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Giving Green Stories
Ellie Smith, SM Robinson PAF

SM Robinson PAF

Tagged in: Sustainable cities, Sustainable economy, Capacity building, National, QLD

Ellie and her partner Peter are passionate about the environment. Living in beautiful bushland just outside of Brisbane, the pair work on different aspects of environmental protection, Ellie as a campaigner and Peter as an energy systems engineer. Together they manage a Private Ancillary Fund that supports predominantly regional groups in Queensland working to protect nature and maintain a safe climate. As Ellie says, “It makes sense to give to what we know best and are passionate about.”

Here she reflects on how COVID-19 and Australia’s Black Summer have affected the couple’s grant-making strategy.

How have you responded to COVID-19 and the bushfires? Are you increasing, decreasing, or maintaining funding levels?

Prior to the bushfires and COVID-19, we’d been looking at rolling out a web-based program supporting regional groups to increase their fundraising capacity. These organisations are so often confronted with crises, whether it’s bushfires, cyclones, floods or droughts. We’d been looking at how they can be more effective in addressing climate change, which causes so many of the issues in the first place, but also become more resilient and work in solidarity with their communities when disasters hit.

We’ve ended up staying the course even though we did a bit of a rethink – do we need to do something more urgent or different given the situation we’re in? – but also taking into account the amount of money we have to give. It’s a small fund in the scheme of things, so we look to see where we can add value.

The groups that we fund are generally working on climate but not necessarily directly. We have funded organisations like The Next Economy, who work with regional communities thinking about economic transition, Tipping Point, who support grassroots climate action, funding their work in Queensland, and the network of conservation groups working across Queensland with Queensland Conservation Council as their peak body.

What are you hearing from your environmental grantees about the impact of COVID-19 and the fires?

In Queensland, the environmental movement in general has been ahead of the game, so it hasn’t been too much of a challenge for organisations to pivot to working online, but mobilisation and outreach to new audiences has been a bit more of a challenge. They’ve been spending more time working on internal processes and working more intensely with the supporters they’re already in touch with.

Making the most of our current situation, do you have a recommended book or movie to enjoy in isolation?

We’ve not had heaps of downtime for books or movies with a four-year-old and renovations going on! My four-year-old and I have been listening to the audio book of How to Train Your Dragon. We’ve been listening chapter by chapter in the evening.

The pandemic has impacted how we live, work and interact with each other. What’s one thing you hope we’ll do differently on the other side of COVID-19?

I’ve had some really great interactions with the AEGN members during this time, and that has been because we had the conference online, and we’ve been having catch-ups online, so we’ve all been able to hear from people who wouldn’t be able to make events in person.

People are hopefully going to start rethinking the cost and the time intensity of travelling and open up to having more web-based interactions. I hope we can continue that, especially in the AEGN. There is not a huge number of members in Queensland and I feel we can add value when we can tap into anything the AEGN is doing because it’s online. It’s not the same as meeting people in person, but if it means you can get more people in the (virtual) room, then it’s a good thing.