An increasing number of Australian community organisations are choosing to embed acts of reconciliation deep within their business practices, writes Melbourne City Mission’s Darcel Russell.
Today marks the start of National Reconciliation Week, a time for Australians to participate in the journey of reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the broader community. This year’s theme – Our History, Our Story, Our Future – comes from the pages of Reconciliation Australia’s recent report, State of Reconciliation in Australia.
The report analyses Australia’s progress towards reconciliation using five key headings;
- Race relations
- Equality and equity
- Institutional integrity
- Unity and
- Historical acceptance
Like large parts of Australian society, Melbourne City Mission is on its own reconciliation journey. And while the five components listed above are all important and inter-related, the theme of institutional integrity holds special significance to our organisation.
Institutional integrity is defined as “the extent to which the nation’s political, business and community structures actively support reconciliation”. The thinking is that reconciliation is more likely to progress with these sections of society on board.
Hearteningly, the report finds there has been a significant increase in institutional support for the reconciliation process in the past decade, evidenced by enormous growth in the number of organisations engaged in the Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) program.
More than 650 organisations in Australia—including more than 200 community sector organisations—have developed and implemented RAPs. A further 500 organisations, 200 of these in the community sector, and including VCOSS itself, are developing their first plans.
The RAP is a business plan with actions based on the key elements of relationships, respect and opportunities. The program’s structure – from Reflect, to Innovate, then Stretch and Elevate – enables organisations to assess their progress and develop and implement strategies to improve their approach to engaging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They are tools for driving change and improving economic opportunities.
In October 2015, organisations with RAPs employed over 35,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, provided 263,000 employees cultural awareness training and purchased over $30 million services from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses.
At Melbourrne City Mission, our RAP experience has been overwhelmingly positive.
We are currently in the process of completing our Reflect RAP and will soon submit our Innovate RAP to Reconciliation Australia for endorsement. Prior to our engagement with the RAP program, we had a long and successful history working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, however, this work primarily occurred at the service level.
The Reflect RAP has enabled us to build a more systemic and strategic approach to our engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It has been a catalyst for embedding systems, structures, policies and practices into our core business, creating a stable and sustainable base for continual improvement.
Our long term focus is to build our organisational capacity and staff capability to engage more effectively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Our RAP working group – the Towards Reconciliation Committee (TRC) – has been responsible for developing, implementing, monitoring and reporting on our RAP. The committee’s terms of reference embed the principle of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander involvement in decision-making. It is co-convened by an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person, inclusive of MCM’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees and has Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander members from external agencies.
In addition, decisions are only valid if there is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation at the meeting, or input into the decision prior to the meeting. The committee is an exemplar of building positive two-way relationships based on trust and respect.
Over the past 12 months, we have achieved significant outcomes, including the development and endorsement of the RAP itself. We have produced several key organisational frameworks and documents, including Protocols for Engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, a Policy on Engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and a number of resources.
We have implemented strategies to capture data on the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees and on employee’s knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures, societies and issues. We have developed closer relationships with a number of Aboriginal stakeholders, including community controlled organisations, elders, and Aboriginal people employed in government and community sector organisations.
We are building behaviours and processes which recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures as a significant part of our shared organisational identity.
Melbourne City Mission’s reconciliation journey also has a bearing on events and public engagements. Our Family Reconciliation Mediation Program is a state wide service that works closely with the homelessness service sector to broker access to a range of support services to assist young people who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness. This year, the FRMP State wide Conference (1 – 2 June) has a significant focus on working with Aboriginal young people, their families and communities.
Wurundjeri elder Aunty Joy Wandin Murphy will provide the Welcome to Country, Victoria’s Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People Commissioner Andrew Jackomos is a keynote speaker and there are workshops on engaging with the Aboriginal community and developing cultural competence. Fiona Rigney, an Aboriginal woman and Front Yard social worker, is the conference MC, and the event will include a performance from Archie Roach.
The State of Reconciliation Report finds that most Australians want to contribute to reconciliation but many do not know how. Engaging employees in the process of reconciliation is one way that organisations can show leadership and support staff to turn goodwill into action.
At MCM we are proud of our achievements since our Reflect RAP was launched during NAIDOC week in 2015. As we make plans to launch our Innovate RAP during NAIDOC week 2016, we will celebrate our achievements and re-double our efforts to create positive attitudes and behaviours amongst our employees and create opportunities for improving our practices in the employment of, and engagement with, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Darcel Russell is MCM’s Towards Reconciliation Project Worker. She is an Aboriginal woman from North Stradbroke Island in Queensland.