Ganbina: Bennelong Foundation's charity in focus

31 May 2010

A unique organisation in Shepparton is making a real difference in the lives of indigenous youth. Adrian Appo, Executive Officer of Ganbina, tells us how they're working together with the local community to create career opportunities for the region's indigenous youth.

In 1997, Adrian Appo was meeting with a group of local individuals and the topic of disparity in education and employment opportunities for indigenous versus non-indigenous youth came up. After some vocal debate on the issue, they all agreed on one thing: there's something wrong here. Why is the unemployment rate of non-indigenous Australians at 5-7% but 80% for indigenous Australians?". And with that question, the work of Ganbina started.

One of their first tasks was to collect details about the skills of indigenous community members looking for work, hoping Ganbina could facilitate the matching of job-hunters with job vacancies. They soon found that the pool of ‘work ready' indigenous youth was exhausted very quickly.

"The non-work ready pool was huge," Adrian said. "Much of the government support available required the youths to be receiving welfare support before they were eligible for government assistance to help them become work ready. It was almost like ‘you fail first and then we'll help you get a job'. We soon realised it was critical that they became work-ready whilst still in the education system, helping to ensure they never actually reached the welfare system."

After over 10 years of working with local indigenous youth, Ganbina has developed an impressive array of long-term, sustainable programs to help participants see that with the right education and training, there's a bright future ahead and very real, exciting employment opportunities.

"Our programs build on the youths' natural motivation, particularly while they're engaged and focused on educating themselves. They're also easier to access and assist whilst still in the education system," Adrian said.

Ganbina believes they've introduced three distinct cultural shifts in the local indigenous community through their programs:

  • welfare is not your destiny;
  • there are real job opportunities in the Australian workforce outside of health support roles and elite sportspeople; and
  • you can develop a work history while you are studying and avoid welfare support altogether.

The support of the Bennelong Foundation has been directed towards Ganbina's Career Transition Program, allowing Ganbina staff to support participants during the critical transition from education to training to employment. The group tailors a career development plan for each individual in the program which touches more than 200 of the region's indigenous youth each year, with in excess of 90% successfully completing the program.

All of Ganbina's programs are personally developed by Adrian and his team, who are also responsible for marketing the programs within the local and extended communities.

Ganbina also works to ensure indigenous representation on local committees; not just as a member of the indigenous community but as a valued member of the broader community.

When asked about one of his proudest moments at Ganbina, Adrian says "there's a little bit of me invested in all of Ganbina's kids but I guess I'm particularly proud of our Youth Leadership Program, which Bennelong have also supported. We see such a dramatic change in the young people that access this program. I remember one particular girl... she was so quiet and unsure of herself in the beginning. Then at the graduation ceremony when she was presented with an award for her achievements, she stood up and spoke so confidently to a room of 250 people. It was fantastic to watch - she was just 15 years old!"

Underpinning Ganbina's philosophy is a desire to share their learnings and programs where appropriate. Adrian said that the unique make-up of each indigenous community around Australia means that each community's challenges will also be unique, so franchising or overlaying Ganbina's programs into other communities won't necessarily be effective.

"We could support and mentor other indigenous communities and share our learnings but our current programs won't necessarily have the same result in a different community," Adrian said. Having said that, Ganbina are in contact with Canadian and New Zealand authorities to help them educate and integrate indigenous youth, ensuring equal access to the education, training and employment opportunities that non-indigenous youth can access.

Ganbina has grown to become the peak indigenous representative body in the Goulburn Valley for employment and training issues, so the future is a bright one; not just for Ganbina but for the hundreds of indigenous youth they support.

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