We had a fabulous three days at Katoomba, a lot of work got done, relationships renewed and local walks explored. It was a very productive time and definitely worth making the journey.
Five members of the Committee participated, four in the room – Jed Walker, John Champagne, Boyd Attewell, John McKenzie, and the fifth, Christine Carroll via skype.
One non-committee person participated; Lachlan McKenzie via telephone. Lachlan lives in Darwin and previously worked in East Timor with Permatil a local NGO. (Lachlan and John are not related)
Our conversations meandered widely but hopefully this offers a clear summary.
We acknowledged the committee members
As well as those mentioned above, others who have helped the Permafund committee have been Virginia Littlejohn, Alexia Martinez and Bruce Zell. Most of us have been on the committee for the past 2 years, all as volunteers and as a team we have a substantial breadth of skills, knowledge and contacts. We are a widely spread group with direct links to many local groups; Pc Blue Mtns, Pc Sydney North, Pc Melbourne, Pc Noosa, Pc Cairns and the informal permaculture community around Bega.
We considered our options for attracting more committee members and agreed to put that call out at APC12, that we need more people to share the work and help permafund grow.
We reviewed the Small grants program
This has been our main activity for the past two years. Two grant rounds have been done, in late 2012 and early 2014. A total of $13,000 has been distributed as $1000 and $500 grants. Fifteen grants have been made to community projects around the world, four in Australia and eleven in seven other countries; Indonesia, Pakistan, Kenya, India, Haiti, Cambodia and New Zealand. A wide range of activities have been supported; food gardens in orphanages, community plant nurseries, resources for training centres, farmer field schools, welfare for rare breed sheep, etc All were selected on the basis of criteria set be PA and criteria from the office of Environment Australia.
Expenses have been kept to a minimum, currently the only expense for the fund has been the bank fees of around $200, meaning approx 98.5% of the distributed funds have reached the community applicants.
Some projects took the opportunity for more communication with Permafund, seeking our advice and mentoring and some good relationships have been started with local communites. We can see how this contribution can be valuable, perhaps more valuable than the grant money.
We agreed the small grants program appeared to have provided useful assistance to needy communities, that it was an operation within the capacity of the committee, that it has been a substantial achievement for the committee to set up and was worth continuing with.
We considered some weaknesses in the small grants program and discussed options for improvement:
It has been a substantial workload to run the grant rounds. There's been plenty to do and given we all have busy lives some tasks took a while to get done. We've been lucky that so few problems have occurred but we acknowledged improvement in our systems was possible. We agreed it was very difficult to expect one person to do it all and we confirmed our strategy of sharing project liaison tasks around a few people. We agreed that having one or two more people on the committee would help.
We acknowledged a gap in the coordination of the money transfers and agreed more oversight and communication was needed in the phase between proposal selection and transfer of the funds.
We acknowledged the file storage on the PA Google drive was not up to date, and this needed more attention.
We acknowledged we have little to show of the work from a couple of the projects and we need to maintain involvement with all projects.
We agreed that getting together for face to face meetings was a good approach for planning and reviewing and we set an aim to do it more frequently, hopefully as an annual event.
We considered the option of offering larger grant amounts and reducing the number of projects being supported. This would allow more impact for an individual grant and less grants to manage, allowing more time for mentor support or other committee activity.
Two projects were discussed in detail; a community planning project by AEE in Haiti and a publications project by Permatil in East Timor. We agreed these were very worthy projects and should be on our list for consideration in 2015, both financially and in non-financial ways.
We celebrated the donations received in the past two years but also recognised that $13,000 is not a lot of money, that we could aim higher. We considered some income generating ideas;
- selling seeds, street stalls selling garden produce
- holding dinners, lunches, morning teas, open house days, film nights, speaking tours, collaborations with local groups
- seeking more donations, crowd-funding, business sponsorship, bequests,
- having a benefactor or high profile person speak for us,
Publicity and information
We agreed it would be useful to have some more publicity, articles written and more promotional materials - leaflets, powerpoint, internet, articles on the PA website and PA e-news, in Pip, ect. We planned how to participate and promote at APC12. We considered collecting film and photographs from the work supported by our grants. We could connect with PDC teaches sharing stories of Permafund grant projects.
We reflected on Permafund's role within Permaculture Australia
Permafund is a committee of the PA organisation. It meets each month on a skype call and reports to the PA Board. It administers PA's Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) fund, distributing the funds raised and undertaking the reporting requirements to Environment Australia and the Australian Charities and Not for Profit Commission (ACNC). The three members currently registered as the funds 'responsible persons' are John Champagne, Chris Carroll and John McKenzie. One burden the fund puts on PA is the obligation to have an annual Audit and the cost of this is something the Permafund account may need to contribute toward in the future.
The benefit to PA of the Permafund committee's work and the small grants program is a good-news story and supports PA's effort to establish a name for itself for doing things and facilitating permaculture actions.