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The foundation breaking Benalla’s socio-economic merry-go-round

18 April 2022 at 9:00 am
Maggie Coggan
Rosie Koop is the executive officer of the Tomorrow Today Foundation, which is working to reduce intergenerational disadvantage in Benalla. She’s this week’s Changemaker. 

Maggie Coggan | 18 April 2022 at 9:00 am


The foundation breaking Benalla’s socio-economic merry-go-round
18 April 2022 at 9:00 am

Rosie Koop is the executive officer of the Tomorrow Today Foundation, which is working to reduce intergenerational disadvantage in Benalla. She’s this week’s Changemaker. 

Working in the not-for-profit sector wasn’t always part of Rosie Koop’s career plan.

In fact, she comes from a background in publishing.

But after moving to rural North-East Victoria and hearing a presentation from one of the founders of Tomorrow Today, Liz Chapman OAM, she knew she had to get involved.

Tomorrow Today is Benalla’s independent community foundation – over two decades it has built a reputation as an innovative and well-run organisation.

Its main project is the Education Benalla Program, which has been widely recognised for its whole-of-community, innovative approach to improving educational outcomes by working with young people in a disadvantaged community at critical stages in their development.

In this week’s Changemaker, Koop reflects on what is different about the organisation, how she manages the challenges that come with her role, and what she loves most about her job.

How did you become involved in Tomorrow Today?

Working in the NFP sector wasn’t always part of my career plan. My background is book publishing, but the experience of moving from Sydney to rural North-East Victoria in 2011 quickly taught me the value and power of community. 

My catalyst for career change came after hearing a presentation by one of the founders of Tomorrow Today, Liz Chapman OAM, to a group of regional leaders. Her message was clear, and her conviction was profound. I just had to get involved.

What is different about the organisation and what is it trying to achieve?

Tomorrow Today takes a place-based, whole-of-community approach to reducing intergenerational disadvantage in Benalla. Years of research by Liz found education is key to breaking our community’s vicious socio-economic merry-go-round. 

Tomorrow Today has recently celebrated 10 years of its Education Benalla Program. We aim to improve the educational outcomes of children and young people aged 0 to 18. Our approach is simple: Education = family + community + school.

What I love about Tomorrow Today’s approach is that we don’t seek to fly solo when looking for solutions. Instead, we bring together businesses, local government and state government agencies, schools and educational providers, sports and rec clubs, health professionals, employment agencies and volunteers. We collaborate to deliver a suite of programs for children, young people and families. We have over 80 per cent of local families with preschool aged children attending our flagship early years program for a term or more (pre-COVID data). Maternal Child Health refers families to us and we, in turn, link families to other community services. This is the first of many programs we offer from cradle to career.

I believe Tomorrow Today provides the elusive ingredient that ensures government services have maximum impact: community connections, trust, and (so important) hope.

I am particularly proud of our outreach work, which we’ve expanded during the pandemic. We take our programs into the lounge rooms of families experiencing geographical isolation, mental or physical health or accessibility issues. We have some amazing staff with lived experience of vulnerability – they are so good at their work. They’ve been there. They get it. They don’t judge. 

What does an average day look like as the executive officer of Tomorrow Today? 

An average day involves checking in on my team, supporting and steering them, and maintaining relationships with key partners. 

Tomorrow Today chairs several local networks, which requires time, planning, strategic thinking and lots of collaboration.

Organisational sustainability is the wolf at the door; it was nail biting in the early years. We are fortunate that we have had some long-term philanthropic funders, and state government funding has recently been announced. But funding cycles come around too quickly and it is always on my mind.

Tracking and measuring everything we do is another high priority. 

An average day always involves lunch with the team. That’s a highlight!

How do you manage challenges in your work?

One of the keys to managing challenges is to have a strong workplace culture. Our strength comes from celebrating and harnessing the uniqueness of our team, the board, individuals, and community diversity. 

The pandemic has been tough on everyone, but it has reminded me of the importance of listening well. Not just to words, but to body language and intuition. 

What do you love most about your job?

Our team of 10 good women. I love their humour, conviction and determination. I embrace their individual strengths and the way we work together as a team. 

I draw inspiration from so many Benalla parents who want their children to have a better life. It is deeply satisfying to witness the parents and young people who participate in our programs develop a greater sense of self-determination and make positive changes to their lives.

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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