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The Society of Women Leaders mobilises the power of philanthropic women to benefit the most disadvantaged in domestic communities and internationally.

Since its inception in 2014, the group has worked to effect change through financial and hands-on involvement in Red Cross programs, including the Young Parents Program, which works to improve the capacity of young parents, RespectED, a family and community violence prevention program, and through funding of multiple female International Aid Delegates.

As part of the global Tiffany Circle, our Australian giving circle has supported more than 29 Red Cross programs with philanthropic funds exceeding $6.5 million.

Working together, the Members of the Society of Women Leaders have a say in how their gifts are used, allowing them to effect change in areas that are close to their heart. Featured below are some of the projects that Members have chosen to jointly support over the last nine years.

Young Parents Program

Young Parents Program out at a park

$1,254,570 over 9 years

Young people who become parents at an early age are likely to experience significant obstacles and disadvantage in their lives. They experience stigma, prejudice and lack of respect impacting their self-esteem and identity. Through the Young Parents Program (YPP) Red Cross offers tailored support to a highly vulnerable group in the community, namely pregnant and parenting young women and men, providing accommodation, assistance to reduce child protection concerns, access to education and parenting support.

YPP takes a strengths-based, early intervention approach to build the capacity of young parents to live independently. Young Parents are supported to strengthen their parenting skills to ensure best outcomes for their children to break the cycle of trauma, abuse and neglect.

The ongoing support of SWL contributed to providing a safe, nurturing family environment where young parents can take part in therapeutic case management, weekly parenting classes, life skills groups and child development workshops and playgroups.

This year 91 families across the four outreach sites, 94 families in aftercare and 14 in residential have been supported by SWL funding, along with 42 playgroups, 28 vocational education and study groups, and 45 parenting and life skills workshops: across all four sites: Randwick, Parramatta, Gosford and Nowra.

Funding also enabled training and support for 30 regular volunteers who provide essential childminding and tutoring, whilst parents undertake program activities.

The impact of COVID-19 for YPP families has been significant. Group education has halted, requiring staff and families to be incredibly flexible and try new ways of connecting. Supported Playgroups are now being delivered via Zoom. Initially, access to technology and data were barriers for our families and staff. This was overcome through the provision of hardware and data cards that were purchased from incremental SWL funds.

Women in International Aid

Supporting women in international aid

$497,000 over 7 years

Australian Red Cross aid workers contribute their technical expertise to humanitarian operations across the globe. SWL funding enabled investment in building female humanitarian leadership not only to immediately deploy resources where they are needed most, but also to help develop the next generation of leading female humanitarian practitioners. This means they can use their technical skills and experience to save lives, alleviate suffering and enhance human dignity in situations of conflict, natural disasters and other humanitarian crises.

This year, SWL funds supported Annalese Penh who provided remote support to the Pacific region following the devastating impact of Tropical Cyclone Harold. Annalese managed the procurement and logistics coordination for the Pacific region, coaching her colleagues from Fiji and Vanuatu.

SWL also supported the deployment of Caroline Austin, who works in Risk Communication and Community Engagement, to the COVID-19 operation. Her role focused on disseminating accurate, timely and trustworthy public health information, translating biomedical content into actionable preventative information for communities including Bangladesh, Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar, Timor Leste and Afghanistan.

SWL funds also supported the deployment of Cassie Stephens to Albania to assist in the response to the devastating 2019 earthquake. Cassie worked with Albanian Red Cross colleagues to source and distribute emergency supplies and transport for communities affected by the earthquake.

Aid-worker Amy McLachlan attended a Humanitarian Information Analysis Course funded by SWL. The course is designed to build skills in emergency response data collection, analysis, and strategic planning. The course equips emergency response managers to be launched into complex, constantly-changing environments, and synthesise the ‘full humanitarian picture’ into clear priorities, strategic recommendations, and plans.

These deployments have demonstrated that Australian Red Cross continues to prioritise opportunities for its female humanitarian leaders to contribute directly to a broad range of crises, while also ensuring that they possess the skills and knowledge required to maximise the impact of these contributions. As COVID-19 forces humanitarian action to adopt new and innovative approaches, these skills and experiences will position Australian Red Cross well to ensure continued success in helping the most vulnerable people around the world.

Community Based Health and First Aid Prison Program

Community Based Health and First Aid Prison Program participants

$175,000 over 3 years

The Community Based Health and First Aid Prison Program (CBHFA) takes a community development approach, supporting prisoners to first become Red Cross volunteers. Working together with prison staff and Australian Red Cross, these volunteers analyse the health and wellbeing needs of their prison community and develop and implement projects which address those needs. As well as improving prisoner health and wellbeing, this exercise in leadership builds volunteers’ confidence and their accountability, bringing them and their prison community immediate benefits, and sets them up for life beyond the prison gates.

Across Australia, 325 prisoners expressed an interest in becoming a CBHFA volunteer, 51 people nationally graduated as volunteers and 36 volunteer led community projects are being implemented. Through national projects, volunteers contributed more than 630 hours to their community. Some of the prisoner-led initiatives undertaken include;

  • Safe Women workshops to prevent prisoner-on-prisoner violence and sexual assaults.
  • Parent Packs to help incarcerated mothers maintain connection with their children
  • Creation of a children’s story to help children understand that mum is safe, and they are still loved
  • Safety Unit working bees and wellbeing visits - working bees to improve hygiene inside the isolation units where women at risk of self-harm and commencement of wellbeing visits to reduce isolation.  
  • Health Champions - Peer to peer health education has occurred on priority topics affecting inmates where low levels of health literacy exist in the prison.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health First Aid Training. Twelve custodial officers and staff champions and twenty-five prisoners from one of the Correctional Centres have obtained certification in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health First Aid improving the centres capacity to respond to emotional distress
  • Cultural wellbeing – engagement of 17 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders to visit incarcerated women, and deliver workshops to enhance cultural wellbeing and safety

Also, the program pivoted in recent months to support the prisons response to the COVID-19 pandemic, by implementing a number of projects that focused on supporting the wellbeing of the prison community. This included volunteers receiving specialised training to support the health and hygiene of the prison, COVID-19 information sharing with families and loved ones and a phone hygiene/sanitisation project.

Preliminary findings that have been detailed with regards to the CBHFA Prison Program include:

  • the environment was perceived as safer by the general prison population, and volunteers reported they felt safer
  • notable changes in the general cleanliness and hygiene practices and awareness among prisoners
  • volunteers have built their confidence, self-esteem and self-worth, and are equipped as first responders
  • volunteers have built skills in conflict resolution, public speaking, negotiation, presentation and communication
  • promising evidence that the program has very strong support with 75% of core participants saying that they had changed from who they were when they came to prison

“The seemingly small solutions that we've come up with can have a really big impact in this context. I guess it's making an impact with the most vulnerable who have the least access in an institution that has the most power.”

Rachel Montgomery, Team Leader Community Justice and Partnerships

Place-based Community Development, NT

Place-based community development in action

$198,000 over 2 years

Galiwin’ku is the largest community on Elcho Island, which is 150 km north-west of Nhulunbuy and 550 km north-east of Darwin.

The local Aboriginal community-controlled health organisation joined with Australian Red Cross to provide a strong support service to young mothers with underweight babies in the Galiwin’ku community. The Baby Hub supports the community to improve nutritional outcomes for infants and parents and carers. The program focuses on the first 1000 days from conception to the age of two and specifically targets malnutrition in children using a comprehensive primary health care approach that balances prevention and clinical services. Baby Hub supports childhood development and strengthening parent and carer skills through holistic peer support and education. The Baby Hub is delivered from a wellbeing centre that has been set up like a house where healthy behaviours and preparation of age appropriate food can be modelled and practiced.

Baby Hub activities include showing new mothers how to look after their new babies, what to feed them at different stages of their development, healthy home behaviours and how to cook healthy food. They also deliver education sessions (in Yolŋu Matha language) about parenting, nutrition for babies and mothers, and develop education resources focused on the underlying causes of chronic diseases. The Baby Hub has also launched a new Yolngu designed sewing program with the Mums learning to sew and designing and making their own clothes and baby clothes.

Australian Red Cross recognises and focuses on the inherent strengths of all people, actively working to ensure that individuals and communities are empowered to have a voice and to be more able to take control of their own lives and environments. This includes providing support to develop their own goals and to access necessary resources, skills development, social connections and services to achieve those goals. The Place-based work across Australia acknowledges each community already knows how to solve its problems, we provide tools, resources and a commitment to walk with them all the way.

Red Cross strongly supports the development of staff skills and experience and the contribution of employment opportunities in the Galiwin’ku Community. SWL funding will provide resource to enable Red Cross to empower the community to deliver the Baby Hub program in future and transition out of the community.

Disaster Management, Vanuatu

$585,000 over 5 years

Vanuatu is located on the ring of fire and in the cyclone belt. The country experiences cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding, landslides, storm surges, drought and volcanic eruptions – with nine active volcanoes. Many parts of the country are remote and isolated with limited communications and transport infrastructure, making preparing for and responding to disasters difficult.

By partnering with the Vanuatu Red Cross Society (VRCS), Australian Red Cross is helping to enhance VRCS’s local leadership of humanitarian action. Support in covering some of the National Society’s core costs to run their organisation enables them to deliver essential humanitarian services, meet their statutory functions and legal compliance, and work towards a sustainable model. These core costs include salaries and governance costs, volunteer insurance and allowances, and headquarter and branch utilities.

The initial months of 2020 presented significant challenges to VRCS and the broader Vanuatu community. The COVID-19 pandemic caused significant disruption to the day-to-day operations of the organisation, while the impact of Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Harold in April was a further challenge, significantly shifting the focus of the local Red Cross to a multi-disaster response.

VRCS responded swiftly and efficiently to the challenges posed by this ‘double disaster’, and early recovery programming is expected to form the basis of the rest of 2020.

By June 2020, VRCS reached 25, 244 people (among 6,666 households) through its response operations to Tropical Cyclone Harold through Health, WASH, Shelter and Psychosocial First Aid (PSA) interventions.

Australian Red Cross continues to view VRCS as one of its principal regional partners, with the two having renewed their mutual Memorandum of Understanding until the end of June 2025. The significant support provided by SWL will therefore continue to make an essential difference to the people in Vanuatu through the work of VRCS for years to come.

International Disaster Response, Global

$785,000 over 5 years

Volunteers working in Bangladesh

The International Response team at Australian Red Cross coordinates support to disaster and crisis operations across the globe. When major disasters and crises strike, Australian Red Cross is ready to support Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement disaster and crisis response operations, complimenting local resources with additional support where requested by local National Societies.

In accordance with the principle of ‘as local as possible, as international as necessary’, Australian Red Cross mobilises financial, material and human resources to complement local National Society capacity and in some cases also contributes to strategic planning, evaluation and learning as part of its support to Movement disaster and crisis response operations.

The five year commitment from SWL will not only support the response of Australian Red Cross to crisis operations across the globe, but will also contribute to the capability strengthening within the RCRC emergency environment, and will support Australian Red Cross in influencing and advocating for better humanitarian action.

SWL funds support some key areas of engagement, including the global COVID-19 pandemic response, where Australian Red Cross has been a key contributor to the operation in the Asia Pacific region.  Financial and human resources have been contributed to boost technical and coordination capacity for the Movement’s Asia Pacific COVID-19 regional response, including the remote and in situ deployments of Australian Red Cross delegates under health, risk communication and community engagement and coordination profiles.

Funds also contribute to the long term support Australian Red Cross has provided to the Movement’s response to the complex emergency crisis in Syria and the surrounding countries, where the International Response team mobilised support to health programming for those displaced by the conflict.

SWL is also supporting Australian Red Cross as an active partner in the Movement’s response to the refugee crisis in Bangladesh. Australian Red Cross is contributing to the on-going mobilisation of both human and financial resources to the operation assisting people who fled Myanmar and are now sheltering in Cox’s Bazar, currently supporting roles aimed at the mainstreaming of protection, gender and inclusion (PGI) across the operation and humanitarian analysis to inform ongoing programming.

Mums and Kids School Ready, QLD

$52,500 over 2 years

SWL funding supported primary school children and their families living in the suburbs of Manoora and Mooroobool, located in the Cairns West area of Far North Queensland. The Gimuy Walubarra Yidinji people are the traditional owners of lands upon which the Manoora Community Centre and Mooroobool Hub are situated.

The Mums and Kids School Ready program is funded entirely by SWL. The program supports parents with young children in the weeks leading up to the school year through the provision of information, resources, fun activities and engagement events. It builds upon the school holiday programs that have been successfully operating in these communities by providing a breakfast club for parents and children, and walking bus. The aims of this program are to:

  • Increase consistent attendance and engagement in school
  • Overcome practical barriers that prevent children from attending school
  • Ease the burden of costs for vulnerable families associated with starting a new school year
  • Increase the capacity for parents to provide healthy and nutritious meals for their children
  • Develop a sense of community celebration towards the start of the new school year

A key focus of the program is to ensure that parents of first-time prep students are better informed of their rights, responsibilities and choices. The program encourages parents and children to feel empowered and supported in this new and essential step for their family. Practical education support is provided in areas such as nutrition, to ensure that children can maximise their learning opportunities. The program also has the scope to assist with essential school items such as bags, shoes and lunchboxes.

Although the program was initially suspended through the COVID-19 pandemic, the program staff worked collaboratively with the local primary schools, tirelessly delivering Home School Packs including stationary parcels for families without computers, enabling families to continue with their education, with some students also receiving new uniforms, backpacks, shoes, hats, water bottles and lunch boxes. The program re-commenced in early June with a COVID-safe delivery of the breakfast club and Walking School Bus program, with many local children enjoying a healthy breakfast whilst learning about social distance and hygiene practices.

In February 2019, at the invitation of Red Cross (Australia and Indonesia), five SWL members travelled to East Indonesia to meet with several communities that SWL has been supporting as part of a multi-year funding pledge. A unique and challenging experience, the members who attended returned home with a far deeper understanding about the challenges faced in remote Indonesian communities, our nearest international neighbours.

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