“There is so much heart, and passion and innovation in our regional communities, but in a country as vast and lightly populated as Australia outside the cities, regional changemakers can feel isolated, can lack access to resources, mentors and examples, and are too often ignored, despite being on the front line of so many of our most pressing social and environmental issues, like access to housing, climate change impacts and how to better support diverse young people into meaningful work.”
– Tom Dawkins, co-founder and CEO at social change crowdfunding platform StartSomeGood and co-founder at social change crowdlending platform LendForGood.
A record representation of the social impact community converged on Coffs Harbour for the only Australian social impact conference explicitly designed for and by regional communities. The first Social Impact in the Regions conference, which took place from 6-8 September 2023, attracted hundreds of changemakers from various fields – not-for-profit managers, board members, social entrepreneurs, social impact investors, and policymakers- and explored themes including Housing, Preparedness, Impact via Creativity, Youth Futures, and Access and Equity.
The conference was the brainchild of Kerry Grace, former CEO at Regional Development Australia Mid North Coast (RDA MNC) and current lead at the Evolve Group Network. With over twenty years of engagement with the regional social impact community under her belt, Kerry’s attendance at the World Social Enterprise Forum in Brisbane in 2022 sparked a determination to create an event with a similar ethos but with a regional focus.
It’s clear that the meticulous planning and hard work of Kerry and her dedicated advisory team paid off. Comprised of representatives from not-for-profits, foundations, and social enterprises, the advisory team curated a diverse line-up of expert speakers who shared their insights on key areas such as impact measurement, sustainable funding, and the practical steps to creating meaningful social impact.
The hope was for attendees to leave the event feeling enlightened and empowered, more equipped with knowledge and inspiration to drive sustainable social change in their communities. Reflecting on the positive feedback and palpable energy during the event, it’s safe to say this was successfully achieved. Attendees are now more prepared than ever to tackle social challenges in their communities, fostering change in a way that’s not just powerful but also sustainable.
“There’s nothing quite like in-person conferences for knowledge sharing and creating new connections and collaborations,” said Kylie Flament, CEO at SECNA (Social Enterprise Council of NSW & ACT). “My mind is buzzing and my cup is full from everything I have learned and the people I met.”
Connections are invaluable in the world of social impact, where collaboration often leads to greater success. Networking was another key component of the conference, with delegates having numerous opportunities to interact with like-minded individuals working in regional Australia, fostering ongoing partnerships and friendships. “Wow, what a great event. It’s so rare that we get the opportunity to gather as a group of like-minded organisations and individuals. Thanks so much to the organisers, sponsors and speakers for making it possible. Our hearts and minds are full.” reflected the team at Human Nature Adventure Therapy. Equally enthusiastic was Angela Martin, Executive General Manager at Lifeline North Coast, who said, “I’m absolutely buzzing with inspiration, excitement, and joy meeting like-minded incredible social impact change makers in our region – the quality of workshops, pitch fest, and conversations and networking has been mind-blowing for everyone involved.”
The Social Impact in the Regions Conference was a genuinely engaging experience that offered a toolkit equipped with techniques, beliefs, and practices to drive regional change – all presented in a way that was contextually relevant, acknowledging that while social challenges might be universal, solutions must be tailored to specific places.
For example, the conference provided a deep dive into how funding models can drive more sustainable impact activities. By understanding different funding models, attendees are better prepared to secure the resources necessary to support their initiatives. “I have never identified my business Locale Learning as being a “social enterprise”, and when I was first asked by Kerry Grace to be involved in the conference, I questioned whether I belonged in that space,” said Emma Broomfield, Founder and Lead Facilitator at Locale Learning. “But the masterclass from Tom Dawkins today changed my mind on that. Turns out that a social enterprise does not have to be a not-for-profit organisation. It can be a small business operating with the intent to make the world a better place. And I am 100% down with that.”
Attendees were also made aware of valuable resources like the FRRR Expertise Pool, a vetted network of seasoned and highly-experienced consultants from around the country with a proven track record of working in collaboration with community organisations to achieve their mission and build their resilience. Run by the Social Impact Hub, the FRRR Expertise Pool offers a range of professional skills, sector expertise, specialist advice and support to enable community organisations to deliver place-based projects – from leadership training and capability-building workshops to networking events and small-scale infrastructure initiatives.
The conference was a testament to the power of regional practitioners. Designed by regional practitioners for regional practitioners, the event incorporated a range of activities designed to enable attendees to learn, connect, rejuvenate, and contribute. Wellness activities were also integrated into the conference program, underscoring the importance of self-care in social impact work. “Head full to bursting with all things impact after a fab few days at Social Impact in the Regions. Thanks to Kerry Grace and her amazing crew for organising. A truly inspiring bunch of changemakers,” shared Kyla White, Impact Manager at Northern Rivers Community Foundation.
“This event has truly made an impact on regional Australian communities, with attendees saying that it’s the best professional development they’ve ever experienced,” said Jesse Taylor, Community Development Manager at Mission Australia. “From great music, MC comedian Andy Saunders, speakers, educators to delicious food and inspirational change makers, it was a true Regional Australian platform for growth and development.”
Reflecting on the closing night’s dinner theme of “Hundreds and Thousands”, Catherine Church, Communications and Marketing Manager at GoodChat, adeptly summed up her conference experience as one filled with “Hundreds of clever and thoughtful touches, thousands of new insights and memories. Social impact in the regions is alive and strong. A few days I’ll never forget.” The connections forged, knowledge shared, and inspiration ignited at this conference will undoubtedly ripple out into the wider community, driving significant regional transformation.