New vision, new grants for the Ross Trust

Providing vulnerable young Victorians with more opportunities to complete their schooling, and protecting and conserving Victoria’s biodiversity will be the key focus of granting from the Ross Trust over the coming five years.

The Ross Trust has refined its granting strategy to focus heavily on educational equity and biodiversity conservation, and this week will open its new Smart Grants as the first opportunity for organisations to apply for philanthropic funds under the new strategy.

Outgoing Chair of the Trust, Jenny Stephens, said this refined approach to the Ross Trust’s philanthropy was all about developing a stronger understanding of how the Trust – through its grantmaking – might contribute towards achieving more meaningful social change.

“The Trustees and staff have worked together over the past year to develop a clearer vision and mission for the organisation to ensure we are able to utilise our philanthropic resources in the most effective way.

“We’ve also worked with our grantees, sector experts and the evidence, to develop theory of change models for each of these granting priorities and identified some of the levers which are most likely to achieve positive differences and impact in both areas.

“From an educational equity perspective, we know many Australians care deeply about young people gaining equal access to quality education, and we also understand the barriers and devastating consequences – at both an individual and community level – of not completing secondary school.

“So we will be supporting schools, not for profits and other organisations in a number of different ways to identify models, programs and ways of working collaboratively that increase participation in early learning, support students through some of the more challenging transitions at school and also strengthen community connections which help students stay engaged,” Jenny said.

“We want sufficient rigor in our grantmaking, so we will look at evidence-based approaches, potential collaboration models and at improving data collection as part of this work. We also understand this is a complex system and we need to focus on students who are particularly vulnerable. We will look for applications from organisations supporting those students who may be at risk of disengaging from school due to a range of factors, including experiencing homelessness or family violence, living in regional settings, having mental health conditions, facing discrimination as First Nations people or coming from refugee or asylum seeker backgrounds. The reality is that there are many factors which can see students disengage from their education, and these have long-term consequences,” Jenny said.

Incoming Chair of the Ross Trust, Geoff Nicholson, said it had been very important for the Ross Trust’s five Trustees to stay focused not only on where they could make more of an impact but also on the wishes of Roy Everard Ross, whose will established the perpetual charitable trust in 1970.

“Coming up to our 50 th year, it’s been incredibly important to the Trustees that we look forward with one eye on the history and origins of this Trust and honour the intent of our benefactor Roy Everard Ross.

“We understand Mr Ross was a keen bushman and that alongside his quarry work he also understood the importance of protecting Victoria’s flora and fauna.

"The Trust will be working more strongly in the area of biodiversity conservation."

“We will be looking for partnerships and collaborations with organisations seeking to achieve better strategic land and water management practices. We also want to play a role in enabling the coordination and sustainability of the environmental sector, to foster working with the public, government and industry to generate dialogue and education. This way we may see improved policy and regulation to protect important ecological areas over time. We’d also like the public to continue to be involved and take action so Victorians can share in a healthy and resilient environment.

“The Ross Trust already has a strong history in this area. Since the establishment of the Trust, it has made many grants for the purchase of land and the support of other conservation projects throughout Victoria. The crowning achievement of the Trust in 2002 was to enable Trust for Nature to purchase Ned’s Corner Station in Northwest Victoria,” Geoff said.

Ned’s Corner is believed to be the largest freehold Victorian property in private ownership and also the biggest private conservation reserve in the state. It comprises 25,000 hectares including 14 kilometres of Murray River frontage, and the purchase was of immense significance to conservation in Victoria.

“More recently the Trust provided funds for impact investing to assist the Conservation Ecology Centre in the Otways to start its development of eco-tourism site, Wildlife Wonders at Apollo Bay.”

“We want to build on this legacy,” Geoff said

CEO Sarah Hardy said like all philanthropic organisations, to ensure longevity and relevance, the Ross Trust had reviewed and changed its practices to make sure it can respond and adapt to current community needs.

“It’s a great step for the Trust to start working in line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and we will reflect on these to guide our work, along with knowledge from our grantees and sector expertise.

“We are already having conversations with many key players in these sectors across Victoria, which has helped shape our approach. We look forward to continuing those conversations, as well as creating new partnerships and collaborations, to ensure our funds are helping us achieve the desired outcomes in educational equity and biodiversity conservation.

“I am very proud of what we’ve achieved in the past. We are keen to see how we can work with and learn from not for profits and other organisations to make a difference to both achieving equity in education for Victorian young people, and helping better protect our native flora and fauna,” Sarah said.

As well as Smart Grants of up to $40,000 per year for up to three years, the Ross Trust will also be awarding Advocacy Grants of up to $50,000 per year for up to three years and Challenge and Change Grants of between $40,000 and $100,000 per year for up to three years. These later two grant types will be by invitation only.

*Geoff Nicholson is taking on the role of Chair of the Ross trust on 1 July 2019, in line with the Trustees’ rotation policy.

Photo: students from Thomastown Secondary College participating in a STEM program