Woor-Dungin History

Woor-Dungin was created by a group of people who came together in 2005 for an Indigenous Capacity Building Program and wanted to keep the conversation going.

Participants in the inaugural Indigenous Capacity Building Program, 2005

Participants in the inaugural Indigenous Capacity Building Program, 2005


In 2004 the Reichstein Foundation undertook a review of the philanthropic grants it had made to community organisations. They found that they had made very few grants to Aboriginal organisations, even though they identified Aboriginal people as a priority.

They also found that when they did receive applications from Aboriginal groups they were often incomplete, with essential information or documents missing, despite the fact that the project ideas themselves were worthwhile.

Christa Momot, the Reichstein Foundation’s executive officer at the time, proposed a training program that would assist Aboriginal organisations to understand and access philanthropy. Over subsequent months she worked with RMIT University and the Lumbu Indigenous Community Foundation to develop the Indigenous Capacity Building Program, and secured additional funding from the Reichstein Foundation, Helen Macpherson Smith Trust and the R E Ross Trust.

The Indigenous Capacity Building Program began with a community educator visiting each of the organisations that registered for the program to find out about their achievements and strengths, and also about their challenges and hopes for the future. This information was used to help shape the content of the program.

The program ran for 17 days over a period of six months in 2004–05, with a focus on governance and infrastructure, project development, including submission writing, and an overview of philanthropy.

Presenters talked about how their funds and services could be accessed by Aboriginal organisations. Participants gave feedback throughout, which helped shape the program and increase the learning for everyone.

Woor-Dungin Steering Committee, 2011. (L-R) Marina Henley, Simone Spencer, Tony Kelly, Maria Burchell, Anne Jenkins, Brad Spolding, Christa Momot

A major task for participants in the program was to develop funding submissions focused on real and identified needs in their organisations and communities, and to submit them for feedback from a number of the philanthropic organisations involved. Several of these resulted in grants, success spurring more confidence and enthusiasm. As Doseena Fergie remembers it, “The program put fire in our bellies about how philanthropy could help us.”

At the end of the Indigenous Capacity Building Program a group of participants continued to meet informally in order to maintain the connections and momentum the Program had generated. In 2006 they began to develop a model for building relationships between Indigenous organisations and the philanthropic sector, and a working group was set up.

In 2007 the working group established the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community and Philanthropy Partnership Steering Committee, comprising Doseena Fergie, Anne Jenkins, Glenys Merry, Simone Spencer, Frances Bond and Christa Momot. Together with a number of volunteers, the Steering Committee began the project that was to become Woor-Dungin.

The project formed a partnership with Koorie Heritage Trust, which provided an auspice to manage the project’s finances and human resources. Volunteers – who played a crucial role right from the start, advising, sourcing connections and mentoring – and staff were initially housed in the Reichstein Foundation’s office.

Throughout 2007 and 2008, the Steering Committee and volunteers worked to develop and prioritise plans, refine the project model and apply for funding to employ a project worker. In 2009 several of these applications were successful, with grants coming from the Reichstein Foundation, Helen Macpherson Smith Trust, the R E Ross Trust and the Rio Tinto Aboriginal Fund.

Woor-Dungin committee and staff, 2012. (L-R, back row) Anne Jenkins, Marina Henley, Christa Momot, Peter Flanagan, Ian Seal, Tony Kelly. (L-R, front row) Aunty Frances Bond, Maria Burchell, Brad Spolding, Sharon Paten

In 2009 the project received permission from the Yirruk Tinnor Gunnai Community Language Program and the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages to use the Gunnai word woor-dungin (‘share’) as its name.

By 2010 Woor-Dungin had begun to coalesce around a pilot model that would see it providing capacity-building support to four Victorian Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, namely Healesville Indigenous Community Services Association, ILBIJERRI Theatre Company, Mildura Aboriginal Corporation (now Mallee District Aboriginal Services) – each of which had had staff or community representatives involved in the original Indigenous Capacity Building Program – and Victorian Indigenous Youth Advisory Council.

Woor-Dungin began to work with these four organisations towards building relationships with philanthropic organisations and pro bono service providers, at the same time helping the philanthropic organisations and pro bono service providers to work with Aboriginal organisations.

In 2010 Woor-Dungin received a considerable boost in funding which enabled the employment of a project manager. Office space was established at Koorie Heritage Trust. A training program based on the original Indigenous Capacity Building Program, and further developed through the Koorie Heritage Trust Training Unit, was delivered in Melbourne and Mildura.

In 2011 a full-day cultural awareness program for philanthropic organisations and pro bono service providers was held, delivered in partnership with the Koorie Heritage Trust. At the 2011 Philanthropy Australia Conference, Woor-Dungin Awards acknowledging partnerships between philanthropic and Indigenous organisations were given to ILBIJERRI Theatre Company and Helen Macpherson Smith Trust, and to Ganbina and law firm Allens Arthur Robinson.

Woor-Dungin staff, 2015

Over the period 2012–13 direct service was reduced while Woor-Dungin focused on becoming an independent entity, and evaluating and documenting its experience.

In 2014 Woor-Dungin launched a period of increased activity and expansion. We invited expressions of interest from new Aboriginal community-controlled organisations based to join the Aboriginal Partnership Program. We received 28 enquiries and 12 written applications. These were shortlisted, visits were undertaken and the following organisations were selected: Willum Warrain Aboriginal Association, based in Hastings and servicing the Mornington Peninsula; Winda-Mara Aboriginal Corporation, based in Heywood, Portland and Hamilton; and Njernda Aboriginal Corporation, based in Echuca. Mallee District Aboriginal Services requested to remain in the Aboriginal Partnership Program for a further three years.

Healesville Indigenous Community Services Association and ILBIJERRI Theatre Company graduated from the Aboriginal Partnership Program and have continued as alumni partners, assisting us in facilitating philanthropic organisations’ access to Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, and providing advice and support to current Aboriginal partner organisations.

Since 2014, in response to issues raised by our Aboriginal partner organisations, we have developed the following programs: Aboriginal Community Worker Support Pilot, Maarni, Criminal Record Discrimination Project, and Respectful Relationships. Then, in 2015, Philanthropy Australia invited Woor-Dungin to take up the role of Philanthropy Australia National Moderator for Indigenous Issues.


Read and download the Retrospective Report.