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Jennifer Westacott

Praise for indigenous core values

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Jennifer Westacott

As a member of the judging panel for this year’s Indigenous Governance Awards, I’ve learned a lot from seeing how indigenous organisations manifest their core values in decision-making, service delivery and advocacy. So much of what they do is underpinned by shared principles that serve as a constant compass.

The IGA, a joint initiative of Reconciliation Australia and BHP Billiton, attracts nominations from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations. This year’s finalists, chosen from a field of more than 100, opened themselves up for intense scrutiny and questioning against five criteria: Are they innovative? Are they effective? Do they promote and encourage self-determination and leadership? Are they culturally legitimate, and how resilient and prepared for the future are they?

One of the finalist organisations I visited, NPY Women’s Council, took out the top prize. The other, Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation (WDNWPT), also received high praise from all of the judges. What struck me most about these two organisations was the consistency of the messages from the lowest-paid employee through to the CEO and board directors. Both organisations are primarily involved in service delivery but also play a strong advocacy role for the people they represent. NPY supports communities across a tri-state region in Central Australia and WDNWPT supports renal dialysis patients and their families.

Both are organisations whose values come first and who have developed innovative governance and service delivery models to reflect those values. For example, WDNWPT’s beautifully succinct strategic plan states: “We will ensure that walytja [family], tjukurrpa [dreaming], ngurra [country] and kuunyi [compassion] are central to all that we do and say.” This may sound vague, but everyone we spoke to reinforced that it was exactly what WDNWPT does. Their model is designed to ensure patients suffering end-stage renal failure can return to their home communities, be with family, share their knowledge and contribute to community life.

When considering petitions from remote communities for remote dialysis services, the board considers kuunyi and has put other communities in more need ahead of their own. A leading Australian kidney specialist has described its model as world best practice.

Both organisations have stood firm against strong opposition, often for many years, to see important board decisions through. At the end of their successful 15-year fight against takeaway alcohol sales at Curtin Springs roadhouse, the women of NPY practised another of their principles – kalypangku (conciliation) – and sat down and ate kangaroo killed by the roadhouse owner’s son.

Business Council of Australia member companies are experiencing the two-way benefits of working with indigenous organisations and individuals. This is building an ever-wider business case for supporting indigenous economic development.

Jennifer Westacott is chief executive of the Business Council of Australia.

The Australian Financial Review

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Topics Health & Wellbeing