Building a future of strong spirit, Mabu Liyan


The Yawuru people are the native title holders of the land in and around Broome in the West Kimberley. Mabu liyan is a Yawuru concept that means ‘strong spirit’, ‘good feeling’ and ‘positive wellbeing’. Personal to an individual and also connected to the wider community and country, mabu liyan is the heart of the Yawuru social development agenda.

For native title body corporate Nyamba Buru Yawuru (NBY), the concept is central to its mission, which is to “make mabu liyan real for all, always.” It guides all the organisation’s programs, which span community development, cultural and language maintenance, land management, and economic development. Importantly, prioritisation of mabu liyan places Yawuru cultural principles at the centre of policy and development for the region, symbolising the Indigenous-led empowerment that NBY represents.

In 2019, NBY will open theLiyan-ngan Nyirrwa Cultural Wellbeing Centre to house its Community Development programs in housing, youth, employment, training, language, cultural maintenance and early childhood development. This landmark institution is described by Senator Patrick Dodson as “a much needed cultural healing centre”:

“The centre will be a community meeting place and a place of healing that will help to keep Yawuru culture and heritage strong. It will deliver programs and activities that encourage the community to gather, connect and heal, based on Yawuru’s central philosophy of mabu liyan.[1]

Jawun has partnered with NBY since 2015, building capacity and strengthening systems. Almost 40 secondees have worked on administration, finance, enterprises, service delivery, and staff coaching and mentoring. Since 2017, four have progressed an initiative of critical strategic importance: an approach to measuring the impact of NBY’s work on mabu liyan.


In 2016, Mandy Yap completed a doctoral thesis at the Australian National University which set out 25 indicators of mabu liyan based upon detailed surveys and work with Yawuru people[2]. This work set the baseline for planning the measurement and evaluation of mabu liyan among Yawuru people over time. It prompted NBY to look at developing its own framework based on this research.

NBY began by reviewing different measurement and evaluation processes including Social Return on Investment (SROI) methods. They considered how their ‘social dividend’ funds contributed to mabu liyan and how this might be measured.

In 2017, NBY prepared a brief for secondee Isabelle Favre (APSC – National Audit Office) to progress this. She undertook research and consulted stakeholders (Social Ventures Australia, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at ANU, and the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet) to inform the development of a Mabu Liyan Evaluation and Monitoring Framework.

In late 2017, Satvinder Sehkon (WA Government) assisted with the creation of a corporate and community narrative for NBY around mabu liyan, with the intention of positioning NBY as a leader in this space. He created a detailed explanation of the concepts of natural capital, ecosystem accounting, and SROI assessments in relation to their impacts on mabu liyan.

In mid-2018, Stephan Gabadou (KPMG) brought together the different strands of work and provided newly appointed consultants, Social Ventures Australia (SVA), with a comprehensive brief of NBY’s work to date on articulating and evaluating mabu liyan.

Later in 2018, Miranda Cummings (Allens) worked with SVA consultants to develop the Mabu Liyan Evaluation and Monitoring Framework. She coordinated with key NBY internal and external stakeholders, particularly those involved with the development of the Liyan-ngan Nyirrwa Cultural Wellbeing Centre, and tested the Framework with an internal pilot program at NBY.

Of their contribution, the secondees’ supervisor at NBY Nini Mills (Manager, Community Development) described a “wealth of knowledge and skills” including financial skills, corporate knowledge and critical analysis, as well as data management and evaluation.


The Liyan-ngan Nyirrwa Cultural Wellbeing Centre is nearly complete. The Mabu Liyan Monitoring and Evaluation Framework is being tested for use by the Community Development Unit located at the new centre. Nini Mills explains how this will allow NBY to better articulate its success, and leverage support and partnerships as a result:

“In developing a Liyan Measurement & Evaluation framework, we will be able to create an evidence base for our stakeholders, investors and most importantly our community. We hope to develop more investment and partnerships as a result of this success, enabling us to create more outcomes as per our organisations mission and vision.”

For Peter Yu, CEO of NBY, a broader outcome is that the framework will, by improving programs, strengthen mabu liyan – which he seesas the foundation for economic development:

“Yawuru have a bold economic agenda to change the economic position of Yawuru and other Aboriginal people. Our aim is to create maximum employment and enterprise opportunities.

Yawuru’s development philosophy is called mabu liyan (positive wellbeing). Mabu liyan is about developing the capacity and resilience of individuals and families through building the cultural and social underpinnings of our community.

We have invested in revitalizing our language and cultural practices and reconnected our people to traditional country. It is clear from this experience that people are better equipped to participate in the economy when they have positive wellbeing and purpose and are supported by a strong community.”[3]

This is in alignment with a key strand of the Yawuru economic development strategy: “To lead and influence the development and future growth of Broome using measurements that encompass the values of the Yawuru Cultural Framework”.[4]

Next Steps

NBY’s centralisation of mabu liyan in their mission and programs (including their measurement) is set to grow. This marks a period of optimism for the Indigenous people of the West Kimberley, and sets a precedent for culturally-informed development being meaningfully driven by Indigenous communities.


[2] In pursuit of culturally relevant indicators of Indigenous wellbeing, January 2017, accessible at

[3] Peter Yu, Practical Justice Initiative Indigenous lecture 2017; accessible at

[4] Yawuru Futures Policy paper (2018): (p3)