Vital Signs is a report that gathers good-quality data about a city from reputable sources to provide a snapshot of its community. Vital Signs identifies things to celebrate and things to improve.
The Toronto Community Foundation produced the first Vital Signs report in 2006. This was so well received that it led to more than 30 community foundations undertaking the Vital Signs project across Canada, led by Community Foundations of Canada.
I first saw Toronto’s 2006 Vital Signs through my earlier advisory work for community foundations around Australia. I was hugely impressed and could see the value of an independent set of data to check a community’s health and wellbeing.
When I was appointed CEO of the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, essentially Melbourne’s own community foundation, producing Vital Signs was a potential opportunity.
Community foundations provide grants for charitable purposes and often work collaboratively, using their knowledge and networks to help make a difference. The Vital Signs report provides us with up-to-date data on which to base decisions about our granting priorities.
Most importantly, the reports are intended to assist other foundations, leaders of not-for-profit organisations and policymakers working on the various issues.
So, what did we find in Greater Melbourne Vital Signs 2017?
What can we celebrate about our city?
An impressive 95% of residents participate in or attend arts and cultural events.
What are Melbourne’s biggest challenges?
Homelessness and the lack of affordable housing remain big challenges for Melbourne. The median price of housing across Greater Melbourne has increased by 19% in the last five years. A person living on income support payments can afford only 0.7% of private rental properties.
Despite much higher school completion rates than 50 years ago, youth unemployment is too high at 13.5% of young people (aged 15-24 years). Only one-third of graduates seeking full-time employment were able to find a job within four months. Underemployment of young people is even more significant at 18%; the highest since records began.
Another concern is the report that one in five people (20%) reported experiencing discrimination based on skin colour, ethnic origin or religion. This is up from 15% in 2015. This is particularly concerning given that 34% of our population was born outside Australia and nearly 1.5 million people speak a language other than English at home.
Our greenhouse gas emissions are around four times the global average. However, rooftop solar is rapidly increasing – although we sit at 14% residential uptake compared with Queensland at 29%, Western Australia at 23.1% and South Australia at 28.8%. We need to reduce our waste, which is increasing, although 44% is recycled or recovered.
Which challenges should philanthropy target?
Philanthropy occupies a unique place in the Melbourne community. Foundations can take a long-term view, outside of election and annual meeting cycles. We can support innovative responses, sometimes testing and proving new services and programs before government can fund them or a social enterprise model can become sustainable.
Philanthropy can try to tackle the tough issues. Philanthropy can work in partnership with government and business and bring sectors together. Sometimes it makes most sense for government or business to take a lead.
Overall, we are a well-educated, arts-oriented city. We are doing well conserving water and improving air quality.
However, we must tackle the lack of affordable housing, reduce youth unemployment, protect our waterways and our food bowl, and actively support social inclusion. And more people need to be more active.
Many of these challenges can be reduced if we take a proactive approach as a community, collaborating across sectors. We will continue to work with our partners on:
reducing homelessness and increasing the supply of more affordable housing
educing youth unemployment in a changing world of work
reducing discrimination in a culturally diverse community
ensuring a sustainable food bowl and healthy waterways
reducing our level of waste
supporting our community to prepare for and recover from heatwaves and other natural disasters such as fires and droughts, especially those most at risk such as children and older people or those with limited financial resources.
Guided by the evidence
Many foundations around the world are increasingly using evidence to inform their granting and other programs.
Community foundations like the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation are a hub for charitable giving and granting in a particular community. They are focused on the key issues facing our communities and also on growing philanthropy.
Authors: Catherine Brown, PhD Candidate, Faculty of Business & Law, Centre for Social Impact, Swinburne University of Technology