A systemic turning point for Australia-wide Aboriginal empowerment


Empowered Communities is about nothing less than carving out a power for ourselves to maintain the distinctness of our people and yet, at the same time, the equality of our citizenship

Noel Pearson, GARMA Festival 2014

Deeply rooted, systemic disempowerment at a national level

Indigenous people in this country have experienced systematic disempowerment to almost every aspect of their lives, starting with dispossession from their land, through the protection era and the unintended consequences of the rights and equality movement of the 1960s and 70s. The problems are now structurally embedded – the annual ‘Closing the Gap’ report routinely identifies the painfully slow progress in Indigenous affairs. Constituting only three per cent of the population, Indigenous peoples have limited democratic influence on government structures and institutions that persist with modes of governance and service delivery that enshrine passivity and dependence.

Since 2001, Jawun, a small not-for-profit organisation, has leveraged the capabilities of corporate, government and philanthropic Australia to support innovative change in eight urban, regional and remote Indigenous regions across Australia. The Indigenous leaders of these eight regions shared a common sense of urgency to accelerate change and effect real improvement in their communities. In early 2013, Jawun Patron Noel Pearson recognised the opportunity to act, saying “now we have sufficient scale across the country to do something in a united way”. Jawun invited some of the leaders from these regions to a two-day workshop on the NSW Central Coast in June 2013 and then looked to 2nd Road to design and facilitate the event.

Making the most of a critical moment

2nd Road worked closely with Jawun leadership, BCG and Noel Pearson to design the two-day conference. Beginning with crucial relationship building and knowledge sharing, the conference utilised the ABCD model to enable the group to cohere around a clear picture of the current state before co-developing a powerful vision. Three main hypotheses emerged with great energy from the group: to design and propose a new structural model at the national and regional level; to build a cross-regional system for leadership development; and to design a system for inter-regional collaboration and knowledge sharing.

From hypotheses to action, results and hope

Due to the collaboration of the leaders from the eight regions, commitment to move forward with the design of a new structural model was secured from both major parties prior to the 2013 federal election. Since then, the journey of designing ‘Empowered Communities’ has been underway, through a dedicated process of co-design and engagement across and within each region. The Empowered Communities proposal will be submitted to the Prime Minister in early 2015 and will lay the foundations for practical Indigenous-led reform to achieve genuine Indigenous empowerment.


Jawun forms partnerships to benefit corporate, government and Indigenous Australia. Together they improve the lives of Indigenous people around Australia by supporting Indigenous communities on the ground.

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