ADVICE: Nuturing with a hand up, not a hand out – Anthony Cavanagh, CEO of Ganbina

Ganbina is Australia’s most successful Indigenous school to work transition program, with on average 88% of its Year 12 graduates finishing Year 12, compared to the Indigenous average of 66%.

CEO, Anthony Cavanagh, is leading Ganbina’s vision to achieve true social and economic equality for Indigenous Australians within two generations, with an expansion project that is seeing the model rolled out to Indigenous communities along Australia’s east coast.

  • What do you attribute Ganbina’s successes to?

Ganbina began in the late 1990s when the founders of the charity were tasked to fill government jobs with Aboriginal candidates in the Goulburn Valley in Victoria, where 10% of the population are of Aboriginal descent. However, they soon realised they couldn’t find Aboriginal candidates to fill the jobs available to them – the majority of Aboriginal kids were dropping out of school and were unemployed. This meant they didn’t have the skills to do the jobs reserved for them.  

It was soon very clear, that focusing on work placement rather than work readiness doesn’t work to overcome Aboriginal disadvantage.

Instead Ganbina focuses on the pipeline and captures Aboriginal kids from the age of 6 until they are 25 years old – that’s the entire education, employment and training cycle of a young person’s life. Once the education and employment gap is closed in childhood and adolescence, these kids become work-ready and independent adults who then inspire and create change within their communities.

Our focus is on inspiring Aboriginal kids to stay engaged in mainstream education and employment, we help them discover who they want to be but we don’t tell them what they want to be.

Kids know what they want to do when they grow up from a very young age. My 7-year-old grandson wants to be a police officer like his mum. Now that may change as he grows up – but the spark of curiosity is already there.

That spark exists in every kid – Aboriginal and not, and Ganbina nurtures by giving these kids a hand up, not a hand out.

  • How do you plan to achieve true social and economic equality for Indigenous Australians within two generations?

Ganbina’s pilot program was designed from its inception as a 50 year program, which is two generations. We are almost half-way through and will be turning 25 next year. The program is two generations because the research tells us that’s how long it takes to create meaningful change in disadvantaged communities.

For myself, none of the men in my family could read or write. I was the first man in my family to finish high school. Education was what saved me and I passed this onto my own children. Both of my daughters then went on to finish their own education, find fulfilling careers of their choice and now they are starting their own families and my grandkids will continue the same cycle.

I broke the cycle of disadvantage in my own family because education gave me what I needed to succeed. Without it, I don’t know if I would be where I am today.

When we give Aboriginal kids the skills, knowledge and self-belief they need – they will do the rest and create that long-term change within their own families and communities.

On top of that, we are in the process of expanding our model to a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales. We know our program works and we want to roll this model out so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities can benefit from it.

  • Why is the goal timeframe two generations, not one?

Because that is what the research says we need for long-term generational change to happen. As a country we are working to overcome hundreds of years of Aboriginal disadvantage and that will not change overnight.

Ganbina created a model that is focused on impact, results, early intervention and change. The model focuses on Education, Training and Employment and based on this, we realised we needed 50 years or two generations to go through this model to create the long-term impact we are striving for.

If you think about it, a child is really in some form of education, training and employment from the age of 6 until they are 25 years old – when adolescence ends. That’s the full education life cycle and we need to be with these kids throughout that entire journey so they can unlock their full potential.

  • What are the biggest barriers you’re seeing to Aboriginal children and youth remaining in education, training and employment?

We need to focus on where the gap starts for Aboriginal people, which is as early as 6-years-old when they enter primary school. We know that 4 in 10 Aboriginal children start primary school with some sort of development delay – whether it’s poor motor skills, below average literacy skills or communication skills, that’s almost half. For non-Aboriginal children, that figure is only 2 in 10.

This gap that begins in primary school, continues throughout secondary school, then the workforce and creates the long-term inequalities we see in Aboriginal health today. If you’re an Aboriginal Year 12 student, you have a 66% chance of completing Year 12. If you’re non-Aboriginal, that figure is 89%. However our Ganbina Year 12 participants are 88% likely to finish Year 12 – on par with non-Aboriginal rates.

We need to capture these Aboriginal children from that very young age and fix the gap where it first starts, then continue to give them the skills and knowledge they need to make the most of their individual potential.

Ganbina believes in the hand up – not the hand out approach. We won’t give our secondary school kids an after-school job, but we will work with them so they understand the long-term benefits of that casual job at Kmart or Coles. We’ll help them with their resume and job interview skills – but we won’t apply for the job for them. Once kids are bought in and see the benefits of education, employment and training they just need the right support to unlock what they are already capable of.

  • What role is and should the government be playing in helping to overcome these barriers?

Ganbina has chosen to be independent of government funding, because we knew continuity of this program was so important – and governments change every 3-4 years. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t think government has a role to play in overcoming these barriers.

Yes, government should provide financial support but with some important caveats. Financial support should be given only to Aboriginal-led organisations that can prove their impact.

Yes, Aboriginal-led organisations understand community, but that doesn’t mean their programs are working. A study at the Centre for Independent Studies evaluated more than 1000 Aboriginal programs and less than 10 per cent were being evaluated. This means that more than 90% of programs that are aimed at improving Aboriginal welfare don’t even know if their program is making the impact they are wanting to achieve.

Follow up research found that for the small group of programs that are conducting evaluations, only three had strong and rigorous evaluation methods – I am very pleased to say Ganbina was one of those three programs.  

We prioritise independent evaluation because we need to know if what we are doing is working if we want to achieve what Ganbina aims to do.

About the expert

Anthony Cavanagh is an Aboriginal man and the CEO of registered charity Ganbina, which runs Australia’s most successful Indigenous school to work transition program for Aboriginal children and youth aged 6-25 years old. He has more than 20 years’ experience in recruitment and specialises in ensuring Aboriginal children and youth have the skills and education they need to make a successful and sustainable transition to the workforce. 

Image description: Headshot of Anthony smiling at the camera in a black blazer and white-striped collared shirt. He has grey hair and brown eyes, and is in front of a green and yellow background.


VIEW: Diversity is not just about how one looks

Madison Page is a proud Wiradjuri woman, currently working in the construction industry as a Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Advisor, while also modelling with WINK models. In this interview, Madison outlines her broad-ranging career, from studying marine biology to working with Aboriginal business leaders, as well as her views on diversity – or lack thereof – in the modelling industry.

  • As a Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) advisor, what does your day-to-day look like?

Each day is really different which is why I love it so much. I spend a lot of my time working on tenders and projects coming up with different engagement strategies to ensure we are providing equal opportunity to minority groups. The main minority focus group is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people not only because I, myself, am an Aboriginal woman but because we are mandated by a policy called the ‘Aboriginal Participation in Construction Policy’. I also work a lot with keeping relationships with Aboriginal businesses and Social Enterprises to ensure they are given the opportunity to work on our projects. 

  • What initially drove you to pursue a career in D&I, and how has your interest in this field evolved over time?

Funny story actually! I had studied Marine Biology at university and when applying for an Environmental role at my company I was given the opportunity to work in the D&I space given my previous work experience. I jumped at the idea as any opportunity not taken is wasted. I fell in love with making a difference in people’s lives and encouraging an inclusive workplace. There’s a lot of work that needs doing in the D&I space to break various stigmas and shift ancient mindsets, so it’s a challenge. For now I’m super passionate about what I can do to make things business as usual in the space and encourage change. 

  • You also have a modelling career – what have been your experiences as a Wiradjuri woman in the modelling industry and how do you think the industry currently responds to or embraces diversity?

Since I am white-passing and have been told a lot I look Asian, I have been cast in Asian roles. I understand the industry is very based on looks however, I am not an accurate portrayal of an Asian girl. I think this is where the industry misses the mark.

Diversity is not just about how one looks. When people from different cultural backgrounds come together you get a ‘diversity of thought’. Understandably, the modelling industry does not really require one to ‘think’ per se but it should have accurate representation and equal opportunity for cultures. I have felt terrible for taking opportunities for work from girls who are Asian and have felt very out place when on those jobs. 

  • If you could change one thing about the modelling industry, what would it be? Why?

It would be how biased it is. But every industry has a bias. It’s whether you know someone, how many Instagram followers you have, your height, your shape, your measurements, your look. Granted each client has different requirements but it can be so hard to get your foot in the door when subconscious bias is a thing. 

  • Who are your greatest role models, and what influence have they had on your life?

Growing up I loved Jessica Mauboy because she was an Aboriginal woman who made a name for herself and at the time I wanted to be a professional singer, so it seemed to fit. More so now, it’s my mum. She managed to juggle being a single mum and raising two kids. She’s showed me how to be independent and to work for what you want. 

About the expert

Madii is 23 years old and a Wiradjuri woman who has grown up in Sydney, Australia. She is currently working as the Diversity and Inclusion Advisor for NSW/ACT at a construction company and has worked in the modelling industry. She loves spending my time in the ocean and with friends, and is passionate about making a difference to people and to the planet. 

People: Why Leroy created Dhiira ‘out of necessity’ to humanise HR

Leroy Wilkinson-Maher is on a mission to change the way business leaders think about HR, inclusion and diversity. Having worked in a range of different businesses, he saw first-hand the gap between what was being said and what was being done on the issue of diversity and inclusion.

From these realisations and a drive to act, Leroy started his own business ‘out of necessity’. Here, he shares the journey so far, and why he is so passionate about creating truly inclusive workplaces.

  • What drove you to build Dhiira?

Dhiira was born out of necessity. From my experience working in both corporate and Aboriginal organisations, I saw a stark difference in the intrinsic nature of human resources, what HR represented and how HR was delivered, strategised and executed.

I saw all elements of HR – from advertising and recruitment to policy and performance management – having a completely different ethos. The ‘humanility’ was paramount in Aboriginal Organisations, where they were human first and solutions focused. Meanwhile, HR in corporate organisations were attempting to be human-centric and actually systematically a practising control methodology – ‘How do we place boundaries around our staff as to how they act, be and do whilst representing our organisation?’

This was interesting to me, and being a head of People and Culture, using my experience in both types of businesses I saw an opportunity for HR across organisations to explore the ‘humanility’ once more and question, ‘How do we dismantle the system of control to make it one of true inclusion?’ I come with a First Nations lens but this opens the door and the thought leadership opportunities for other groups of people, be that religious, ethnicity, cultural, LGBTQI+ and much more.

This is the starting point to explore how we value our people as the most integral part of any business. Without your operators you cannot deliver.

Our vision is ‘Humanising HR through Culture’.

  • What have been your biggest challenges in building Dhiira in the last few months, and how do you intend to tackle those challenges?

Dhiira is merely 7 months old. I was fortunate enough to get into the MURRA Indigenous Business Masterclass through Melbourne University and the Melbourne Business School. The prestigious program not only taught me critical business skills delivered in a way that was relevant to me as an Aboriginal man, but also gave me the networks and the collective I became a part of. These people became my brains trust. These people had lived experience in business where I had not.

Without talking on the COVID-19 and global economic impacts of this as this situation is still developing daily, I am not allowing myself to fall into the mindset of fear and anxiety but one of hope and perseverance. My culture is resilient. Survivors and I will survive this.

The main challenge I am facing is forging a new lane for this discussion. This will take time just as it did for Reconciliation Action Plans (RAP) and Cultural Awareness/Capacity Training did for those items now to be regular actions for businesses of all sizes.

There are other organisations out there dabbling in this space. However, collectively we have the challenge of bringing the importance of how HR contributes to ‘cultural safety’ inside businesses and allow businesses to have greater outcomes under their Aboriginal Employment Strategies or targets to make a true social impact whilst reaping the rewards of a happy and culturally diverse workforce.

  • Why are you passionate about Aboriginal engagement and employment? 

I am passionate about Aboriginal Employment firstly as I am a product of Aboriginal Employment Programs. At the age of 15, I was presented with an opportunity by the Aboriginal Employment Strategy (AES).

They came to be when I was in Year 10 and said, ‘Who wants to work at the Commonwealth Bank as a trainee?’

As I was finding ways to spread my wings and gain my independence to alleviate the burden of my financial needs on my family, I asked, ‘Will I make money?’

I also had a goal for myself. As the oldest of a generation I have an obligation to lead by example, to work hard to show my brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews what they too can achieve. This has always been my goal in life and in my career to be a leader, to show what is possible, what can be achieved through perseverance and a dream.

I see Employment as one of the main interjection points on deciding where my life is going and how I am going to spend my time. Employment provides purpose (in most cases), how I am contributing to an overall goal, vision or how am I on the journey with my employer. This comes with the other rewards – the skills you learn, the money you make, the people you meet and the satisfaction you find in self when you accomplish.

Aboriginal Employment is one measure to not only contribute to our communities in hopes to right wrongs that have affected our people over generations but also starts the conversation for how we work together to a brighter future. This will take time. However if you get the opportunity to work next to someone who is profoundly different to you, be that cultural, religious etc. you have an opportunity to learn, to disrupt your own experiential learning to learn about people, about humans.

This is why I LOVE this space; I get to see people being exposed to NEW.

  • In your view, what are businesses most commonly getting right and wrong about Aboriginal engagement? 

If I was to drill down on one fundamental thing I see all the time it is this: The right intention cannot produce real change without the right components.

You can write a strategy, be on a mission for social change however you CANNOT execute without engaging Aboriginal People in your narrative, your strategic development or your execution. Stop undervaluing the cost of engagement, the importance of having the people at your table who can inform you from their perspective, rather than taking your assumptive view of what this may look like.

We need to take one thought in this: ‘We need to do WITH not TO’.

Without being an Aboriginal Person, without the genuine experiences, learnings and ways of being, you will not produce innovation and legacy linked outcomes under your strategies. You need to invest in the right resources to make this work.

  • Looking at the year ahead, what’s your advice to business leaders on effective HR practices?

Now more than ever my advice is simple, in these times we are seeing the emergence of the humanility in all of us being brought to the forefront. Whilst we are facing one of the most challenging times in recent history I have seen both great and terrible human behaviour, however remember to be human, in the way you think, in the way you interact, in the way you lead.

When we return to normality, and it will happen, we need to carry the lessons of the past with us, what we saw, how we felt, and your employees will be looking for human leadership.

Join us on the movement to humanise human resources through a first nations lens and capitalise on the potential of your people through a workplace that shines all different colours.

About the expert

Leroy is a Worimi and Ngarrindjeri man born in Taree, regional New South Wales, and having spent the majority of his life in Newcastle, New South Wales, Leroy is a young Aboriginal leader that has a passion for innovation and positive change.

Leroy has had a successful Executive Leadership career in the Aboriginal Not-For-Profit Employment sector with a background in Banking and Finance.

Leroy is the Founder and Managing Director of Dhiira Pty Ltd, an Aboriginal Consultancy Business focussing on bringing true inclusion into the HR realm through ‘Aboriginal HR’, Humanising business through Culture. With Leroy’s lens on the world being one of opportunity not challenge or obstacle he is forging a new lane.

Leroy is an innovator, a creative, a fresh thinker, non-conventional, far too energetic, does not have an ‘inside voice’ and is on a mission to change the game and flip the script.