A partnership in reconciliation: nbn and Jawun

7-minute read
nbn employee Jeff Smith writes about connecting with Yolngu culture of North East Arnhem Land, as part of our organisation’s commitment to reconciliation.

It’s amazing how life unfolds when you’re open to new experiences and opportunities.

As a Service Experience Business Partner at nbn, based in suburban Adelaide, I never could have imagined I’d spend six weeks in the Northern Territory’s North East Arnhem Land, working in Nhulunbuy and living in the First Peoples community, Gunyangara, the traditional lands of the Yunupingu, Burarrwanga and Munungirritj people.

Yet, that’s exactly what happened when I was accepted as a participant in nbn’s secondment partnership with Jawun.

An innovative non-profit organisation, Jawun increases the capacity of First Peoples leaders, organisations and communities to achieve their own development goals by placing secondees from Australia’s leading companies and government agencies into First Peoples’ organisations.

An innovative non-profit organisation, Jawun increases the capacity of First Peoples leaders, organisations and communities to achieve their own development goals by placing secondees from Australia’s leading companies and government agencies into First Peoples’ organisations.

These secondees use their skills and expertise to help support the organisations, located in 12 regions across the nation, to achieve their aims through a combination of ‘On Country’ and digital (virtual) experiences.

Part of nbn’s commitment to its Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), late last year, I was fortunate to find myself seconded to the Yothu Yindi Foundation.

A profound impact

In many ways, it still feels a little surreal – the experience really had a profound impact on me both professionally and personally.

I’ve been on my own personal reconciliation journey for well over 10 years now.

Over that time, I was always very conscious to be part of a solution and to always seek first to understand with an open mind and heart.

The fire in my belly was created when I witnessed blatant and ignorant racism toward our First Peoples – and while I felt I knew more than many about First Peoples by taking an active interest, I also knew I didn’t know as much as I could or should.

It felt like I was on the outside looking in, which – frankly – I was.

My Jawun secondment changed that. Suddenly I was on the inside, on the ground, in the thick of it, and the first thing I realised was that I still really knew very little. 

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nbn's Jeff Smith

Out of your comfort zone

And talk about getting out of your comfort zone.

As a secondee participating On Country, I soon found myself 3500 kilometres from home, living with complete strangers (the other secondees) in shared donga accommodation within the community of Gunyangara.

I was essentially starting a new job and – to feel even more like a fish out of water – swapped the brisk 10-degree temperatures of Adelaide for a hot and humid 35 degrees.

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Despite the extreme change of scenery, for me, it was like a dream come true.

I was there with the Yothu Yindi Foundation – and the people of Gunyangara – with the sole purpose to help build their capacity and know-how, and to leave that behind in a way that helps for the longer term. 

The Yothu Yindi Foundation

Led by CEO Denise Bowden, the Yothu Yindi Foundation team is an amazing group of people motivated to do what they do for all the right reasons.

Established in 1990, the foundation aims for Yolngu and other First Peoples to have the same level of wellbeing and life opportunities as non-First Peoples Australians.

To this end, they knew exactly what they needed to do and why it needed to be done – all they needed was some expertise when it came to the how.

And that’s exactly what a Jawun secondment is all about – sharing the knowledge and leaving its legacy behind. Building capacity, giving all that you can in way that’s useful for the organisation you’re fortunate to be working with. 

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Denise Bowden, CEO at the Yothu Yindi Foundation

Immersive and fast paced

It all moves at a lightning pace – it’s like you’re trying to walk, chew gum, juggle, sing and dance at the same time.

There’s so much to take in and, being a truly immersive experience, you need time to get your head around it all.

There’s a depth and beauty of culture that exists within the Yolngu peoples and, I think mainstream Australia could learn a thing or two in this space.

While there are many appropriate and inspiring things happening to help ‘close the gap’, First Peoples’ life expectancy, health, education, empowerment, and levels of incarceration are still nowhere near where they need to be. There’s still much to be done. 

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The ‘ripple effect’

At Jawun, they talk about the ‘ripple effect’ – the idea that, as an individual, you can’t necessarily change the world, but you can create a ripple that radiates outwards and changes the situation just a little.

That’s mirrored in nbn’s own internal First Peoples community, called Liakukana. This means ‘waterfall’ and was a name gifted to nbn from the Paredarerme people of Tasmania.

Why is that important? Because Tasmania was where the nbn® network rollout began, so the ‘first drop’ in a nation-wide ripple effect that has enriched our country. 

At Jawun, they talk about the ‘ripple effect’ – the idea that, as an individual, you can’t necessarily change the world, but you can create a ripple that radiates outwards and changes the situation just a little.

A secondment like this not only helps build capacity in First Peoples Australia, but it provides people within nbn with a unique perspective they can bring back into the business to help create that ripple of awareness, empathy and understanding.

For me, it was life changing.

I’m so happy to be continuing my relationship with the region, and the Yothu Yindi Foundation, when I head back there in July to volunteer in my own time.

I made amazing friends in this very special place they call Arnhem Land. If sharing my skills and know-how can make even a tiny difference, then it’s 100 per cent worth it. 

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More secondees in 2022

The Jawun-nbn partnership is significant for nbn, allowing our people to collaborate with a like-minded organisation to develop ways in which we can advance reconciliation.

nbn’s vision for reconciliation is to be deeply engaged and connected with First Peoples’ cultures and aspirations for digital inclusion.

After nbn’s first three secondees – Jeff Smith, Rosalie Berry and Dan Johnson – completed their experiences last year, nbn is pleased to continue this partnership in 2022.

Future rounds are planned, with secondees’ expertise matched to needs within First Peoples’ organisations.

"Our research has shown that digital inclusion of First Peoples continues to lag behind that of other Australians, and we’re committed to working to bridge the gap and improve access to essential health and government services,” says Gavin Williams, Chief Development Officer – Regional and Remote at nbn.

“Our association with Jawun is a tangible way for our people to live nbn’s purpose of lifting the digital capability of Australia – and we’re looking forward to seeing what we can all achieve together.”

Gavin Williams, Chief Development Officer – Regional and Remote at nbn

Meet 2021 secondee, Rosalie Berry

Senior Manager, Customer Improvement Enablement at nbn
Seconded to Empowered Communities

What motivated you to apply?

For the last couple of years especially, I had become acutely aware that I didn’t know much about First Peoples history, social impacts, and activities that were being undertaken in communities. I wanted to do something about it, be more of an active participant in reconciliation, but I didn’t really know how.

The Jawun opportunity drew my attention because you are invited into the space, rather than pushing yourself in.

What did your secondment involve?

I worked virtually with an organisation called Empowered Communities, a First Peoples-led reform agenda whose goal is to rebalance the power between government and First Peoples to provide the same opportunities and choices for First Peoples children that other Australians expect for theirs. 
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nbn's Rosalie Berry

They provide a set of transformational reforms to enable First Peoples’ communities to set themselves up as ‘regions’, determine their priorities and the actions they need to take for development in their region. 

As part of my project, I interviewed many Empowered Community regions and relevant government partners about their journey with Empowered Communities. This included identifying the information and tools they deem critical to help them become part of Empowered Communities and/or thrive within the framework. We used these interviews to draft requirements for an updated web-based toolkit.

What did you get out of the experience?

I don’t believe I fully grasp it all yet nor do I have the vocabulary to do it justice. I learnt so much about what has happened, what is happening now, and the incredible work so many communities are doing for their people. One of my personal takeaways is about looking for experiences and voices that can help me to continue to listen and continue to learn. The secondment really pushed me to seek out more; I have found an app that provides stories and history from a nearby suburb here in Wurundjeri country, I have been reading more books by First Peoples authors and adding in First Peoples’ music, podcasts and TV watching to my regular rotation.

Meet 2021 secondee, Dan Johnson

Senior Manager, End User Services at nbn
Seconded to Nganampa Health Council (NHC) 

What motivated you to apply?

What really resonated with me was Jawun’s purpose and the positive impact it provides to First Peoples’ businesses and the ongoing efforts of reconciliation in Australia. I saw this as a real growth opportunity from a career and personal perspective. 

What did your secondment involve?

I worked with NHC, a First Peoples health organisation based in Alice Springs, which operates clinics across the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands in central Australia.

Having recently completed an IT audit and introducing Microsoft 365, NHC was seeking advice to understand what steps they should take to further improve their IT environment. I was able to walk them through a range of ideas to consider what would position them well for a sustainable IT future.

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nbn's Dan Johnson

What did you get out of the experience?

It has given me a far greater understanding of the historical challenges of the past, and how much effort and sacrifice has gone towards trying to improve things for future First Peoples generations. I also talk a lot about the ripple effect this experience brings back into your own organisation, your family and friends as you share it with people.