“Walk with us.
Not in front of us, not behind us, and definitely not over us.”
Robyne Latham (adapting Peter Aldenhoven’s words)
On 9 May 2017 Woor-Dungin presented a session on respectful relationships at the International Funders for Indigenous Peoples Pacific Regional Hui (‘gathering’) in Otaki, New Zealand, titled ‘How can philanthropy walk with us? A key to successful philanthropy with Aboriginal communities’.
‘How can philanthropy walk with us?’ further developed the themes explored in our session at Philanthropy Australia’s 2016 National Conference, ‘Right Way, Wrong Way, Which Way’, and its subsequent iteration as a webinar and posed the question: What are the keys to building successful, enduring, respectful relationships between philanthropy and Aboriginal community-controlled organisations and the communities they represent?
Woor-Dungin’s team – Peter Aldenhoven, Wenzel Carter, Sherree Chaudhry, Robyne Latham, Jacy Pevitt, Simone Spencer, Jem Stone and Brooke Wandin – began to build an answer.
Robyne Latham, from The Indigenous Program at the Bouverie Centre and a member of Woor-Dungin’s committee of management, stated that vital to building and sustaining respectful relationships is dadirri, or ‘deep listening’, akin to nyernila. “A reciprocity of deep listening, listening with all your senses, is integral to establishing respectful relationships,” she said.
Peter Aldenhoven, president of Willum Warrain Aboriginal Association, noted the importance of personal contact and dadirri. He related the following story to illustrate the point:
“The five philanthropics who have invested in our hopes and dreams for our community have all visited the Gathering Place, met community, heard our stories […] There’s a bit of a continuum in terms of dadirri and respectful listening and engagement with us, and some philanthropics are more engaged and flexible in their approaches.”
Simone Spencer, from Mallee District Aboriginal Services, also drew attention to the roles played by personal contact and dadirri, and in addition referred to transparency and flexibility:
“A group of philanthropists came to our community, they introduced themselves, they got to know our staff, our agency and also members of our community. They actually sat down and listened to what our community’s needs were. They encouraged funding solutions and helped write those solutions. [The result was a] program called Step Up. It was funded but it didn’t take the direction that the Trust originally set out for us […] and it was difficult but through phone calls and emails and transparency between us and the Trust they were able to be flexible [and] it ended up being extended up to two years.”
A ‘Stronger Futures’ checklist encapsulated the presenters’ advice to philanthropy:
|Stronger Futures: a checklist
|Walk beside us|
|Invest in your local Aboriginal mob|
|Make sure all projects are Aboriginal-designed, led or controlled|
|Be prepared to be flexible re grant guidelines and timeframes|
|Make sure your websites are culturally respectful|
|Trial small grants then upscale once two-way trust is established|
|Invest in mutual capacity-building: get your staff to visit us and support our community leaders and staff; ask us to provide cross-cultural training for your grants managers, staff and Boards|
|Evaluate your own funding experiences with Aboriginal organisations and reflect on success stories|
|Employ Aboriginal staff in philanthropy; recruit Aboriginal people to your Boards|
|Use your networking power for the benefit of Aboriginal communities|
|Dream: mainstream and Aboriginal philanthropies in place|
Other members of the team shared personal reflections and insights, speaking passionately from a place of strength. In the end, the key message to philanthropy was this: that successful, enduring, respectful relationships with Aboriginal community-controlled organisations can be achieved through deep listening, transparency, flexibility and reciprocity.
When Woor-Dungin’s presentation was over the audience rose in a standing ovation. Some audience members were in tears, and many came forward to congratulate the presenters as they left the stage.
Woor-Dungin’s participation at the Hui was made possible by donations from the Reichstein Foundation and a generous private donor. Thank you.