A program for change with room for everyone
I was heartened last week to note the launch of the GenerationOne project to address Indigenous disadvantage in Australia and in particular, the approach the campaign has taken towards reaching out to the younger generation to “make a difference in our lifetime”.
It is certainly not the first time such a grand plan to address the gap between non-Indigenous Australians and Indigenous has been announced, however the backing of high calibre celebrities and notable businesspeople goes a long way towards bringing this idea to the attention of mainstream media – something many similar projects have failed to achieve.
This is an issue that requires the attention of all Australians, however individuals can often feel powerless in the face of such an immense and longstanding disparity, not knowing how one person can make a difference.
The beauty of GenerationOne is that it empowers the individual to take action at a very grassroots level, in the first instance using social media to help spread the word. It is immediately clear how one person can contribute and makes it very easy to do so. It is a timely display of a new approach to a very old problem through the use of modern technology.
Already the campaign is generating strong responses via its website and Facebook site, both positive and negative, with the latter more an attack of the approach, rather than a rejection of the problem. But why should any attempt to stem the glaring disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians be denigrated? Awareness is the main driver of action and this is where this project could form a strong foundation.
The nature and extent of Indigenous disadvantage in Australia has been well-documented and publicised, yet after many years of targeted policy effort and service provision large gaps still persist when comparing the wellbeing of Indigenous citizens and other Australians. For most Australians, the capability to be sheltered, clothed and educated, are social norms. But for many Indigenous people, these components of healthy living, participation and social cohesion cannot be taken for granted.
While no single organisation or individual has the capacity to support all of the learning and development needs of Indigenous communities in isolation, a combination of their respective strengths will provide a holistic foundation for practical and sustainable progress. This is where a heavily promoted campaign, supported by high profile Australians with media pulling power, can prove persuasive where others have failed.
The cynic might say celebrity endorsement and short-term media hype go little way towards making a real difference in the area of Indigenous disadvantage, but what it can do is offer a catalyst for young people to stand up and take notice. From there the challenge lies in maintaining their interest by helping engage them in ways they can make a difference in their own right.
Achieving impact will take time and persistence, which is where this type of campaign is yet to prove itself. I see The Smith Family as a natural partner to the aims of GenerationOne in that this project is about generating jobs for Indigenous Australians, while we are working with Indigenous kids from birth to help get them ready for these jobs.
Of the 30,000 Australian students supported by The Smith Family through sponsorship nationwide, almost 4000 identify as Indigenous. In conjunction with our sponsorship model, a ‘whole of community’ generational approach focuses on building the capacity of a place or community in a sustainable manner, rather than targeting individuals through the shorter timeframe of a program-based model.
We also adopt a strengths-based approach, appreciating that Indigenous Australians have the potential to develop the skills and capacity to address Indigenous problems. This means that while our work incorporates the elements of best practice identified by research, we understand that Indigenous culture and language are assets to build upon, rather than barriers to overcome. It also means we seek the involvement, advice and guidance of Indigenous people wherever possible.
It is essential that any groups attempting major change in the face of this social juggernaut remain transparent and accountable in managing complex community-based systems of collaboration and action. Accountability for outcomes extends to families, communities, business partners, government and beyond.
All approaches to Indigenous education, jobs and job-ready training, as per the stated aims of GenerationOne, are heavily dependent on the support of the wider community. I look forward to sharing in the progress of the project as this support gathers.
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