‘Our future is safe in their hands!’ This is what I think every time I work with the young people who participate in our programs and become part of the Macpherson Smith Rural Foundation (MSRF) Alumni. Our organisation is fortunate to have interacted with over 500 young rural Victorians from over 120 Victorian towns, since 2011. We are delighted to have contributed to their development through our scholarships, mentoring and leadership programs and more recently through Dream Seeds® workshops with Year 6 students.
2017 has seen a major and extensive review of the organisation and the development of a long-term sustainability plan, made possible through a grant from the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust. The review has been conducted in conjunction with Julia Keady, from The X-Factor Collective and involved surveys and interviews with key stakeholders in the not-for-profit, philanthropic, donor/supporter and rural community sectors, plus MSRF alumni, staff and directors. We are very grateful to all those who participated in interviews and surveys. The detailed research has provided a unique insight into not only our organisation but also the support available for young rural Victorians in general. We are very keen to share some of these insights more broadly and look forward to doing that next year.
Key findings from the Sustainable Foundations Review and Report indicated significant strengths within the organisation and many opportunities for development. The report noted: MSRF’s main programs are scholarships, mentoring and leadership development. The programs support a common goal: support transitions for post-secondary young rural people and equip them with skills to support their capacity as future leaders. Current programs encompass proprietary features, which yield substantial benefits over other programs in the marketplace as follows:o Holistic, wrap-around care: Addresses financial, physical and emotional needs of young people during post-secondary transitionso Co-Design, Co-Delivery: Alumni are involved in both informing, designing and helping deliver the programso Best Practice: Mentoring and leadership best practice standardso Multi Year: Adopts a long-term view of support, engagement and connection.
I look forward to sharing the findings from this report and beginning to implement our new strategic plan in 2018. There are great opportunities for us to collaborate widely, use technology cleverly and position ourselves as leaders in the ‘wrap around care’ and development of young rural people from all sectors of their communities.
We are grateful for significant and long-standing support from the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust. This support has given MSRF the opportunity to develop in a unique way and to develop and test programs so they are robust. It has also provided the means to develop our business base and build our sustainability plan. The connection between the HMST and MSRF is in many ways unique and we sincerely thank the Trust and current and former Trustees and staff for their support.
MSRF has also had significant support from a number of private donors and trusts. We have also enjoyed sponsorship support from the Creswick and District Community Bank, Crowe Horwath and RMCG. We appreciate the generosity and commitment of these groups and individuals, and our partners, and our shared interest in supporting rural young people and Victorian communities.
We are particularly thrilled to have launched the Rural Chances Vocational Scholarship program this year. This was the vision of a private philanthropist and we are delighted to have been able to investigate the need for support in vocational learning and subsequently design a strong and substantial scholarship program that will benefit young people and their communities. A pilot program in July saw the awarding of seven scholarships.
2017 has seen the establishment of the MSRF Alumni program and we are looking forward to working closely with the alumni as we move into the next stage of our development. They truly are an amazing group of young people. I acknowledge the significant work of the committee and their commitment to ensuring the strong foundations of the Alumni, and an engaging range of events. We are very fortunate to be developing the alumni program relatively early in our existence. Strong supporter foundations are crucial to the success of every organisation. There have been a number of very successful MSRF Alumni events this year and we look forward to supporting the Alumni as it develops in coming years.
Our alumni volunteers put in countless hours to the organisation and I am delighted by the way people step up as and when they can. I simply put out a request for help with a project and people always come forward. I have had help with various media release and design tasks; office admin support; t-shirt and product design and creation; materials creation and even an app design. Formal volunteering opportunities are available through coaching in the leadership and Dream Seeds programs, through mentoring and through specific tasks. There are many informal opportunities to learn, help and connect with others.
We are committed to providing leadership opportunities to our alumni and all programs are significantly dependent on alumni input for their success. This year marked the first year that the Young Rural Leaders program was managed completely by one of our alumni and a volunteer team. Annika Miesen was a very capable leader and the team was outstanding. Dream Seeds has been capably coordinated by Ellie Down and Harry Stannard and we are planning more road trips across Victoria in the coming year. I look forward to developing this model further so our alumni can increasingly be involved in leading whole programs.
MSRF is fortunate to have a very experienced and engaged board and I am grateful to the Chair, Hon Rob Knowles, AO and all directors for their support in what has been a period of significant change for the organisation. We have been well supported through business changes and development by JPA Accounting and JBWere. I am grateful for the excellent work carried out by Judy Mitchell our Program Administrator, Jake Bray- Butler for IT support and Peter Hunt our Company Secretary. The success of our organisation is truly a team effort!
It has been a privilege to lead MSRF through this period of transition. I am constantly inspired by the strength held within rural and regional communities and the enthusiasm and commitment of so many people interested in supporting young people and creating thriving rural communities. The future for MSRF does indeed look bright, and safe in the hands of young rural Victorians.
Dr Maryann BrownExecutive OfficerMacpherson Smith Rural Foundation