Prue Brown and singer Ajak Kawi, who came to Australia as a refugee from Sudan.

Prue Brown and singer Ajak Kawi, who came to Australia as a refugee from Sudan.

Called the Humanitas Sub-Fund, it will serve women from African countries living in Victoria, including those who are refugees or asylum seekers, and will help them to access educational, employment and other economic opportunities in Australia.

Giving back has always been a strong value in the Brown family, passed down through each generation. Prue remembers her parents having an unassuming attitude to giving which has influenced her own approach to philanthropy. As Prue recalls, “… no one made a big song and dance about it, but I knew – my mother and father used to say, ‘you’ve always got to put back in’.”

In fact, giving back is part of Prue’s broader commitment to social justice, which has seen her carve out a successful career as a social worker, become one of the early pioneering university lecturers and researchers in the field of social work and feminist theory, co-author of the ground-breaking book Family Violence: Everybody’s Business and Somebody’s Life, invest countless hours in volunteering, and share this sense of social justice with her four children and grandchildren.

In establishing the sub-fund, Prue and Liz had a clear idea of what they wanted to support. “Liz and I were in agreement that we wanted to help women from African countries, says Prue. “We firmly believe that if Australia wants to welcome people from other countries then we should provide programs such as language programs and other supports that enable the newcomers to find their feet, obtain the basic necessities such as housing and be eligible for training programs which enable them to join the workforce. I am not sure that the government provides them unequivocally.”

From left: Liz Brown; Executive Director of the Victorian Women's Trust, Mary Crooks AO; and Prue Brown.

From left: Liz Brown; Executive Director of the Victorian Women’s Trust, Mary Crooks AO; and Prue Brown. Humanitas is the first sub-fund to be setup by a mother and daughter.

With large-scale immigration from Africa to Australia only a relatively recent phenomenon, Prue and Liz are aware of some of the challenges and discrimination faced by many African-Australians today.

“It must take great courage and I admire people who do it enormously. To leave parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, cousins and friends behind must be very painful. To move from your own country where you speak the same language and come to a country where the language is different, and the customs are different is incredibly challenging,” says Prue.

With a clear idea of what they wanted to fund, Prue and Liz carefully considered their options as to where they would establish their sub-fund. They decided the Victorian Women’s Trust was the best fit. “The Victorian Women’s Trust seemed an obvious choice for making a financial contribution that would help women from African countries with education,” says Prue.

“I have been a supporter of the Victorian Women’s Trust for many years. The Trust is not a welfare organisation. The projects they fund enable women to better themselves, through education or employment, to help them become independent and to achieve financial security. They have provided encouragement for small business ventures and have provided advocacy for legislative change.”

The staff and Trustees of the Victorian Women’s Benevolent Trust were delighted to work with Prue and Liz and launch the Humanitas Sub-Fund, the first one to be setup by a mother and daughter.

“It’s so great to have a sub-fund that supports women and girls from African countries living in Victoria. As far as I know, there is no other fund that specifically gives to this group in the community” says Bryony Green, Grants and Development Manager at the Victorian Women’s Trust.

The sub-funds make up an important part of the Victorian Women’s Benevolent Trust’s grantmaking program. Each sub-fund honours women in some way. “What I think is so special about our sub-funds is each of them pays tribute to women,” says Bryony. “They could be named after a woman or their purposes or reflect their life’s commitment. In the case of Prue and Liz, they didn’t want the fund to be named after their family, but they wanted to support a cause to which they were both committed.”

Not only do the sub-funds honour women, but they support women at the grassroots level. “Being one of the oldest and only women’s funds in Australia, we have extensive community connections with women working at the ground level. Many of our grant recipients are grassroots women’s groups who fly under the radar and are experts in developing programs to best address the challenges facing women and girls. That’s why our grants are so important,” says Bryony.

The Victorian Women’s Benevolent Trust has a growing number of sub-funds, each of them with different purposes, be it supporting Aboriginal women and girls in Victoria, circuit-breaking solutions to address family violence, literacy and educational opportunities for women and girls, supporting migrant and refugee women, or respite care for mothers of children with high-need disabilities.

If you would like to know more about setting up a sub-fund with the Victorian Women’s Benevolent Trust, please contact Bryony Green, Grants and Development Manager, at bryony@vwt.org.au or 03 9642 0422.