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‘MY COMMUNITY DIVIDEND’ LETS CITIZENS DECIDE WHERE FUNDING GOES

A new initiative by the NSW government hopes to give the public a say in how its communities are shaped.

Recently, the NSW Government announced the launch of the My Community Dividend, an ongoing initiative which will allow citizens of NSW to identify and direct government funding into worthwhile causes.

This comes as part of the NSW Generations Fund, a social wealth fund that has been seeded with $3 billion from the state’s balance sheet reserves. It’s goals are twofold: alleviate state debt and enhance local communities by supporting citizen-led projects. As investment returns increase, up to half of the money earned by the NGF will go towards the latter.

While the two-pronged approach of the NGF makes it perhaps the first of its kind, the element of participatory budgeting isn’t new. It was first implemented in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989, as a means of addressing spending which disproportionately favoured middle and upper class neighbourhoods.

The idea spread to other parts of the Americas, and soon the rest of the world had cottoned onto its benefits. As of 2018, over 1500 cities around the world have implemented PB programs, and experts have come to appreciate the important role they play in strengthening democracies and promoting civic participation.

Though the MCD represents a smaller scale version of PB, there’s still plenty to be excited about. For the 2018-19 period, $27.5 million has been set aside for funding MCD projects, with plans to share the money equally among all 93 electorates. Any NSW resident above the age of 16 can nominate an idea, as long as it aligns with one of six core themes: safety, accessibility, revitalisation, health, liveability, and culture.

According to the official release, some potential ideas include: “all ability playgrounds, community mobility services, public gardens, upgrades to local sporting facilities, public artworks and festivals, programs for at risk youth and healthy lifestyle initiatives.”

Worthiness of proposals will be determined via online vote, with funding for individual projects ranging from $20,000 to $200,000. Crucially, an organisation from the public sector – such as a school or local council – must be nominated to act as a sponsor. Sponsors will be entrusted with the finances and tasked with seeing the project through to completion.

The MCD comes on the heels of South Australia’s Fund My Neighbourhood program, in which over 33,000 residents recently voted on 1700 projects to receive government funding. Some of the proposals included upgrading existing infrastructure, designing natural play spaces, funding public art, and developing inclusive fitness centres.

At its core, the MCD undercuts the idea that only elected officials should have a say in how government money is spent. We’ve yet to see the kinds of ideas that will be put forward, or just how popular the MCD will be, but for Australians who’ve been pushing for a more active role in the governance of their communities, there’s every reason to be optimistic.

If you’d like to get involved, register your interest here.

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