Connecting communities to protect our environment

This is the story of how the Our Place Program helped develop the capacity of the Illawarra community to manage local environmental issues.

In 2013, we partnered with social enterprise organisation Green Connect to pilot the Our Place Program. Green Connect creates job opportunities based on urban sustainability for resettled refugees and young people in the Illawarra region.

The aim of the partnership was to strengthen the local community by engaging people in local environmental issues and to build their capacity to manage these issues.

Green Connect received $29,500 through the Our Place Program to:

  • conduct comprehensive research within local culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) groups (Sudanese and Bhutanese) to identify and understand environmental needs, interests and behaviours
  • facilitate the development and support of environmental projects in response to the research findings
  • support its core business of training young people and people with refugee backgrounds.

To carry out the community development project Green Connect took the following five-step approach.

1. Survey CALD community members

The project began with a survey of 83 people from local Sudanese and Bhutanese communities that collected information about environmental awareness, behaviour and interest in participating in environmental projects.

2. Interview CALD community members

To re-inforce and drill down through information collected in step 1, 25 members from local CALD communities were interviewed. This research found:

  • 64% of participants said growing their own food was a main point of interest
  • recycling was an area of interest, with 44% of participants identifying it as a project they would like to participate in
  • 24% of participants identified saving money on electricity as an interest.

3. Organise and host local forum

Green Connect hosted a forum for key community organisations and groups.

Participants included students, researchers and academics from the University of Wollongong, and representatives from local charities, local neighbourhood groups, community groups and conservation groups.

During the forum, research findings from steps 1 and 2 were presented to attendees and project ideas informed by these two steps were explored in greater practical depth.

4. Identify ‘areas of energy’ and facilitate momentum

Green Connect worked closely with enthusiastic community leaders interested in leading and participating in projects identified in step 3 at the local forum.

5. Train members of the CALD community

In line with their core business, Green Connect trained a number of CALD community members based on the interests they identified in steps 1 and 2 to: 

  • provide employment opportunities for these trainees
  • build community capacity in maintaining and protecting the local environment.

What were the overall outcomes?

The project built the capacity of the CALD community to participate in and lead projects that meet community needs, and established new networks to drive community projects forward.

What were the benefits for those involved?

For Green Connect

  • The research improved understanding of CALD community interest in particular environmental jobs and barriers to participation – ultimately helping build meaningful jobs and reduce participation barriers.
  • The Our Place Program supported the organisation's core business.
  • Throughout the project, Green Connect employed 111 new people.

For CALD community groups

  • A community garden in the Illawarra is now being supported through the 2015 Our Place Program.
  • The training provided employment for 99 people from refugee backgrounds.

For the local environment

  • The employment of 99 refugees and 12 young people contributed to the development of a new urban farm and 85% of managed waste was kept out of landfill.

Act now


Supported by the New South Wales Government through its Environmental Trust.

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Page last updated: 10 December 2015