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Wanted… Long term committed partner to help Indigenous young people

By Helen Liondos - posted Thursday, 30 June 2011

It's very tempting, when it comes to funding complex social issues, to give up before you even try. It's easy to think that some issues are so entrenched they are "unsolvable" and that your philanthropic dollar won't make an iota of difference.

Funding Indigenous causes is often seen as one such area and it's not too hard to see why. On a daily basis we're bombarded with images of Indigenous life that paint a very bleak, despairing picture filled with alcoholism, unemployment, domestic violence and suicide. We hear about the billions of dollars being "wasted" trying to solve these issues, so it's only natural to think that you can't make a difference.

What you don't often hear about are the success stories, about what it really takes to make a difference in the lives of Indigenous people and about the many Indigenous leaders who are accomplishing great things for themselves and for others, often against great odds.


Making a difference in the lives of Indigenous people, especially young Indigenous people, isn't rocket science – it's all about education and taking a long-term, holistic approach.

It's very tempting to think that all it takes is to fly a few athletes into a town to engage with the kids for a few hours or days. At best, this will lift school attendance for a few days or perhaps a week if you're lucky. At worst you've added more fuel to the "we've invested lots of money but it didn't make a difference" fire.

There are many excellent organisations working towards improving school attendance, retention, academic performance, life skills and employability skills for Indigenous students. They all accomplish their goals slightly differently but they all have a lot of the methodology in common.

For starters, the people delivering the programs are based in the same locality as the young people being assisted. It sounds like the bleeding obvious but time and time again you hear about the seagull effect – "they fly in, swoop and fly out".

Their support is holistic, multi-faceted and intensive. They support the young people on a (usually) daily basis, over the course of a year or years – making sure they turn up to school, helping them acquire life skills, providing academic support where possible, and helping them navigate the school to work transition.

The organisations making a difference inspire the students but also deliver practical support. They expose the students to different educational opportunities and careers, and they also provide practical support such as helping the kids obtain birth certificates, driver's licences, resume writing, tutoring support and part time work.


Indigenous people are involved in delivering the program or in some aspect of the program. Indigenous kids need to see positive Indigenous role models.

The organisation is connected in to other service providers. No one organisation can deliver the necessary change. Access to psychologists, medical services, tutors, job opportunities, TAFE and other resources are needed.

Effective programs are long term programs. It takes a sustained effort to combat profound disadvantage – it's not something that can be done on an ad-hoc basis for a school term.

Only when we make considered, multi-faceted long-term social community investment in the lives of Indigenous young people will there be change. Is it really that hard?

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About the Author

Helen Liondos is the head of the AMP Foundation which invests more than $6 million each year in Australian and New Zealand charities.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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