One of the more important levers in philanthropy’s toolkit is the ability to step in and invest in ways that can achieve rapid changes without the burden of bureaucratic red tape so often seen with other funding mechanisms.

In early 2022 the Northern Rivers region of NSW experienced record rains, flooding and landslides, causing extensive damage to homes, businesses and recreation areas. The region-wide disaster is widely acknowledged as one of the most severe in Australia’s recorded history.

PRF committed $5 million to support vulnerable communities in the region, awarding grants to six grass-roots organisations to aid recovery and build community resilience including Rekindling the Spirit, Koori Mail, Mullumbimby Neighbourhood Centre, the New School of Arts Grafton, Northern Rivers Community Foundation, and Resilient Lismore.

“PRF felt a responsibility to spread our investment across a variety of locally led organisations with deep connections to the region,” says PRF’s Head of Place Galina Laurie. “We wanted to acknowledge the community’s resources and strengths, and the unique opportunity community-led initiatives provide in response to adversity, not just in the aftermath of the disaster, but over the longer term.”

More than 5,000 homes in the Northern Rivers were badly damaged, with 2,267 in the Lismore local government area alone, and 2,045 of those were deemed uninhabitable.

In August 2023, $1.02 million of the flood delegation was provided as untied funding to Resilient Lismore to bolster their disaster recovery and resilience work, as well as support ongoing capacity and community development.

One of the programs Resilient Lismore is delivering in the region is Two Rooms, a volunteer-powered initiative where teams of volunteers build walls in two rooms of local residents’ houses. They are also coordinating trades to rebuild people’s homes.

Lismore local Leisa says that despite having 25 years’ experience with tools, she still felt daunted by the task of rebuilding her home.

“As the hubs, charities and voluntary groups closed down and left town and the government schemes and assistance seemed doubtful, the urgency of rebuilding pushed me to ask for help,” she says.

“Resilient Lismore remained for the community, offering a helping hand through their volunteers, tool and equipment library, and moral support.”

Leisa’s home is one of more than 300 that Resilient Lismore has helped to rebuild so far in Lismore and neighbouring communities but Elly Bird, Resilient Lismore Executive Director, says the organisation is about more than just helping to rebuild homes.

“We are focused on building long-term partnerships to build community resilience. At the height of disasters, we help connect resources and volunteers with the people who need them, but we’re also very committed to preparing for future events as well as sharing our learnings and plans with other communities. We are committed to regional collaboration, to place-based community organising and to linking the community services sector with formal emergency management structures.”

This story was originally published in PRF's 2023 Annual Review.