Our new Fay Fuller Foundation CEO Niall Fay definitely hit the ground running when he started with us late last year. We caught up with him this month to hear his reflections so far on the foundation, the Our Town mental health funding journey and his plans for the foundation’s future.

Niall joined our foundation in November just as we were gearing up for a state-wide tour stopping in at the nine towns and regions that were shortlisted for Our Town mental health funding.

It’s been a busy few months for Niall who is new to the philanthropic sector but brings a fresh perspective and transferable experience from his work in the innovation and Research and Development space.  He talked to Philanthropy Australia recently about his unexpected career path to get here.

Niall said the while he had a simple understanding of philanthropy beforehand, the day-to-day reality was different but the underlying aim was as he anticipated.

‘Our foundation is passionate about supporting the South Australian community and using what we have learnt to influence national conversations,’ he says.

Reflecting on his time so far, Niall says: ‘What I have seen is a foundation that has evolved and grown rapidly over the past 10-15 years.’

The Fay Fuller Foundation has gone from inception to having its first CEO and staff members and has refined its focus significantly over that time.

Niall says he’s comfortable with the current focus area for the foundation on health funding and the recent spotlight on mental health. He says the foundation was in a really good place when he took the reins, particularly the Our Town mental health initiative.

Reflections on Our Town

 Niall says the visits to towns shortlisted for Our Town funding with The Australian Centre for Social Innovation brought home the realities that South Australia’s rural and regional areas are facing.

‘We may have read the applications but meeting people from these communities in person was extremely important in bringing their challenges to life and we learnt a huge amount,’ he says.

‘We weren’t anticipating the extent of the challenges that the communities were facing and the extent that they were let down by a system that wasn’t designed to meet their needs – this was eye-opening.’

However, also evident was a reservoir of resilience and commitment.

‘There was such a singular focus on people helping people – community supporting itself – often driven by necessity,’ Niall says.

He says the willingness of people to sacrifice their time and energy and their insights on the mental health challenges their communities were dealing with ‘blew me away’.

‘The communities demonstrated that they were more than willing and motivated to get in and make the changes they wanted to see over a long period.’

‘If they were provided with the power, agency and resources to start to address some of the systemic challenges they were facing, as well as a say in shaping the system which was holding some of those challenges in place, then real change could happen,’ Niall says. ‘The real excitement is going to be watching that unfold.’

Next chapter for the foundation

As to the future of the Fay Fuller Foundation, Niall wants to build on the momentum started by his predecessor and the foundation’s inaugural CEO Stacey Thomas.

This included continuing to build understanding of the context in which the foundation provides funding, an understanding of its funding partners and the foundation’s practices across all areas.

He’s also looking at the potential for a ‘layered approach’ to funding and grant provision.

‘A layering approach is all about supporting learning over varying time frames and by different means whether it be via practice, investigation or experimentation. What is then crucial though, is turning what has been learnt into knowledge by sharing it with others,’ he explains.

‘Learning and knowledge creation happen in many ways and, as a result, I have a really open mind around who we might work with as a foundation.’

Niall is open to discussions with not-for-profit organisations, community groups, government or the corporate sector. The proviso is that those groups need to be strongly aligned to and committed to the health needs of the community.