‘Right Way, Wrong Way, Which Way?’: a session at Philanthropy Australia’s 2016 National Conference

Although Woor-Dungin has been engaged in the promotion of respectful relationships between philanthropy and Aboriginal community-controlled organisations since our inception, 2016 marked the beginning of a period of increased activity. We co-presented a session at the Philanthropy Australia National Conference, collaborated on a webinar version of the session, and then presented at the International Funders for Indigenous Peoples Pacific Regional Hui.

In September 2016 Woor-Dungin collaborated with the Fellowship for Indigenous Leadership (FIL) and Philanthropy Australia on a session at Philanthropy Australia’s 2016 National Conference called “Right Way, Wrong Way, Which Way?: Stories from the field, practical steps and tools to forge respectful relationships and invest in leadership of Aboriginal Australia.”

The session provided an opportunity for Aboriginal community-controlled organisations and grantmakers to engage in open dialogue about what constitutes good practice in funding, what the challenges are for each party and what lessons can be learnt.

It was moderated by Belinda Duarte and Genevieve Timmons. Belinda is a Wotjobaluk woman, CEO of Culture is Life and a FIL 2006–2007 Emerging Leader. Genevieve is Philanthropic Executive at Portland House Foundation and a member of FIL’s Advisory Committee.

Belinda began by speaking about the importance of nyernila. Nyernila means ‘deep listening’, ‘listening with all the senses’, and is akin to dadirri.

Then the panelists, Peter Aldenhoven, Tim Goodwin, Maree Davidson, the chair of FIL, Daphne Yarram and Peter Maher, worked towards establishing a set of guiding principles for supporting and strengthening respectful relationships and improving outcomes. They suggested that philanthropy that is distant and overly officious can have a negative impact on Aboriginal communities and can compromise the success of the philanthropic endeavour.

When Daphne Yarram, a FIL Fellow, was asked what she would like to tell everyone about respectful relationships with Aboriginal communities, she said that “people usually do things for us, not with us. How can we get people to sit around a campfire and have a yarn with us?” She called on philanthropy to see grantmaking as an investment in communities with long-term outcomes.

Peter Aldenhoven, a descendant of the Nughi clan of the Quandamooka peoples of Moreton Bay, Queensland and president of Willum Warrain Aboriginal Association, noted the supportive and respectful relationship Willum Warrain has with Woor-Dungin, likening it to “walking on a journey of two-way learning.” He asked philanthropy similarly to “walk with us, not over us, and respect our autonomy.” He asked philanthropy to take into account Aboriginal communities’ collective decision-making processes, and pointed to the inefficacy of

inflexible timelines.

Tim Goodwin

Tim Goodwin

Tim Goodwin, a member of the Yuin people of south-eastern New South Wales, a barrister and a board member of the Roberta Sykes Indigenous Education Foundation, highlighted the importance of trust: “If you don’t establish trust you will never learn what’s really needed because we won’t disclose it to you.” In reference to historical grievances that continue to resonate, he exhorted philanthropy to make the time to build relationships:

“We are busy; you are not busy. Make the time. Much of Australia’s philanthropic wealth exists on the back of Aboriginal dispossession. If we focused on funding by need, 90% of philanthropic wealth would go to Aboriginal communities.”

Tim dismissed the notion sometimes held by philanthropy that it is “too tough” to work with Aboriginal communities by stressing:

“It is hard. It should be hard. But get in for the long haul, take risks, fail, get burned but keep on trying because the benefits are immense.”

The conference session generated great interest from people who took advantage of the opportunity for grantmakers and Aboriginal ​and Torres Strait Islander leaders to have open dialogue. It was followed in February 2017 by a webinar of the same name.