An innovative new approach to address critical health preparedness and support needs relating to the COVID-19 pandemic has begun to roll out in remote, rural, and regional Aboriginal communities in South Australia.

This response is being led by six Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Organisations (ACCHOs)* that together form the First Nations Philanthropic Funders Working Group (FNPRWG). It was originally established to oversee the creation of a community informed and led model to direct philanthropic funding for First Nations communities across South Australia.

Called Aboriginal Health in Aboriginal Hands: Responding to COVID-19, it is a community-led approach focused on creating additional capacity within the ACCHO’s to support Aboriginal communities in the face of the ongoing pandemic and to manage future impacts of the pandemic among Aboriginal Communities across rural and regional South Australia.

The work is being supported by three philanthropic organisations - the Paul Ramsay Foundation through a funding contribution, the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR), and the Fay Fuller Foundation who provide ongoing resourcing to the FNPFWG.

Over the last few months, the FNPFWG has identified three areas of need across communities, namely:

  1. Immediate need, immediate response, immediate impact: e.g., food hampers, cleaning packs, HEPA filters for clinics, portal cold storage for vehicles, IT and communications solutions, messaging and communications platforms;
  2. High need, significant response: e.g., developing and deploying mobile vaccination clinics, accommodation solutions for COVID-positive community members;
  3. Systemic need, systemic response: e.g., training, briefing and coordinating COVID Outbreak Rapid Response Teams of health professionals to support communities to respond effectively, develop ACCH sector emergency response planning in preparation for future COVID outbreak scenarios.

Leeroy Bilney, Chair of the FNPFWG, says that this is a wonderful opportunity for Aboriginal communities to really take control of their local health needs relating to COVID.

“During the height of the pandemic, we were, by and large, able to keep our mob safe. But we’re not out of the woods yet and there is still the potential for the COVID pandemic – or another similar disease – to badly affect our communities.

“We know what we need to do to make sure that the ACCHOs and local health professionals in community can guide and support our people and respond to whatever comes our way.

"Paul Ramsay Foundation (PRF) heard about what we were trying to do and have provided funding to make that happen. The Working Group will decide how that is distributed to support activities that will have the greatest impact in driving better health and wellbeing outcomes for, and as determined by, community.

“It’s wonderful to have PRF’s support and to be working with both Fay Fuller Foundation and FRRR on the administration and governance of this work. This is a genuine partnership where each of us brings our expertise to the table, and we are all focused on the same outcome – putting Aboriginal health in Aboriginal hands.

“But it’s bigger than that. We want to create pathways for First Nations people to access resources outside of current structures, shape how and in what ways they interact with philanthropy, and to evolve and influence sustainable change while preserving our cultural identity,” Mr Bilney said.

Partnerships Manager Warren Miller, whose role is also funded by the PRF grant, says designing solutions in consultation with those affected always produces better outcomes.

“We have identified three broad buckets of activity that we know need support but every place is different. Funding of $238,000 has been awarded towards the first group of activities to tackle some areas of immediate need in communities, like supplying cleaning packs, food hampers, HEPA filters for local clinics, and mobile cold storage solutions. Each ACCHO is now talking with their communities to figure out what will make the biggest difference to their community being able to respond to COVID, should there be another wave, or to ensure they are well-placed to handle whatever virus may come next.

“In many ways, we’re creating a blue-print through this partnership – we’re starting right on the ground, in community with the people who need support, and working with them to figure out what they need. It’s also showing funders that if they can place their trust in Aboriginal people to know what’s best for their community, it can enable innovative and flexible outcomes that address the local needs of each community,” Mr Miller said.

“From our experience of working with communities” said PRF CEO Professor Kristy Muir, “the best outcomes emerge when the voices of those affected are heard.

“This innovative approach sees decision making put squarely in the hands of communities to create locally led and locally determined solutions and demonstrates a different way philanthropy can partner with Aboriginal organisations.”

Local community groups wanting to know more about the program should contact their local ACCHO or email


The six members of the Working Group are:

  1. Nunyara Aboriginal Health Service Inc.
  2. Yadu Heath Aboriginal Health Corporation
  3. Tullawon Health Service Ltd.
  4. Umoona Tjutajku Health Service Aboriginal Corporation
  5. Moorundi Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service Ltd
  6. Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia Ltd

In addition, Ceduna Aboriginal Corporation is providing assistance by enabling Warren Miller to take on the Partnerships Manager role to coordinate the funding and program activities.

About the First Nations Philanthropic Funders Working Group

The First Nations Philanthropic Funding Working Group was established in 2021 to support the creation of a First Nations-Led funding model to direct philanthropic resources to support the health and wellbeing of the First Nations community of South Australia. The FNPFWG Group consists of ACCHO, and Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation (ACCO) representatives and community members and is currently facilitating an engagement process with local communities to inform the design of the fund and to identify relevant health needs, priorities, and opportunities. Once established the First Nations-Led Fund will be resourced by the Fay Fuller Foundation who have committed one million dollars every two years to the fund on an ongoing basis, with the intention that the fund will become a mechanism for additional philanthropic funds to be collected and distributed, by and for First Nations people.