Students is a report published by the AMP foundation, Effective Philanthropy and Social Ventures Australia. It says there are a number of options for improving educational outcomes for indigenous students.

The report outlines eight categories of intervention, including scholarships, staff training, a tailored curriculum, holistic student support and holistic schooling.

The report recommends a multi-faceted program and says that investments:

  • require a holistic understanding of the local issues that need to be addressed to achieve effective outcomes
  • may involve multiple service providers and therefore may be complex
  • often require high levels of overall funding
  • tend to require higher levels of support in relation to interventions delivered in remote areas
  • need to allow a reasonable timeframe for change, given the complexity of the issues.


  • Consider partnerships with (other) philanthropists or with government to boost outcomes and reduce the burden of administration and accountability on grantseekers.
  • Publish and make available - ideally online - information about the outcomes of investments you make in indigenous programs. There is a serious lack of information available for analysis.
  • Forge relationships with indigenous people.
  • Let go of traditional expectations of program and project outcomes.
  • Minimise paper-based application processes to minimise the burden on small organisations with limited resources.
  • Listen, be open to ideas and input, and put your trust in local people.
  • Visit indigenous communities and invite indigenous organisations to present their views.
  • Look for opportunities for indigenous people to work with your organisation.

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