Ecotrust Australia is an enterprising non-profit organisation seeking to make a breakthrough contribution in the areas of conservation, social finance and community development in Australia. We have a specific focus in regional and remote areas, with a particular emphasis on working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
While Australia struggles to reconcile the risks and rewards of what some describe as a “two-speed economy,” in remote Indigenous communities it is very clear that a three-speed economy is at work. Given that resource development is simply not delivering well-being to Australia’s Indigenous peoples, we believe a tremendous opportunity is emerging to rethink how development gets done, in some cases whether development occurs at all, and in all cases how to ensure that positive benefits are long-lasting, and ideally permanent.
Ecotrust Australia’s purpose is to promote reliable prosperity. We offer tools and resources to Indigenous and other community-based organisations to facilitate positive change at the intersection of cultural resilience, ecosystem conservation, economic opportunity and community vitality. Drawing inspiration from the highly successful Ecotrust models in Canada and the United States of America, Ecotrust Australia brokers expertise in the areas of knowledge systems and social finance to underpin an Indigenous-led vision for cultural and environmental conservation and development in Australia.
Ecotrust Australia works in regional and remote Australia, with a particular emphasis on working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia. Our board has recently approved a specific focus on the Kimberley region, where we believe development threats and opportunities provide a significant opportunity to demonstrate what reliable prosperity means on the ground.
The work of Ecotrust Australia supports endeavours that:
- Recognise Indigenous rights, title and culture;
- Build and support strong, vibrant and sustainable communities;
- Provide meaningful work; and
- Care for country.
Ecotrust Australia has been established as a company limited by guarantee and is now in the process of building a team to lead the organisation to ensure it delivers on its potential. Our expertise-based board comprises:
Patrick Dodson (chair) – Chair, Kimberley Institute
Don Henry (deputy chair) – Executive Director, ACF
Ian Gill – CEO, Ecotrust Australia
Dr Rosemary Hill – Senior Research Scientist/Planner, CSIRO
Peter Seidel – Partner, Public Interest Law, Arnold Bloch Leibler
Carol Tang Wei – Research Officer, Kimberley Institute
Bob Welsh – former Chief Executive Officer, VicSuper
Michael Kantor – Theatre Director
Ann Johnson – W & A Johnson Family Foundation
Ecotrust Australia acknowledges the very generous contribution of the Poola Foundation (Tom Kantor Fund), which enabled our start-up in Australia. Poola Foundation has disbursed the funds of Tom Kantor, who died tragically in 2001.
“We have tried to honour the things in which he believed and strived for during his life. The Fund supports Ecotrust because of its commitment to real empowerment for Indigenous people which is lasting and positive,” said Eve Kantor and Mark Wootton, Tom’s sister and brother-in-law.
Ecotrust Australia relies on the support of our generous donors. See a list of our supporters here.
History: Ecotrust/Ecotrust Canada
In the mid-1990s, Ecotrust — a conservation and community development non-profit based in Portland, Oregon — partnered with ShoreBank in Chicago, while at the same time launching a related non-profit, Ecotrust Canada, in Vancouver, British Columbia.
ShoreBank and the two Ecotrusts committed to a program of financial innovation to provide access to capital to marginalised communities in the Pacific Northwest of North America. The temperate rainforest bioregion stretches from northern California to Alaska, encompassing some 25 million people, two countries, five state/provincial jurisdictions, a common history and Indigenous cultural heritage, and a higher proportion of intact ecosystems than most other parts of the industrialised world.
Among the many accomplishments of the Ecotrust/Shorebank collaboration was the formation of the world’s first environmental bank, ShoreBank Pacific, and a related non-profit, ShoreBank Enterprise Cascadia. In Canada, Ecotrust Canada pioneered the first revolving loan fund in Canada devoted to small- and medium-enterprise (SME) development, with one-third of its portfolio supporting Indigenous enterprises. Ecotrust Canada also pioneered a joint-venture fund with two Aboriginal Capital Corporations to enable Indigenous communities to purchase equity in renewable energy projects in their traditional territories. Ecotrust and Ecotrust Canada have leveraged more than $70-million in grants into a further $350-million in capital available to community-based enterprises in their region.
In addition to capital access, the Ecotrusts have championed “information democracy” and “knowledge systems” as a capacity-building strategy to enable communities to envision and implement sustainable development on their own terms. Among many achievements in this field has been the launch and maintenance for more than ten years, with Indigenous partners, of the Aboriginal Mapping Network. In addition, Ecotrust Canada, in partnership with the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs — and with the support of the Australian Government — has recently released a landmark publication, Living Proof: The Essential Data-Collection Guide for Indigenous Use-and-Occupancy Map Surveys. This publication, which includes two Australian case studies, articulates an approach to knowledge gathering and dissemination that has hugely beneficial implications for communities confronted with multiple demands from industry, governments and conservation interests.
The Ecotrust approach to economic development, meanwhile, grounds financial innovation in real communities in real time, backed with deep cultural and sectoral knowledge that builds confidence in communities often ignored by global markets, or seen solely as resource baskets to be accessed with impunity. Ecotrust offers new thinking and new tools to enable communities to pursue reliable prosperity, and has attracted attention from around the world. Most notably, this approach is currently being made manifest in Australia through the formation of Ecotrust Australia.