Social Return on Investment – how a shared idea became a movement

Round 2 2017 Debrief, Central Coast; Round 1 2018 Debrief, NPY Lands


Through its place-based capacity building model, Jawun strives to promote cross-regional collaboration by sharing approaches its partners are using to drive effective Indigenous-led change.

This case study looks at cross-regional collaboration around Social Return on Investment (SROI), an approach for articulating the full impact of a social program or organisation, typically using proxy monetary figures to capture less tangible (social, cultural, environmental) outcomes.

SROI approaches have great potential value to organisations delivering services for improved sociocultural wellbeing, including giving them greater access to funding sources. This is particularly significant when funding is becoming more precarious, conditional or short-term. An additional benefit is increased pride and investment among staff and community members on seeing the full value of services and programs.

Indigenous organisations on the Central Coast began considering SROI approaches in 2014, including through conversations between Jawun’s then-Regional Director Nick Eakin and the new Barang Regional Alliance. From there, Jawun secondees supported organisations to make the idea a reality, before Jawun’s model of operation ensured that it spread much more broadly.


In 2014, Westpac secondee Mikkal Sveum developed a simple SROI model for Central Coast residential rehabilitation centre The Glen. This showed that investments in The Glen generated a several-fold return for clients and taxpayers, since clients went on to lead productive lives and not re-enter the justice system.

Mikkal presented the SROI model at the Jawun ‘debrief’, a session for all secondees and their Indigenous partner managers to showcase outcomes and share reflections at the end of the secondment round. NAISDA Dance College was among the organisations present, and soon after constructed a similar brief for a secondee to capture the social return of its creative education offering. A series of secondees (from Westpac, Telstra, Australian Public Service (APS)) generated an SROI model for NAISDA to use as they engaged with government and funding bodies over plans for a new creative learning precinct Naya Wa Yugali (we dance) – depicted in a 2017 Jawun Case Study.

After their secondments, Mikkal and Greg Conyngham, a QBE secondee placed at medical service Yerin Aboriginal Health Services in the same round, stayed in touch with each other. They worked with NAISDA in their own time to progress its SROI framework and metrics, and Greg helped plant the seed at Yerin.

Yerin then followed The Glen and NAISDA’s lead with plans for an SROI model to quantify the social impact of their integrated care approach, which they hoped would serve as a basis for a business case for future expansion. In early 2018, NSW Government secondee Sherman Chan was placed at Yerin, bringing experience from the social program evaluation team at the state’s Premier and Cabinet department. To deliver her brief, Sherman created logic models for all Yerin AHS service offerings, then a cost benefit analysis showing both known and proxy benefits of each service.

Jawun Regional Director at the time of these secondments, Corinne Berry, explained the way SROI thinking was shared between Indigenous organisations on the Central Coast:

“At first people knew little about SROI, and felt vulnerable for that. Trust was key as we shared the idea, and our collaboration was essentially based on human-to-human relationships. When we came together – at debriefs or planning sessions – we supported each other to be ok with not being ‘expert’ or ‘fluent’ in the language of SROI measurement. My role was mainly to get everyone in the room, for the magic to happen. I really enjoyed the process.”

Meanwhile in another Jawun-supported region, Inner Sydney, there was growing awareness of the value of SROI approaches, based on advances in the non-profit and social enterprise sector and also on the experience of Jawun partner organisations on the Central Coast. Jawun Regional Directors, and a General Manager supporting a number of regions including Central Coast and Inner Sydney, ensured the learnings from prior SROI-focused secondments were shared.

Tranby College, in Glebe, saw an SROI model as giving them better control over government funding cycles that required them to repeatedly shift how they articulated the outcomes of their work. In mid-2017, they worked with an APS secondee to capture the full (including social) impacts of their adult education and training programs for Indigenous students across Australia. Duncan McCarthy’s work became the basis for a cost benefit analysis articulating this.

In early 2018, the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) sought an SROI approach to quantify the full benefits of their work to an existing funding body, the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC). They had previously relied simply on the profit/loss statements of their service offerings. In collaboration with his NSW Government colleague Sherman placed at Yerin (both secondees were in Premier and Cabinet’s social program evaluation team) secondee Sam Wheatley applied a similar program logic approach. He defined areas of social impact and articulated the known and proxy benefits of NCIE’s services (e.g. fitness and childcare) and social programs (e.g. anti-smoking and counselling). As he developed the model, he made sure it belonged to NCIE. This was especially appreciated by Clare McHugh, the acting CEO under whose watch the SROI project commenced, who commented:

“The model is user-friendly and complemented by user-manuals; Sam delivered training on all aspects of the tools and engaged with key stakeholders during development and finalisation stages; the governance framework he developed ensures the tools will be ‘owned’ and operated by key staff; we have a clear plan for what work is required to be carried out over the coming 2 years, and how the tools should be reviewed/updated/improved after 2 years”.

Organisations in a third Jawun region became the next to embark on exploration of SROI approaches. Again, awareness spread through organisational and sector networks, as well as networks spanning Jawun Regional Directors and secondees.

In mid-2018, Jawun partner NPY Women’s Council prepared an SROI brief for a group of secondees known as David Williams Fellows – BT Financial employees who, as part of a top leadership program, complete a Jawun secondment. Ben Laffan, Stephanie Coughlan and Jo Woodroffe, along with CBA secondee Karl Baddeley, analysed the Tjanpi Desert Weavers enterprise and scoped a fee-for-service approach for the Ngangkari traditional healers program.

The efforts added to those of prior DWF secondees who assessed the viability of a commercial arm of NPY Women’s Council in 2017, and CBA and Westpac secondees (Brad Jensen and Peter Hoban) in early 2018 who undertook SROI modelling of the Walytjapiti intensive family support program.


As a result of SROI-focused secondments, Jawun partners who employed SROI approaches with the support of secondees are continuing to track and strengthen their community impact.

On the Central Coast The Glen, who opted out of partnering with Jawun in 2017 when they felt they had grown beyond capacity building support, have added more family programs to their cultural rehabilitation service and have begun accommodating female clients for the first time.

NAISDA are reinforcing Naya Wa Yugali plans with data on the value of their dance and creative learning offerings. KPMG’s independent report on NAISDA’s SROI project stated that for every dollar invested, NAISDA creates $7.71 in economic and social value – a strong performance, and strong basis for advocacy. In mid-2018 received a considerable state government grant for the flagship precinct’s next stage of planning.

Yerin has completed mapping and modelling begun by Sherman and are developing their data analysis capability to inform future SROI calculations. As explained by CEO Belinda Field, they are preparing to use the results to positively transform their engagement with government in a way that will shore up their service delivery to community:

“This program logic enables Yerin to lobby, and substantiate our value for money and the cost savings for Government. It relates directly to our capacity to demonstrate to both levels of government the value for money, and empower our organisation to make healthy normal for our community”.

In Inner Sydney Tranby continue to develop ways of better capturing the outcomes of their higher education offerings, with plans to use this to convey their value to current and prospective funders.

NCIE is validating the SROI model developed and already actively applying its findings to negotiations with current and prospective funding partners. As CEO Clare McHugh put it, their SROI model had multiple outcomes:

“It boosts staff morale, increases our organisation’s ability to report to stakeholders, and increases our ability to attract new partners”.

In the NPY Lands, NPY Women’s Council also now has crucial information for articulating program impact in a way that will assist engagement with current and future funders. In addition, the organisation sees the benefit internally of being able to capture the outcomes of disparate teams and programs servicing 26 communities in 350,000 square kilometres of central Australia. As Deputy CEO Fran Whitty explained of the David Williams Fellows’ secondments:

“This project has built the capacity of the organisation to measure its outcomes over time, and given us an avenue to share that both internally and externally.”

Finally, the story of shared SROI approaches between Jawun partners and regions has shone a light on the power of Jawun’s network for collaboration.

Within regions, the place-based model ensures secondees, Indigenous partners and Regional Directors share learning and ideas, whether on an ad hoc basis or at formal gatherings such as debriefs. As Regional Director Corinne Berry observed, relationships of trust and opportunities to come together mean ideas are freely shared between organisations.

Across regions, Regional Directors share their ideas about effective capacity building in a number of ways. They are a tight-knit network of colleagues whose closeness belies their remoteness; regular calls, online chats, and occasional visits to each other’s regions cement tight working bonds and flow of ideas. The role of a General Manager supporting multiple regions provides another means of ideas sharing. As explained by the current Jawun Regional Director for Central Coast, Fergus Davis:

“While a formal reporting and management approach (including video conferencing, visits to other regions and regular regional updates) ensure inter-regional collaboration, it is the daily phone calls, information and knowledge sharing between the Regional Director cohort, supported by Jawun’s General Managers, that creates such an effective platform for collaboration across all Jawun regions.”

Next Steps

Many of the Indigenous organisations developing and applying SROI models rely heavily on government funding to address complex needs. They continue to use SROI (and other) approaches to articulate the impact of their services and to demonstrate return on investment in a way that enables them to increase community impact and also motivates staff.

Jawun will continue to facilitate secondments that strengthen Indigenous organisations’ ability to capture their impact, and to ensure sharing of ideas within and between regions. As Jawun Founder and Cape York leader Noel Pearson put it, “The network is the most powerful thing about Jawun”.