20 Years of Jawun

20 years ago, at Australia’s most northern point on the Cape York Peninsula, the seeds of what was to become a model for social change were sewn. It was the turn of the millennium and local Aboriginal community members were frustrated.

They wanted a better future. For their families. For their children.  For their people.

Communities right across the Cape, like far too many others, had become reliant on welfare. Entrenched disadvantage had become intergenerational.

Passive welfare had tarnished the soul of traditional communities, leaving a trail of alcohol abuse and destruction on the world’s oldest continuous living culture. It had become the ‘new’ way of life. To wait for that cheque and be told what to do next. 

Among the feelings of powerlessness came a common strength, a motivation. If there were better opportunities for the local Aboriginal people, things could be different. Something had to change. 

The Aboriginal people of Cape York were mobilised. Determined to take back their own destiny, to be active participants and reap the benefits of the modern economy. For their future.


It was the catalyst for change, led by Hope Vale Indigenous leader Noel Pearson. The torch had been lit, and the light was shining the path ahead.

The light reverberated. From person to person. Town to town. From creek beds, to urban cities. Big business to government.

Aboriginal leaders were joined by some of Australia’s largest change makers from some of our best-known companies who would become Jawun’s founding partners Westpac, Boston Consulting Group and The Body Shop.

People were coming together.


It was the birth of what would become Jawun. A story that sparked a fundamental shift in the way people thought about a working with Aboriginal communities. A new approach, Indigenous led empowerment – led by local people, for local people.

Jawun works and connects in-place with people showing leadership & vision around a coherent empowerment agenda.

The story of Jawun echoes those that have been told in traditional cultures for thousands of years – when we lead the way, we follow the footsteps of those who come before us and pave the way for those to come.

Jawun in its traditional meaning, the Kuku Yalanji language of Cape York means to be a friend.

At Jawun, we become a friend of the people, the place and the community.

Always working together.


20 years on, the Jawun story continues. We facilitate Indigenous led engagement through a model of place, people and agenda.

An understanding that to shift from the welfare economy to the real economy, to achieve the vision of local communities, we first need to really listen to the aspirations of its people.

To understand the importance of place.

And to have a long term, intergenerational agenda. Community driven empowerment does not naturally fit a four year funding cycle. It’s organic and relies on a genuine partnership, built overtime and on the foundations of trust, working together at the natural pace of the community.

Working with Indigenous leaders, organisations and communities, Jawun facilitates this long-term engagement, through partners with corporate, government and Indigenous Australia, to achieve locally driven aspirations.


The strength of the Jawun model of engagement is in working together. The vision and aspiration is led by the community, matched with the skills and human capital necessary from corporate and government sectors.

It’s a connection that has seen more than 3,500 corporate and government employees from banking, management consulting, resources, insurance and public sectors, live and work in Indigenous communities across the country, transferring skills and knowledge of success to accelerate community initiatives and enterprises.

It’s a meeting of cultures, through the exchange of knowledge comes respect and understanding. And it’s deeply reciprocal. Because at the heart of human behaviour and learning, is a desire to understand. Understanding leads to respect, and a genuine relationship built on trust.


The Jawun Story now echoes across the country.

From the red dirt of Cape York, to the central desert of Central Australia, to the inner-city blocks of Redfern in Inner Sydney.

In the East and West Kimberley regions of Western Australia, North East Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, the Far West Coast and Lower River Murray regions of South Australia.

And the Central Coast in New South Wales and Goulburn Murray in Victoria.

Jawun operates in eleven regions across Australia recently including South West Australia. Our story echoes through the corridors and boardrooms of some of the country’s largest and most powerful corporations and government bureaucracies.

Because it’s a story of success.


Community-run organisations like Cape York Partnership, Wunan, Yawuru, La Perouse Land Council, Kimberley Land Council & NPY Women’s Council have all established themselves as highly credible, professional organisations on the national stage.

There are businesses that weren’t running before. Children are receiving an education, and families prospering.

One of the keys to this success is the partnership model. Working together over a long-term agenda, led by Indigenous people to build the path they want for their people, their communities, their future.

In our now 20 years, Jawun has supported more than 3,500 corporate and government placements in across 11 regions – delivering 17,000 weeks of work and more than $130m in kind contributions.


We’ve seen the next generation of leaders emerge and grow, responding by embarking on leadership development initiatives with a particular focus on female leaders.

Eight Indigenous leaders have undertaken a one year ‘reverse secondment’ in corporate organisations, sharing their unique knowledge, skills and culture in the workplace.

Nearly 50 young Indigenous leaders have been on the immersive emerging leaders’ program, and over 80 Indigenous women are active members of the cross-sectoral Stories of Female Leadership network.


Jawun’s benefit is not just an Indigenous one. But to the prosperity of our people, and our nation more broadly, developing a deep respect for the culture and history of our lands and the true power of people coming together. Our Jawun. Jawun means ‘friends that are family’ in Kuku Yalanji language in Cape York, the birthplace of Jawun.

Mr Harrigan (2010), Elder and Keeper of the Kuku Yalanji language. Video by SOTA Creative. 
Jawun acknowledges Mr Harrigan who passed away in 2016 and thank his family for allowing us to share his beautiful stories. 


Our story will continue, it’s at the heart of not only who we are, but who we want to become. Together we have transformed the lives and livelihoods of individuals, families and communities. And we’ve engaged the hearts and minds of corporate and government Australia.

Working in place. With our people. For our future.

Jawun will continue to grow, to help support the path communities wish to take. Building local capacity and place based Indigenous leadership, to drive an agenda of intergenerational change for a better nation.

In the words of the Kuku Yalanji language, from our birthplace 20 years ago in Cape York, our story continues. Our light shines bright.

20 years on, it’s a story of success, demonstrating the strength of Indigenous-led empowerment.

20 years on, we continue to find new friends and partners to walk the path communities have lit.

Our People. Our Future. Muruku.

From Cape York, the birthplace of Jawun, Indigenous Elders have shared with us the Kuku Yalanji word Muruku meaning ‘together’. 

Worre Woorrem Wet Season © Phyllis Ningarmara/Licensed by Copyright Agency