Unique and shared value – Jawun’s 10-year partnership with the Australian Public Service


Since 2011, Jawun has partnered with the Australian Public Service (APS) to strengthen Indigenous-led empowerment and leadership across the country. To date, 619 APS secondees have been on secondments in 10 regions: Cape York, Goulburn Murray, Central Coast, Inner Sydney, North East Arnhem Land, East Kimberley, West Kimberley, Central Australia, Lower River Murray, and the Far West Coast. With secondments lasting six or 12 weeks, this equates to over 3,800 weeks in community.

APS secondees bring unique value to the Indigenous organisations they are placed with, and more broadly. Theirs is an unmatched breadth of skills, with secondees ranging from an Assistant Director in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to a Climatologist in the Bureau of Meteorology. Additionally, many have a direct or indirect role in shaping policy: what they learn about Indigenous contexts and issues through a secondment can be applied to policymaking in a range of areas. Post-secondment surveys show as well as greater knowledge, they also gain greater interest and motivation to continue their involvement with Indigenous Australia.

Beyond secondments, the APS has been actively involved in Jawun’s leadership development initiatives, including Emerging Leaders and Stories of Female Leadership. This strengthens connections between government and Indigenous communities, and enhances the shared value gained from the Jawun partnership.


For its first 10 years, the Jawun partnership was between Indigenous, corporate and philanthropic Australia. Then in 2011, Finn Pratt, then Secretary, Department of Family, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, was invited to a Cape York Executive Visit to witness how Indigenous-led development initiatives were being supported by corporate Australia.

Finn recognised that skills were being transferred not just from corporate secondees to Indigenous organisations and leaders, but also in the other direction. He saw the opportunity for government employees designing policy to better understand, through direct exposure and relationships, how to achieve positive community outcomes. He recognised that the model offered a fundamental shift in the relationship between the government and Indigenous communities.

In the same year, Terry Moran, former Head of Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, also went on an Executive Visit to Cape York. He too saw the potential and the two-way benefit, remembering:

“I went for a long walk with Noel [Pearson] and we discussed the positive impact of the Direct Instruction model in Cape York and all the good work being done by the likes of Westpac and BCG. I felt at that point, the public service could also make a valuable ‘hands-on’ contribution, which would be an excellent development opportunity for our people as well.”

A pilot began with 11 high-performing, relatively senior Australian public servants seconded from across six departments. Evaluation highlighted positive outcomes for communities and personal and professional growth for government secondees. The APS formally joined Jawun as partner.

Since 2011, 580 APS secondees have spent six or twelve weeks living and working in an Indigenous community, and working on an Indigenous-led project brief. They have come from 64 departments, bringing technical and professional skills plus, critically, an understanding of the government policies and processes which a majority of Indigenous partners would need to navigate.

Jawun’s partnership with APS has involved more than secondments. Over 100 federal government executives have been on Executive Visits, each a two to three-day immersion in a partner region. On these visits, Indigenous leaders showcase their reform thinking and initiatives, and secondees on the ground illustrate their role in support of Indigenous-led empowerment. Visits spark connections between Indigenous and corporate or government leaders, while providing executives with the inspiration to shore up support for Jawun within their organisations.

In 2017 Jawun’s Emerging Leaders program, which brings together a small group of up-and-coming Indigenous leaders from around the country for a year of experiential and structured learning, was invited by APS to participate in a government Masterclass. Very successful, this became a key aspect of the next cohort’s program in 2019. One participant, Amara Barnes, described what she gained:

“Access to the Indigenous Ministers was an absolute highlight… I gained insights into the mechanics of government, and a deeper understanding of politics generally.”

In 2015 Jawun established its Stories of Female Leadership network to connect influential and inspiring Indigenous, corporate and government female leaders. This network plays a role in strengthening a sustainable pipeline of Indigenous leadership, and creates valuable cross-sectoral connections. To date, 25 women from the APS, across various departments, have been actively involved in the network. June Oscar, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission, describes its value:

“There is no better place for innovation and change than a network like this. A hub of Indigenous and non-Indigenous leadership. We can act, on our ideas, to bring social and economic, intercultural innovation to life. Imagine what we could do together.”


Capacity building of Indigenous organisations

For almost a decade, APS secondees have transferred skills to Indigenous partner organisations, accelerated Indigenous-led services and enterprises, and supported long-term Indigenous-led empowerment.  After each secondment, Indigenous partner organisations complete a survey of key outputs and outcomes. 93% of Indigenous partner organisations who received an APS secondee felt skills had been transferred, and a very wide range of skills was listed. These included project design and planning, change management, stakeholder communications, policy development and analysis, HR functions, WH&S, enterprise and business development, social media, data management, IT and more.

Overall, 99% of Indigenous partners who received secondees from the APS felt they had helped improve the organisation’s delivery of long-term outcomes.

Feedback on APS secondees often points out their provision of strategic thinking and a ‘policy lens’. In the East Kimberley, a social services provider described how an Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority secondee “had us thinking outside the box and seeing the bigger picture”. In the West Kimberley, an Empowered Communities organization described how a Department of Finance secondee “worked closely with a team member to increase her strategic analysis and knowledge in the complex world of social policy.” And a partner in Cape York described how a Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secondee “provided renewed energy to the team around working with government, bringing expertise from Canberra with real value to our work”.

Two-way skills transfer and understanding

In a true shared value model, secondees in turn gained new skills, knowledge and understanding.

96% of APS secondees felt they improved their personal and professional effectiveness. This included broadening cultural perspectives, increasing flexibility, and strengthening emotional intelligence. A Department of Environment secondee in Lower River Murray illustrated this by referring to “newfound appreciation of what relatively small organisations have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, and what a difference government funding can make to both organisations and the environment”. They also went on to reference the value of exposure to Indigenous communication and leadership styles.

99% of APS secondees felt the secondment improved their understanding of Indigenous people and contexts, and 96% of secondees were more motivated to actively follow and learn more about Indigenous affairs post-secondment. Typically this was from the experience of community life, and from relationships struck within the organisation and community. A Department of Social Services Secondee working in North East Arnhem Land described how casual conversations and sharing of personal stories with community colleagues “gave me insights I would never have had. I learnt about customs, kinship, opportunity, apathy, hope and challenges.”

Policy implications

In a form of shared value unique to the APS, secondees return with insights relevant to the design and implementation of policy and programming that affects Indigenous communities. As a Bureau of Meteorology secondee in Cape York put it, “from a Bureau perspective, I now have really clear ideas and vision for how the Bureau can better work towards better outcomes for Indigenous people.”

Ray Griggs, Chief Executive Officer of the National Indigenous Australians Agency, explains how this translates into improved government policy and service delivery:

“The ability for colleagues to get on the ground, to listen and learn, to see both the opportunities and challenges, is invaluable. But it is perhaps in the reflection that follows, on the conditions, on the organisations and people and how this plays into policy and service delivery that is most powerful.”

Peter Woolcott, Australian Public Service Commissioner, emphasises the power of this two-way learning:

“Whilst Indigenous organisations are building their business acumen, our people are learning about themselves, the history of the country, and how to be better listeners and leaders. They bring that back and it informs their approach to policy development and service delivery, particularly for vulnerable people. It is an outstanding example of a program in Indigenous community development and one that I am proud to be involved with.”

Next Steps

Despite COVID-19 travel bans and the closure of many Indigenous communities ceasing in-place secondments, the APS successfully placed their 600th secondee this year through Jawun’s Virtual Secondment offering. In true partnership the APS was integral to the pilot round, supporting through inputs and feedback and, crucially, maintaining their unique and valuable impact in community organisations, and have placed 39 Virtual Secondees to date.