‘Right Way, Wrong Way, Which Way?’: the webinar

In February 2017, following the success of Woor-Dungin’s session of the same name at Philanthropy Australia’s 2016 National Conference, ‘Right Way, Wrong Way, Which Way?’ became a webinar co-sponsored by Woor-Dungin and the Fellowship for Indigenous Leadership (FIL) and produced by Philanthropy Australia and Pro Bono Australia. It was moderated by Genevieve Timmons and presented by Belinda Duarte and Peter Aldenhoven.

Genevieve is Philanthropic Executive at Portland House Foundation and a member of FIL’s Advisory Committee. Belinda Duarte is a Wotjobaluk woman, CEO of Culture is Life and a FIL 2006–2007 Emerging Leader. Peter Aldenhoven is a descendant of the Nughi clan of the Quandamooka peoples of Moreton Bay, Queensland, and president of Willum Warrain Aboriginal Association.

(L-R) Genevieve Timmons, Belinda Duarte and Peter Aldenhoven. Photo courtesy Pro Bono Australia

(L-R) Genevieve Timmons, Belinda Duarte and Peter Aldenhoven.
Photo courtesy Pro Bono Australia

The webinar reiterated the findings of the Philanthropy Australia conference session, with Peter and Belinda reinforcing the message that when it comes to funding Aboriginal community-controlled organisations and their communities effectively, it is all about relationships, genuine, trustful engagement, and respecting the right of Aboriginal organisations to make decisions about their own futures.

The presenters stressed the importance of cultural awareness and the benefits of nyernila – ‘deep listening’.

They also spoke of the need for some philanthropics to move beyond reactionary thinking in response to the challenges they sometimes encounter when working with Aboriginal community-controlled organisations.

The following table is an adaptation of the one presented by Peter Aldenhoven and sets out philanthropy’s stated constraints in dealing with these challenges – constraints Woor-Dungin and our partner organisations would like to see philanthropy overcome:

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Aboriginal Communities Philanthropy
It takes time to get to know us We are time poor
We make decisions as a mob Engaging with Aboriginal communities is too messy
We have cultural restraints (that we can’t tell you about sometimes) We have focused funding objectives
Narrow funding guidelines restrict our dreaming It is efficient to have online application processes
Sometimes we use monies in the wrong way or don’t have the written and financial skills Our money is wasted, misused, we get burnt

The presenters finished by proposing the following substantive actions philanthropic organisations can take towards engaging effectively and respectfully with Aboriginal community-controlled organisations:

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Peter Aldenhoven Belinda Duarte
Walk with us Remember the importance of initiatives being Aboriginal designed, led or controlled
Go local Build in essential elements of trust and reciprocity in relationships
Invest in small grants and then upscale when two-way trust has been established Be informed and look for an evidence base when making decisions, follow what is known to work
Invest in capacity building (support community leaders, fund our staffing, get your staff to visit and advise us, especially with evaluation of programs) Be willing to take the journey of learning, never assume you know it all
Evaluate your own funding experiences with Aboriginal organisations: reflect on success stories Consider your life experience and mindset: What conditioning influences your approach and perceptions?
Make your websites culturally respectful Know this is not a ‘sheep-dip’ experience
Provide cross-cultural training for your grants manager, staff and board Walk with the enablers, find the organisations doing it well
Employ Aboriginal staff in philanthropy; recruit Aboriginal people to boards Don’t reinvent the wheel
Use your networking power for good