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How an emerging NFP frees disadvantage girls through education  

4 min read
How an emerging NFP frees disadvantage girls through education  

Featured Nonprofit: The Harding Miller Education Foundation   

The Harding Miller Education Foundation won Third Sector Awards 2019 Emerging NFP Organisation of the Year, and they are capping this year with another major achievement as they reach the first full cycle of a 4-year scholarship program with 68 student graduates coming in December.

The organisation intends to keep the momentum of continual growth in 2020 expanding their coverage of the scholarship program across every state and territory in Australia. This year, they had over 400 applications for their 2020 scholarship program and will be awarding between 110 and 120 scholarships across the country.

This is a huge success story for a young foundation that started in 2015 by two founders Kim Harding and Irene Miller. Carrying 20 years of educational philanthropy on their backs, they had previously provided scholarships for girls in a number of education foundations who did not have the advantages available to students in higher socio-economic circumstances.

When they started, this Australian charity and Public Benevolent Institution searched for an efficient way to achieve their ambition to support girls with high academic potential in public high schools but with very little opportunities. The HMEF decided to focus on providing scholarships that offer the tools and support to lift the educational achievements and career aspirations of high potential girls who are facing disadvantage.

The humble beginnings of the Foundation accelerated to its success now with a combination of proper staffing, volunteers and meticulous planning. In 2015, Cara Varian also joined the team as CEO and only staff member with just a laptop in a room full of big ambitions. Though limited in staff access then, she was backed with experience in the public domain, master’s degree in Social Science International Development, and an extensive voluntary capacity from the Public Education Foundation.

For her work with the HMEF, she said the first step was to make sure they had high quality equipment, resources and support to enable scholars to reach their full educational potential. That entailed a robust fair selection and a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation process. She spent her first few months interviewing scholarship recipients and designing a model for the scholarship.

Encouraging coaches and volunteers with shared passion  

The HMEF Scholarships are valued at $20,000 across the 4 years and includes a laptop in the first year as well as high speed internet access, expense cards for school costs, uniforms, excursions, $2500 worth of face to face tutoring, online homework assistance, a personal coach as well as unique enrichment opportunities.

The coaches stay with students for 4 years and they are part of a volunteer group who are all education advocates. The shared passion to build a clear path for the program led to a growth of their volunteers all with the fuel “to support scholars with low circumstances to access education and bring forth an equal society, and to support women in particular,” Cara said.

Bringing the education level and career aspirations of women and girls lifts their communities. “If you invest in women, they are more likely to pass those investment through to their communities, “she said.

Close relationship have developed between the scholars and their volunteer personal coaches of the organisation. Cara said many of the students are in difficult family circumstances and are potentially the first graduates from their families to complete high school and enter university.

“About a 3rd of the coaches are former educators who have supported their own children. They are now able to support scholars to give the same opportunity that their children have received. Every student has their own barriers so having a personal coach makes the difference,” Cara said.

Volunteer work is important across the board. The foundation also seeks their support to help with tasks such as administration, technical and educational advice, fundraising, public relations, procurement and marketing.

Inspiring scholars to aspire for career direction   

Cara shared The Harding Miller Educational Foundation has two goals. One is to use resources and tools to help students maximize academic results, and second is to assist them on their desired career direction or continuing education.

“We partner with corporate organisations and educational institutions like Google, University Sydney and University of New England to make this happen,” she said.

The foundation also works closely with the Public Education Foundation to mutual benefit. The Public Education Foundation offers a wide variety of scholarships for both students and teachers in public schools and promotes the quality and status of public education.

“Part of the maths mentoring session at the National Australia Bank is students get to see what they could become. They interact with trading floor banking executives once a week for 2 hours,” Cara said. “We understand the importance of technology and STEM. To support the career trajectory of our students, we find partners who recognise that as well and can give them access to that.”

Students often don’t have the network to enable them to find internships, Cara continues, and they have family members who are not role models in professional careers.

“Often, they are limited in scope to typically female industries like healthcare. We just want to make sure that they can have the best options for their decisions so we look for high end jobs where we can expose them to the possibilities. We do see these students change their perspective about their careers,” she said.

Once a year, the foundation takes the scholars to the 3M Innovation Centre where there is crossroad of business and science. Cara shared that after the tour, there have been several times students have said they wanted to become a chemical engineer. They didn’t know what a chemical engineer was before they took that tour.

“In the National Australia Bank, students talked to the traders and were shocked to find out some didn’t have math degrees. They have other careers that brought them to the bank like physics. This let students know that strong stem careers can lead them to work for a bank or lead them on a similar career path,” she said.

These tours bring scholars to a possible internship. Cara said the foundation is open to create those bridges of understanding and experience with many different organisations.

The big dream   

For the first time next year, The Harding Miller Education Foundation will have scholarship recipients from all states and territories in Australia coming from diverse circumstances.

“We need to find opportunities and experience from broad geographical areas. There are many different types of disadvantages and being able to support students in their communities, and work with their schools is a constant process,” Cara said.

Across Australia, public schools have a disproportionate share of the poorest families but also of children who are most educationally disadvantaged. Women within Australia are two and a half times more likely to live in poverty in their old age than men.

The UN Girls Education Initiative has stated that “Girl’s education is critical in terms of what it can achieve in raising families out of poverty and accelerating economic development for the community. It has a multiplier effect like no other.”

Now that the organisation has its own momentum, Cara is confident to go out to the rest of Australia because they have built a strong scholarship volunteer program and community.

“Through recognitions not only from Third Sector but from within the education system, people are starting to notice what we are doing, and this helps us build more partnerships,” Cara said. She aims to grow from 600 to 1000 scholars in the next five years.

“We have a strong enrichment program in NSW and I want to replicate that in every state and territory. The big change is adding a residential program and bringing students in with coaches like they do in private schools,” she said. That includes cultural experience and improved financial literacy.

The goal, Cara said is to continue to build a stronger future for our women scholars.


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