AusAID and Palms: A shared vision?

Forgoing leave last January to prepare yet another submission for AusAID funding has yielded results with Palms granted almost $500,000 over twelve months.  Palms is to be one of three agencies assisting to pilot new approaches to international development volunteering.  AusAID’s submission de-brief identified Palms’ strengths including cost effectiveness, strong institutional links and the priorities we share with AusAID.

Many will remember the campaign we started in 2008 to convince the Government that Palms Australia had a significant offering to make to their program.  Some visited and/or wrote to MPs; staff made submissions to the Review of the Government’s International Volunteer Program; we invested funds to increase staff capacity and we engaged a consultant to assist with an application to be a Core Partner with AusAID.

Applying to be a Core Partner was skewed against smaller agencies, but it was important to press our credentials and be noticed.  We had been told that a second opportunity would exist for agencies sending smaller numbers of volunteers, able to develop innovative approaches and/or interested in being engaged with research into volunteering.  Given our four-year study with the University of Wollongong to evaluate Palms’ unique approach to volunteer preparation and relationship building, such a fund was almost designed for us.

I do believe that highlighting Palms’ strengths to the Parliamentary Secretary for International Development and your MPs was a telling factor in this second fund being made available.  The fact that AusAID have titled it a Pilot Volunteer Fund and introduced it without the innovative and research emphasis has pluses and minuses.  As a pilot it was made available to fewer bidders each receiving more funds than was first indicated, but 12 months is a short time in which to demonstrate our unique attributes.

There will be an evaluation at the end with no further funds available until it is complete.  This is a big minus, as we do not want to let staff go who have been trained to implement the program.  Maintaining staff during the evaluation will require significant support from other donors.  Let me make a plea now to all our donors not to abandon Palms in the thought that you are not required now we have some government funding.

Continuing and growing our donor base also means we can continue to uphold the principle that skill development in host communities is best achieved when volunteers are placed over a two to three year period.  While a condition of the AusAID funding is that volunteers will come home at the end of 12 months, an option for them to return for a second or third year does exist if other donors support it.  Our partner communities hope this can happen.

AusAID’s de-brief of Palms’ submission also points out other reasons why you might support the program as a donor: “Staff have significant experience and excellent quality processes in place.”  Strong partnerships demonstrate the quality of services that Palms provides.” and  “… a strong emphasis has been placed on engaging the Australian community, which helped to strengthen the proposal.”  How can you resist?

With AusAID’s and your support we continue to advance Palms’ vision to “participate in and develop networks that link and engage people across cultures in order to cooperate in reducing poverty and achieve a just, sustainable, interdependent and peaceful world.”