19 January 2018
6 min read

Investing ethically is about much more than screening investments. We believe that profit should also support those who are making a positive difference. That’s why every year, we use 10% of our after-tax profits to support charities and not-for-profits through our Community Grants program.

Our Community Grants program invites applications from Australian-based organisations that are helping make the world better in three categories: planet, people, or animals.

We assess each applicant based on the purpose and quality of their proposed work, the strength of the idea and its potential impact. We then open up voting on a shortlist and this is the first year we opened up voting not just to our members and staff, but to the general public as well, with 16,000 people casting a vote.

Since 2000, we’ve awarded over $2 million to a wide range of worthy projects. Here are three of last year’s grant recipients from the people category.

Strengthening remote communities

Kalumburu is an Aboriginal community in the beautiful but remote top northern region of the Kimberley in Western Australia. A large proportion of the tiny community is aged under 16, and there is high unemployment.

The community’s Tramalla Strong Women’s Group was looking for ways to help improve employment prospects for their children, and provide a continuous of source of funding for other community projects. One of their goals was to start an op shop to provide affordable clothing for the community and give them valuable retail, business, and financial literacy skills. Here’s how the women’s group was able to turn their aspirations into reality.

Setting up shop

Clare Wood and Susannah Wallman work for Enterprise Learning Projects (ELP), an NGO that works with Aboriginal people to explore, develop and grow their business ideas. They successfully applied for an Australian Ethical Community Grant last year to cover the costs of setting up an op shop project. This included transporting clothing from Perth, about 3,000 kilometres away, and finding a permanent space for the op shop.

“Space is at a premium because buildings need to be above the flood line for the wet season,” Clare explained. “To get around it, the women have been holding pop-up op shops in different locations.”

Doreen Unghango, elder of the Tramalla Strong Women’s Group and lead of the Op Shop project.
Doreen Unghango, elder of the Tramalla Strong Women’s Group and lead of the Op Shop project.

The project also provides financial literacy training to the community.

“The women have learned how to present a shop well, how to price based on quality and how to manage profits,” said Clare.

ELP is working with the community on other projects including a cultural revival of weaving, and a carving project that encourages young men to be strong in their culture to help keep them out of the justice system.

Find out more about ELP at elp.org.au.

Fighting sex slavery with education

Sex trafficking is a global industry, with an estimated flow of a staggering $99 billion of unregulated money each year.

That’s as much as the construction industry contributes to Australia’s economy in a year. Victims of sex trafficking are overwhelmingly girls and young women. Traffickers target the most vulnerable – usually the poorest of the poor. Sometimes it’s with false promises of work or marriage; other times girls are abducted or even sold by a family member or acquaintance.

Free To Shine is a not-for-profit organisation based in Siem Reap in Cambodia. The organisation takes a preventative approach to sex trafficking by giving at-risk girls the opportunity to go to school and complete their education.

Founder and Managing Director of Free To Shine, Nicky Mih, was inspired to start the organisation after working with 200 Cambodian survivors of sex trafficking.

“What the women wanted more than anything was for no other girl to go through what they’d been through,” Nicky said.

While there were organisations in Cambodia helping women who had been trafficked, there were none working on prevention. Free To Shine was created to fill this gap.

How it works

Free To Shine identifies the most at-risk girls and their families, then provides the girls with scholarships, uniforms, a bag with books and pens, and a bicycle to help them get to school.

Each month, Free To Shine education officers, who are all Cambodians, visit every girl and her family. They give them support and encouragement, share the girl’s progress with the family and identify any potential problems that could interrupt her education.

“For instance, if a girl’s father gets sick and has to take out a loan to pay his medical bills, he may want to send his daughter to work to help pay off the loan,” Nicky explained. “We work with the family to brainstorm other solutions so she can stay in school.”

Sickness, hunger and poor living conditions can also make it hard for the girls to learn. Free To Shine assists by providing water filters to families without access to clean water and seeds to grow vegetable gardens. They may even help build houses for families whose homes are inadequate.

Being at school means a girl is regularly accounted for, is in a safe place and is creating a better future for herself and her family – so she’s less vulnerable to traffickers.

Working with the family

Nicky Mih says that a key part of their program’s success is that it’s family-based.

“Many families surrender their children to orphanages, knowing they’re well-funded by well-meaning foreigners, so their children get food and sent to school,” Nicky explained. “But we think that poverty shouldn’t be a reason for people to surrender their kids.”

Australian Ethical’s Community Grant in 2016 meant Free To Shine were able to conduct 997 family visits, and provide 28 school uniforms, 19 bicycles, 5,142 extra tuition classes.
Australian Ethical’s Community Grant in 2016 meant Free To Shine were able to conduct 997 family visits, and provide 28 school uniforms, 19 bicycles, 5,142 extra tuition classes.

As well as helping families stay together, Nicky says that family-based support is also three times cheaper than putting a child in an orphanage. This means more funds can go towards keeping more girls safe from the horror of sex slavery.

“The Australian Ethical Community Grant is a simple, straightforward application process – which is great because organisations like ours are absorbed in our work,” Nicky said. “This year, our Grant allowed us to conduct 997 family visits and provided 28 school uniforms, 19 bicycles, 5,142 extra tuition classes, and paid for seven university semesters. We also used the money to start 27 veggie gardens, buy 10 water filters and deliver nine community trainings.”

Find out more about Free to Shine at freetoshine.org.

Bringing dignity and opportunity to women

All around the world, young girls are forced to quit school because they’re too poor to afford adequate menstruation hygiene products.

Days for Girls is an international organisation that gives these girls opportunity and dignity, by providing them sustainable hygiene kits.

As well as providing these much-needed kits, Days for Girls also sets up micro-enterprises where women can continue to make and sell menstrual hygiene products to Non-Government Organisations (NGOs). This provides the women with an income and money to buy the materials to make the kits – so their business is sustainable.

Days for Girls’ member Tina Latham was part of the team that received an Australian Ethical Community Grant to help continue their life-changing work in Tanzania.

“The Grant went towards setting up a Days for Girls micro-enterprise centre in Arusha, Tanzania,” Tina said. “Aden Date, who was employed by Umoja Centre through an Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade program, established this project with support from Christine Khamasi from Nairobi. The Kincumber Rotary Club and Maternity Africa were also involved.”

A life-changing gift

The grant also helped pay a local woman, Upendo, to sew the hygiene kits in the Arusha Centre, and covered costs of materials. This work will help to bring Upendo out of extreme poverty.

As part of the project, Tina supplied 210 kits to Dr Andrew Browning, an Australian at the Arusha missionary hospital. Each year the hospital delivers 2,000 babies and operates on fistula patients (women who have become incontinent due to birth injuries).

Upendo (pictured here) was paid to sew hygiene kits, which will help to bring her out of poverty with dignity.
Upendo (pictured here) was paid to sew hygiene kits, which will help to bring her out of poverty with dignity.

A Days for Girls member since 2015, Tina has been involved in four overseas projects for the organisation, delivering kits and hygiene education to women in very poor communities.

“When they get their kits, the girls often cry because it means they don’t have to leave school,” Tina said. “The kits can last them for up to four years. They change their lives.”

Find out more at daysforgirls.org.