Strengthening the future of the Noongar Nation – Jawun launches newest region, South West Australia

Background

In January 2020, after more than eight years of discussion with the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (SWALSC), Jawun welcomed its first secondees into its newest region. South West Australia (SWA), is home to the Noongar Nation, the largest single Aboriginal cultural bloc on the Australian continent, made up of 14 closely connected language groups that share a common ancestral language, history and spirituality. As the traditional owners of Western Australia’s most developed regions, the Noongar Nation has experienced significant dispossession and disruption to its pre-colonial way of life, and today, continue the fight to reclaim and maintain their country and culture. 

As a key community organisation for the region, SWALSC works to inspire, enable and lead the Noongar People to build a strong, sustainable and united Noongar Nation, while advancing and strengthening Noongar culture, language, heritage and society. Currently, SWALSC are focused on finalising the South West Native Title Settlement (the Settlement), the most comprehensive native title agreement in Australia’s history. The Settlement provides an unprecedented opportunity for Noongar Peoples to take greater control of their future, to address local and regional issues on their terms and to develop strong communities and regions.

Approach

SWALSC aim to transition from a native title service provider to the region’s peak body organisation, driving long-term positive change for Noongar Peoples. While SWALSC have over time and by default assumed a peak body role across the SWA region, formally establishing itself as the Noongar peak body, with the appropriate governance and organisational structure, will position SWALSC to effectively support the Noongar community to harness the benefits intended to be delivered through the Settlement. Utilising 20 years of experience working with Indigenous organisations and communities across Australia, Jawun invited founding partner and strategic ally, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), who has seconded over 110 of its staff since 2001, and jumped at the opportunity to assist in the establishment of the SWA region.

With a clear understanding of SWALSC’s vision for the future, two BCG secondees set out to resolve questions around organisational governance and develop model options that would enable SWALSC to transition to the lead organisation driving change for the Noongar Nation. Drawing on their deep expertise and experience in organisational design and transformation, and guided by several key decision factors related to SWALSC’s vision and purpose, BCG mapped a pathway for selecting and progressing the model that will best position SWALSC to deliver sustainable outcomes for the community.  

Reflecting on his approach, secondee Peter Adam, Project Leader, BCG said 

“Capability transfer was baked into our module design, working with 6 staff members and having them involved along the entire process to teach new approaches to problem solving, roadmap design, and organisational critique.”

Outcomes

The core objective for BCG’s time at SWALSC was the mapping of a transformation journey to steer SWALSC during their organisational transition, as well as help ensure future secondees worked on targeted projects that contribute to SWALSC’s long-term transformation. Underpinning the transformation journey is an investment roadmap that prioritises projects against three core commitments to:

  1. Nation building;
  2. Organisational and agency excellence; and
  3. The successful transition to a new Central Services Corporation under the Settlement.

The investment roadmap provides a valuable decision-making tool to help guide future investment of secondee resources to ensure outcomes are targeted in line with the core goals identified as critical to the future success of SWALSC and the Noongar Nation. 

The transformation journey and investment roadmap provide SWALSC and Jawun with a clear pathway to the peak Noongar organisation envisaged by SWALSC’s CEO and staff. In February, SWALSC welcomed its first three secondees to work on projects prioritised under the investment roadmap, continuing the momentum built by BCG and SWALSC.

Speaking on the impact of BCG’s work on SWALSC’s outlook and preparedness for the future of the Noongar Nation, CEO Wayne Nannup said,

“The introduction of BCG to our business has had an immediate positive effect, and more importantly, now a long-term effect.”

Matilda Benson, Legal Office, SWALSC reflected that,

“Alex has left us with knowledge that we can use moving forward into our organisations changing landscape. We have tools to apply critical thinking and to foresee and solve problems before they occur. We also have a step by step pathway on processes that need to occur to achieve the organisations goals.”  

Next steps

SWALSC and the wider Noongar community currently await the decision of the High Court as to whether the Settlement can progress or another appeal will be considered. In the interim, SWALSC’s vision to build a strong, sustainable and united Noongar Nation remains the focus for the organisation and its staff. The work completed so far by BCG and SWA’s Round One secondees has encouraged SWALSC to plan for its future with a strategic lens and delivered resources that will help shape activities and decisions around delivering long-term benefit to the Noongar Nation. In preparing to transition to the Noongar peak body organisation, SWALSC will continue to be guided by the investment roadmap developed with BCG, originally mapped across eight Jawun secondment rounds for completion at the end of 2021. The impact of COVID-19 on SWALSC and Jawun’s ability to offer in place secondments in 2020 has unfortunately delayed the implementation of the investment roadmap as planned, however, SWALSC and Jawun are actively considering what projects can be delivered in the virtual secondment environment in 2020.