Winners and finalists of the 2022 Indigenous Governance Awards talk about the importance of developing the next generation of leaders and how succession planning takes place in their organisation...
- 01 Understanding governance
- 02 Culture and governance
- 03 Getting Started
- 04 Leadership
05 Governing the organisation
- 5.0 Governing the organisation
- 5.1 Roles, responsibilities and rights of a governing body
- 5.2 Accountability: what is it, to whom and how?
- 5.3 Decision making by the governing body
- 5.4 Governing finances and resources
- 5.5 Communicating
- 5.6 Future planning
- 5.7 Building capacity and confidence for governing bodies
- 5.8 Case Studies
- 06 Rules and policies
- 07 Management and staff
08 Disputes and complaints
- 8.0 Disputes and complaints
- 8.1 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous approaches
- 8.2 Core principles and skills for dispute and complaint resolution
- 8.3 Disputes and complaints about governance
- 8.4 Your members: Dealing with disputes and complaints
- 8.5 Organisations: dealing with internal disputes and complaints
- 8.6 Practical guidelines and approaches
- 8.7 Case Studies
- 09 Governance for nation rebuilding
- Governance Stories
- Useful links
- Preview new Toolkit
05 Governing the organisation
IGA judges Mick Dodson and Glenda Humes with MG Corporation Board Members, Kununurra, Western Australia. Image, Wayne Quilliam
It is estimated that there are more than 5,000 incorporated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations across the country.
This means around 30,000 men and women are sitting on the governing bodies of these organisations, and even more employed in management and staff positions.
In addition, there are just as many—if not more—unincorporated organisations operating in communities, where people are working as volunteers.
Many of these organisations—including reference groups, advisory committees, working groups and task forces—have been created by governments. Others—such as night patrol groups, women’s and youth support groups, and artist and sporting collectives—have been created by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people wanting to improve the lives of their own people.
This topic focuses on the governing bodies of incorporated organisations, however, many of the insights and tools in this topic will be equally useful to informal or unincorporated organisations.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people appreciate they may need to acquire new knowledge and skills to carry out their governing roles on boards, councils and committees. As part of this process they are often redesigning their governance arrangements, and tackling fundamental challenges to do with:
- their governing roles and responsibilities
- the role and responsibilities of the chairperson
- communication and consultation with their members
- their codes of ethics and conduct
- running successful meetings
- informed decision making
- financial governance
- setting directions and planning
- hiring and supervising management and staff
- monitoring outcomes and the wider environment.
In this part of the toolkit you will find practical answers to these issues, along with ideas and tools to help you get started on rebuilding and strengthening your organisational governance.
In Topic 7 you will find more detailed information about the relationship between governing bodies, and their management and staff.
Topic 6 includes more information about running effective meetings for your governing body.
Over the last 30 years, the duties and responsibilities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander governing bodies have changed immensely and grown more complex.
The people who are selected or elected to the governing bodies of organisations must meet increasingly high standards of conduct.
Their own members and their external funders expect them to achieve important goals, be open, be representative and be accountable—but each stakeholder often applies different values and criteria.
At the same time, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want the governance models of their organisations to be rooted in culture.
The Warlpiri Youth Development Aboriginal Corporation (WYDAC) – formally known as the Mt Theo Program – was started in 1993 by Elders of the Yuendumu community to address petrol sniffing in the community. Created by and for Warlpiri people, the corporation is now dedicated to providing opportunities for young people to grow strong, be proud, make healthy life choices, pursue meaningful pathways, and become future leaders.
WYDAC explains the importance of a strategic plan for strong communities, a strong organisation and strong young people.
5.1.1 What is a governing body?
Definition: A governing body is the group of people given the power and authority to form the policy and steer the overall direction of an organisation. Its members can be elected to that position of power by voting, or selected through nomination by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander decision-making processes.
Individuals on the governing body of an organisation may be selected or elected because of their land-ownership credentials, special cultural knowledge, age or gender, or because of their position in their group, community, region or nation.
Once this process has happened, the individuals on the governing body are said to act as the ‘representatives’ of the people who selected or elected them.
The mix of the people on a governing body is said to be ‘inclusive’ when its members reflect the broad range of rights and interests of the group on whose behalf the organisation is working.
So governing bodies come in all shapes and sizes and have varied functions. A governing body could be a board, a council, a steering committee, an assembly of elders or traditional owners, or a selection of extended families or clans, and can be gender-based.
Importantly, it is the governing body as a collective unit that makes and implements decisions on behalf of its members and the organisation. It is not any single individual.
A board might be gender-based. The NPY Women’s Council looks to ‘women’s authority, law and culture’ to deliver their vision and services.1Andrea Mason, “NPY Women’s Council – Governance Acumen,” Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council, published February 2019, [link]
The NPY Women’s Council won the 2012 Indigenous Governance Awards (IGA). In this video, NYP Women’s Council Chairperson, Yanyi Bandicha, and Coordinator, Andrea Mason, explain how their governance works.
|Group members||Role of the group members is to elect or nominate the people on an organisation’s governing body. The governing body then represents the members|
|Governing Body||Role is to represent, plan strategic direction, set the organisation’s goals, lead the organisation, make the policies, oversee financial direction and accountability, supervise and evaluate management, inspire and role model for staff|
|Management||Role is to implement strategic plans, goals and policies made by governing body, administration, financial management, develop staff policies, and organise, supervise and evaluate the staff|
|Staff||Role is to perform duties under the instructions and direction of management, support governing body in their roles|
5.1.2 Governing roles and responsibilities
The primary job of the governing body is to protect the rights, interests and wellbeing of all the members on whose behalf the organisation is working.
The governing body as a whole does this by making sure the organisation runs smoothly and can achieve the goals and objectives it has promised to deliver to its members.
It does that by collectively carrying out four main roles and responsibilities, summarised below by Neil Sterritt, Gitxsan leader from British Columbia in his Canadian First Nations Governance Handbook.
|Governing roles||Governing responsibilities|
|1. Lead||Represent all members and make sure they can participate and be heard; create vision; advocate, negotiate and maximise self-determination.|
|2. Plan||Set overall direction, purpose, future strategies, goals, ethics and values.|
|3. Organise||Develop polices and governance arrangements; interact with management; steer relationships, alliances and collaborations with the public and among stakeholders.|
|4. Control||Ensure the organisation is accountable, legal and financially stable; hire, support and oversee the performance of the top manager; monitor overall outcomes.|
A governing body is concerned with the ‘big picture’ aspects of these roles, not the day-to-day management of the organisation.
It works more effectively when all its members have a clear commitment to and shared understanding of these roles and responsibilities, and how they work within the organisation.
Use this resource to check that your governing body is fulfilling all their roles and responsibilities.
5.1.3 The role and responsibilities of the chair
The chair represents the organisation to the members and the outside world. The chair’s role is very important for the effective and legitimate governance of an organisation.
Yet, as Neil Sterritt points out:
“How often have you been asked to chair a meeting only to realise you do not know how?
You are not alone. This is a common problem for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people who have been elected or appointed to councils or boards.”
(Old Massett Village Council Governance Reference Manual)
Chairing a meeting requires confidence, skills and training—it doesn’t just happen.
The chair is like the captain of the football team: an experienced leader whose job it is to bring everyone’s individual skills together and encourage members to play as a team, develop new skills and kick the winning goals.
The chair of a governing body has to:
- lead the governing body
- help steer the direction and performance of the organisation
- earn the respect of other members of the governing body
- not dominate the meeting with his or her own opinions
- listen to everyone in the meeting and encourage contributions by everyone
- initiate effective governance practices within the governing body
- be able to mediate when conflict arises
- promote good relationships with members and the community
- be a role model and promote high standards of behaviour and practice
- ensure that full, accurate information is provided at meetings.
When an inexperienced or bullying chair is in charge of a meeting, they are in danger of wasting everyone’s time, excluding people from the discussion, missing out on valuable ideas, making ill-informed decisions and not achieving outcomes.
The benefits of having a confident, skilled chair include better discussion, informed decision making, and building a shared spirit of cooperation and achievement among individuals in the governing body.
5.1.4 The rights of individual members of a governing body
Individuals who are selected or elected to sit on the governing body of a legally incorporated organisation have responsibilities, but they also have ‘rights’ associated with their roles.
For example, they have the right to:
- attend and participate fully and equally in meetings of the governing body
- raise issues and make motions to pass decisions
- speak and debate issues
- vote or come to consensus decisions on issues
- advocate the rights and interests of those who selected or elected them
- be free from intimidation and threats
- be fully and accurately informed
- be provided with inductions and training on their governance role and legal obligations
- raise and promote issues of cultural legitimacy and downward accountability to their members.
5.1.5 Legal duties of a governing body
The governing bodies of incorporated organisations have some important roles and responsibilities set out as legal duties in their incorporation rules and constitutions (as required under relevant state, territory and national laws like the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) and local government legislation).
These legal duties place specific conditions and limitations on the governing body, which it must comply with collectively and individually.
Ignoring these legal duties can put members of the governing body at personal legal risk, and jeopardise the whole organisation. When you sit on a governing body you must pay particular attention to:
- Your fiduciary duty. A fiduciary is someone who holds something in trust. So a fiduciary duty means you have a responsibility to make the right decisions on behalf of all your members, and to act honestly and in the best interests of your members when you exercise your powers and do your job of governing the organisation. This legal duty requires you to always put your members’ interests ahead of your own. This means you should not be on a governing body for personal gain or to get favours.
- Your duty of care and due diligence. This means you must be cautious and careful when making your decisions, and ensure all your decisions are lawful ones. You may be personally liable for decisions you make that break the law. It does not mean that you have to be an expert on everything. It means if you are unclear or confused about an issue, you have a responsibility to get all the information you need (maybe from an outside expert) in order to make an ‘informed’ decision.
- Being cautious and careful. This means that you need to:
- understand the legal aspects of the legislation under which your organisation and governing body operate
- be informed about the activities of the organisation and general trends in any business it runs
- speak clearly for or against a decision being considered by your governing body
- publicly support decisions properly made by your governing body
- act in good faith
- declare any conflicts of interest.
- Conflicts of interest. This means being alert to self-serving behaviour. It occurs when your duty, roles and responsibilities as a member of a governing body conflict with your own personal interests (whether those are your business, family, or property interests). This can include situations where:
- an elected member, CEO or manager profits at the expense of the organisation they serve
- a person acts in their own interest rather than the best interests of the organisation.
Don’t put yourself in a position where what’s best for you personally or your family differs or goes against what is in the best interests of all your nation, community or group.
If you can see that this might occur, you must declare that you have a conflict of interest when this matter is discussed or decided upon by your governing body.
If you sit on a governing body you will have to deal with conflicts of interest in your role. You can use this check-up to see when you may have a conflict of interest.
5.1.6 Cultural roles and challenges of a governing body
An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander governing body not only has legal duties, but also roles and responsibilities that arise out of cultural values and ways of behaving.
Those are usually not written down—they come from the laws, rules, traditions and processes at work in the people’s day-to-day lives.
This gives Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander governing bodies something extra that distinguishes them from most mainstream boards and organisations—something that can be summed up as cultural legitimacy and cultural accountability.
In a rapidly changing world, this can create both strengths and challenges for the governing bodies of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations.
For example, what may be seen as a conflict of interest or failure to show due diligence by western society may not be seen as such within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander society. In fact, it may be seen as a legitimate response to the normal demands of kinship and reciprocal sharing.
However, the governing body of an organisation must represent the rights, interests and wellbeing of all its members. The members of the governing body are not there to speak for themselves, or on the behalf of just a few people.
There may be cultural pressure to do so, but showing favouritism to one family, prioritising your own financial gain, or not declaring a conflict of interest gives out the wrong message to younger people that it is acceptable to act unethically.
The strengths of having cultural foundations for a governing body are obvious. A culture-based governing body benefits from consensus decision making styles, networked leadership, values of mutual obligation, shared land ownership rights and interests, and strong support relationships.
NPY Women’s Council Board, Alice Springs, Northern Territory. Image, Wayne Quilliam.
When a governing body reflects the cultural values and priorities of its members, and is accountable to them, those members naturally support it and have a personal investment in its success.
Without this core attribute of cultural legitimacy, organisations struggle to succeed.
Similarly, without the wider legitimacy that a governing body and organisation earns from being accountable upwards to funding agencies or partners, they can quickly lose their external credibility and effectiveness, and even become vulnerable to unilateral intervention by outsiders.
This means that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander governing bodies have a two-way source of power and accountability that requires them to ‘deftly negotiate the terrain between their communities and the requirements of funders and mainstream stakeholders’ (in the words of Mick Dodson).
From members and the wider community:
From the legal or funding framework:
|cultural powers||legal powers|
You can read more about two-way power and authority in Topic 2.2.
5.2.1 Accountability: what is it and to whom?
This is ‘two-way’ governance—for example, where the governance of an Indigenous organisation has to work both internally and externally. Sometimes it can be hard to balance Indigenous cultural expectations, with the requirements set out by government or funding bodies. Finding that balance and meeting Indigenous and non-Indigenous requirements means building governance that works well ‘two-ways’.
People sitting on a governing body claim their authority to govern by being nominated or elected to do so. Once this happens they become a representative.
Definition: A representative is a person who is chosen (nominated) by a group of people through cultural processes, or elected by democratic voting to stand up for or speak on behalf of those people. A representative stands as an example for others and serves on their behalf, and as such is accountable to them.
Definition: To be accountable means:
- to answer for your actions and take responsibility for your mistakes
- to be responsible to another
- to be able to explain what happened.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders sitting on governing bodies are accountable, in many different ways, to their:
- families, communities or nation, kin-based networks and laws
- elders, senior men or women
- managers, staff and members
- funding bodies and business partners.
Many challenges arise in trying to be accountable. It is difficult to step out of a family and govern for your whole nation or community. But as representatives, the governing body (individually and collectively) must be able to speak on behalf of, protect the rights and interests of, and be accountable to all members. Those who make up the governing body are not there to speak for themselves, or on behalf of just a few people.
To be accountable in an organisational context means you not only have to meet the standards of behaviour, financial transparency, reporting and decision making required under your legal constitution and rules; you must also show proper respect to your members and elders through your decisions and how you behave.
Ngnowar Aerwah Aboriginal Corporation (NAAC) was a Finalist in Category A of the 2014 Indigenous Governance Awards. Here Board members Philomena Hunter and Janet Gallagher discuss prioritising accountability to their members and funders, and some challenges around this that arise from operating in a small community.
5.2.2 Accountability and legitimacy go hand in hand
An organisation’s legitimacy comes from the authority it has amongst its members or community, and showing that it is accountable to them.
So legitimacy and accountability go hand in hand.
If an organisation and its governing body aren’t seen as being legitimate by its members, they won’t support it or have confidence in its decisions.
Community members may show their lack of trust by disengaging, not attending meetings and not asking for information about what the organisation is doing.
Or they might show it by actively engaging in confrontational behaviour—at annual general meetings (AGM) or other forums.
Legitimacy and accountability have to work well across both sides of an organisation’s internal and external environment.
For example, once it loses internal legitimacy and support, an organisation can quickly start to lose credibility with government and other stakeholders.
And even with strong cultural legitimacy, if the governing body is careless in its financial accountability to funding bodies, its external partners can withdraw vital resources and funding.
Because the meaning of accountability differs so much between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous people, the governing bodies of organisations have to carefully balance their own modes of accountability and values with those of funding bodies and other stakeholders.
Indigenous ideas about what accountability means can be very different to those of mainstream governments.
|Indigenous accountability||Government accountability|
Accountability must contain these elements to be effective: Legitimacy, Transparency, Redress and Disclosure.
|Legitimacy||people agree on cultural values, representation process and rules|
|Transparency||decisions and planning are open|
|Redress||people can access mediation of disputes and complaints easily|
|Disclosure||people can get hold on information easily|
5.2.3 Building stronger accountability
“Individuals who represent a geographic region or a certain constituency on a board often face this dilemma: which hat should I be wearing? … Is my primary responsibility to act in my local interests, or should I be acting in the interests of the organisation as a whole? This dilemma is especially daunting when local interests compete or conflict with [the member’s and organisation’s] interests. A fundamental principle of shared decision making is that collective interests should supersede personal interests.”
(Eli Mina, 101 Boardroom Problems and how to solve them, 2009)
The Institute for Urban Indigenous Health (IUIH) was a Finalist in Category A of the 2014 Indigenous Governance Awards. Here CEO Adrian Carson talks about the power of data to create accountability. Data creates a clear picture, which allows IUIH to respond to the health needs of their communities and to report back to their communities. This underpins a sense of community control.
Accountability can be strengthened by using a series of checks and balances that encourage good conduct and discourage ‘selfish-determination’ and corrupt behaviour. The basics include having:
- governance policies and procedures
- planning and performance reporting processes
- clearly identified roles, responsibilities and delegations
- ways of making and implementing decisions that members regard as legitimate.
To improve accountability, some organisations are going one step further and exploring ways to better:
|develop inclusive and credible election or selection processes for deciding who represents members|
|translate complex technical jargon and decisions into plain language|
|identify agreed standards for what accountability means to members and external parties, and reinforce understandings of how to achieve those measures|
|develop policies that address the cultural implications of decisions|
|produce written annual reports that community members and stakeholders can understand|
|develop visual methods of translating reports for governing bodies and members|
|provide regular financial reports back to members and funders|
|hold open meetings and mobile consultations with members|
|use regular communication and different media tools—including meetings, radio interviews, media releases, posters and community videos.|
An AGM is an important forum for the accountability of the governing body. An AGM allows governing bodies to:
- formally report to its members on the activities over the preceding year
- present a set of financial accounts
- appoint an auditor for the coming year
- give members the opportunity to participate and answer any questions
- select or elect members as required.
Some organisations are being innovative in the way they do their AGMs—holding them as ‘community cabinets’ along with a meeting of the governing body so members get to see them in action, or holding the AGM in different locations.
A formal written annual report including an audited financial statement is an important form of accountability. It is usually presented to members at the AGM, and informs the wider public and your stakeholders about how the organisation is managing its money.
Organisations are increasingly using web-based technology and creative visuals to ensure their reports are widely accessible to their members and the public.
Andrea Mason, NPY Women’s Council Co-ordinatior, explains how NPY Women’s Council organise and run their bush meetings every year.
Accountable governing bodies are those that pay attention to addressing the cultural context of their legal duties, crafting workable governing practices that manage expectations on both sides of the cultural interface.
Accountable organisations have their governance models rooted in culture and so have strong cultural legitimacy, at the same time as being entirely contemporary in their accountability, practical effectiveness and innovation.
This check-up will help you analyse whether your organisation’s processes are properly accountable.
Do the members of your governing body know all that they need to about governance? Here are some questions and examples of what others have tried.
5.2.4 Your code of conduct and ethics
Members of a governing body should understand and be committed to high standards of conduct and ethics, both as individuals and collectively.
To do this, governing bodies create their own policies or rules for a code of ethics and conduct, which they are then expected to comply with.
These codes are usually written down and encourage a commitment to:
- collective decision making
- agreed high standards of behaviour
- competence and quality of service
- maintaining confidentiality when appropriate
- working in an objective, fair and lawful way
- freedom from discrimination and harassment
- a shared future vision and objectives
- respect for the governing body’s decisions.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander codes of conduct commonly contain statements about commitments to cultural standards of behaviour and values, which the governing body has identified as being central to how they go about doing their job for the organisation.
Codes work better when the governing body makes its own code of conduct as a group, rather than having rules imposed from the outside, or produced by management.
This can take some time and effort but it means the code is more likely to be realistic, to fit with cultural values, and to be more widely accepted.
Importantly, it also means that the governing body will be more committed to enforcing rules it has designed internally.
In some organisations, the governing body develops a code of conduct that also includes managers and staff, so there is a shared commitment to overarching guiding principles of behaviour. This is a great example from the Anindilyakwa Land Council.
The Warlpiri Youth Development Aboriginal Corporation (WYDAC) board members make the decisions that shape the organisation. Nurturing good relationships between board members is a key dimension to ensure the effective governance of the organisation.
Decision making is central to governing. Informed decisions are an essential ingredient for effective governance.
5.3.1 Indigenous consensus approach
Decisions in Indigenous nations, communities or groups are usually made through extensive collective discussion and consultation. These decisions are also often open to ongoing negotiation. This is called consensus decision making.
In resolving issues and making decisions by consensus, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people usually spend a lot of time hearing from those for and against the issue.
This process helps maintain harmonious relationships and allows people to share ideas and raise concerns. It also builds legitimacy for any eventual decision and actions taken.
5.3.2 Decision making in an organisation
A governing body’s decisions may be about long-term policy or strategic planning, or about everyday matters such as short-term projects or events.
Consensus decision making is possible within an organisational setting, but to achieve it, the chair of the governing body needs to take on the role of a facilitator, negotiator and mediator, rather than acting as someone making the final decision.
A decision by the governing body must be made collectively by a quorum; it cannot be made on the opinion of one person.
“We make decisions like a washing machine. First we just push it all around, everything round and round and have a good talk about every part of it. Then we come to a decision. Once a decision is made, Board members think it is important to stick to it … then we agree as one. Once a decision is passed, that’s it, it’s finished. Then we’re under one agreement, we get on with it.”
(Yarnteen Corporation Board member, quoted in Diane Smith, Yarnteen Board Self-Evaluation Report, 2006)
To gain a wider legitimacy that takes hold amongst group members, a governing body needs to consult widely beforehand and after making its decisions.
Most of the organisations that were finalists in the Indigenous Governance Awards said they always used or preferred to use consensus approaches to decision making. However, if they could not reach an agreement, they would use a western democratic process such as voting. Many used a mix of methods and approaches to making decisions.
In some cases, Australian and state government legislation allows for traditional decision-making procedures. This brings consensus decision making into the legal frameworks of governing boards.
5.3.3 What makes an effective decision?
Governing bodies are often under daily pressure to make multiple fast decisions about major issues that have important consequences for the future of their communities and nations.
Unfortunately, they often do so without the necessary information and without any risk assessment or consideration of other options.
They then proceed to choose and immediately implement projects without having a stable foundation of strategic priorities identified, ways of communicating to members, or monitoring and reporting processes to let them know if they are on track with getting outcomes.
Don’t agree to proposals or action you don’t understand. Effective governance means making informed decisions.
That requires developing workable decision-making procedures in your organisation.
|Transparent||Members and outsiders can follow the process and the reasons behind it.|
|Well considered||It is based on sound information and inclusive consultation. Risks and assumptions are clarified by the governing body.|
|Consistent||It is consistent with a set of agreed values, rules or principles.|
|Lawful||People should record their dissent if a decision is illegal or may lead to insolvency.|
|Actioned||The decision is implemented and followed through.|
|Building capacity||It is made with increasing confidence through practice, experience and increased skills.|
Look at the different types of decision making and discuss what would work best for your organisation or community.
This resource provides some tips on procedures and questions to ask before making decisions and a template for recording decisions made at meetings.
5.3.4 Majority rules?
A common decision-making procedure used in meetings is ‘majority rules’.
This means that each individual on the governing body has the right to have their say and advocate (talk on behalf of) a particular position. But once a decision has been passed by a majority of the members, it is binding on all of them.
Majority decisions can be achieved as a result of traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander consensus process and do not necessarily need to have formal motions with a counted vote, so long as the consensus decision is recorded.
The important thing is that once such a decision has been reached, any person who was in the minority and voted against the resolution or abstained should respect and abide by the collective decision.
This can be problematic for some governing bodies when individual members believe that they can continue to voice their dissent outside of the meeting. That kind of behaviour undermines the authority of the governing body and can exacerbate conflict and rumours in the wider community.
5.3.5 Implementing your decisions
Good decisions that are not acted on are not good decisions.
Once decisions have been made, it is typically the job of your management and administration to implement them. This process should include feedback on the decision to community members and key stakeholders.
As the governing body, it is critical that you stay on top of monitoring the implementation of your decisions. You should expect your organisation to have processes to support doing this, and to receive regular ‘action updates’ at every meeting from your CEO and staff.
MG Corporation’s former CEO Franklin Gaffney talks about the organisation’s road to financial independence from government.
“At the moment we only rely on less than 10 per cent of government funding to continue going. So that is the key – to become self-sufficient because under the funding agreement, we only get funding for 10 years from the government. So my job, and the staff’s job, as well as getting guidance from the board, and the Dawang Council is to ensure we do have money post 10 years.”
– Franklin Gaffney, MG Corporation former CEO, 2012, Indigenous Governance Awards
Today, an increasing number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups are successfully negotiating resource development agreements, securing property rights and establishing major enterprises. As a consequence, they face the challenge of managing valuable land and natural resources.
At the same time, incorporated organisations often remain substantially dependent on government funding, which comes with rules about how it can be used.
Under these circumstances, effective governance is a critical foundation for wisely managing your resources and promoting economic development.
5.4.1 Your duty of care
The governing body is responsible for managing the funds, resources and assets of the organisation. In this way, the governing body acts as a trustee for its members.
Definition: A person who has decision-making authority over the assets, finances or resources of another person is called a trustee.
A community or nation’s resources are not just about money. They include its human, financial, cultural, intellectual, technical and information resources.
Such resources are often scarce, but, they are critical to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ future development, and so need to be strategically and fairly managed.
This duty of care is one of the most complex and challenging governing responsibilities because of:
- the continuing low levels of education and financial literacy within many communities
- the small size of many organisations
- the low staff capacity and high workloads within these organisations
- the multiplicity of short-term government funding
- the technical complexity of financial reporting arrangements.
These factors can seriously undermine the financial decision making and effectiveness of governing bodies and their managers.
This report prepared by the First Nations Foundation and Reconciliation Australia outlines best practice principles for the design and delivery of financial education programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. On page seven, there is a diagram that outlines the barriers that need to be overcome to enhance financial literacy in Indigenous communities.
5.4.2 Making decisions about money and resources
Many organisations fail because their governing bodies do not understand the money side of their operations, and so cannot make informed decisions about these matters.
An organisation will quickly have financial problems and get a bad reputation if:
- the governing body does not make sure that money and resources are used properly
- family and friends of governing body members or the CEO receive money or assets from the organisation without legitimate reasons
- the CEO—rather than the governing body—makes strategic decisions about how money is spent
- there is a lack of accountability and transparency around financial decisions and spending.
The governing body and the CEO or top manager need to work together as a team to manage an organisation’s finances and assets, and make informed decisions about them.
For some organisations—such as those where the governing body is financially literate and the manager is open and communicative—this can be straightforward.
In other organisations—such as those where the governing body is comprised of non–English speaking members, and the manager makes shortcuts or unilateral decisions—this can present a major challenge.
While it’s the governing body’s job to set the strategic directions, approve budgets and make overall decisions about funding and resources, it’s the top manager’s job to ensure the governing body thoroughly understands the ‘money business’ of the organisation.
A strong governing body should:
- always ask its top manager the hard questions about money issues
- expect to get accurate information and straightforward answers back from the top manager
- make an effort to understand the way the ‘money business’ of the organisation works
- make informed decisions on the basis of information from the top manager and the members.
If the governing body is not doing these things, it is failing to look after the organisation and its members. If the top manager is not doing these things he or she is failing the governing body and the organisation.
This combined failure can have major negative impacts for members, and create conflicts that spread into the whole community.
- Plan for the future so that the organisation has a clear idea of the funds needed.
- Approve budgets and regularly check income and expenditure.
- Look after members and all organisation resources.
- Check financial policies and procedures so they are up to date and transparent.
- Ensure that only authorised members of the organisation spend funds and sign contracts.
- Monitor finances to ensure the organisation has enough money to pay its bills, including staff wages.
- Get an independent auditor to audit the organisation’s accounts annually.
- Make sure the organisation’s financial information is accurate and reliable.
- Use resources efficiently.
- Get outside help on financial and business planning if needed.
- Make financial information easy to understand for the members of your governing body.
- Train new staff members and all directors in the organisation’s finances.
5.4.3 Financial reporting
The main purpose of financial analysis and reporting is to clearly lay out the story about the money that has come into the organisation, the state of resources held by the organisation, and how these are being managed and spent.
Some reports are mainly for the governing body, or for external funding agencies and business partners.
But many of these are made public and are accessible to members and communities too.
Today, organisations are increasingly using computerised systems to keep records of decisions made, allocate responsibility for follow-up action, track outcomes, report back to the governing body and deal with any problems.
All of this complex financial and business information needs to be pulled together into accessible formats for presentation to governing bodies that usually have large agendas and need succinct reports in plain English.
Unfortunately, financial information is often presented to governing bodies in highly technical language. Many governing bodies are now requiring this information to be given in a way that is more easily understood. For example, the Miriuwung-Gajerrong Corporation provides a straightforward ‘performance snapshot’ in its annual report, covering every strategic objective, what the corporation promised to achieve and what it actually delivered.
Good financial reporting should help a governing body to:
- understand the overall financial situation as reported
- ask the right questions so it can know the true state of the finances
- understand any differences between the actual and budgeted expenditure and income so that it can work out if the organisation is viable
- make independent and informed decisions about budgets and financial cuts.
A governing body should not have to rely on its managers to tell them it that its financial reports are accurate.
Western Desert Dialysis Board members and IGA judges in front of the ‘Purple Truck’ mobile dialysis unit, Alice Springs. Image, Wayne Quilliam.
Honest, regular and useful communication between a governing body, and its managers, members and stakeholders is essential for achieving an organisation’s goals. It is also important for staying legitimate and accountable.
Your members and stakeholders need a clear view of how the organisation is going and what the plans are for its future.
They also need to know that the governing body is working in the best interest of the organisation, and meeting its cultural, legal and ethical obligations.
An organisation’s rules and funding agreements usually set out how the governing body should communicate and with whom.
You will find more information on governing policies and rules in Topic 6.
5.5.1 Managing information coming in
When there is poor internal communication within an organisation, it will begin to head in directions that are contrary to the governing body’s policies and overall vision, and contrary to good accountability to its members and external stakeholders.
A critical role of management is to collect relevant information, analyse it and communicate it effectively to the governing body, members, staff and other stakeholders.
Sound decisions depend on receiving enough reliable information to be able to assess risks and make an informed choice. That means you need processes that work for you to convert varied information into sensible advice and options.
Two useful approaches include having:
- well-researched, simply laid out, plain English reports (verbal, visual and written) presented by managers to the governing body, giving accurate information, options and suggestions
- effective consultation methods for seeking wide-ranging views, focusing in particular on getting information and ideas from the people most affected by the decision: your members.
5.5.2 Communicating out
As trustees and stewards of resources and finances, the governing body and organisation must communicate regularly with members, listen to their concerns, and report decisions, progress and outcomes to them.
This includes reaching out and consulting widely with your members on important issues before setting strategic direction and making decisions.
When rumours take the place of fact, staff morale suffers and misinformation is spread out to members.
And when confidential board information is freely circulated outside the organisation, it can encourage division and conflict among members.
Transparency, accountability and legitimacy are all improved by communicating well. This means the governing body and senior managers should:
- give time for people to ask questions at community meetings and the annual general meeting
- create communication strategies to enable regular contact with members and others
- allow time at governing body meetings for members to ask questions
- hold meetings across the region
- publish reports in accessible formats and display decisions on community notice boards
- make board minutes available to members.
Because their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members are spread over a very large geographic area, many organisations are designing innovative solutions to communicate with them such as posters, visual diagrams, photographs, newsletters, email updates, websites and videos.
The Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) was a Finalist in Category A of the 2014 Indigenous Governance Awards. Here CEO Muriel Bamblett describes VACCA’s strategies to communicate with the community.
MG Services worker, Kununurra, Western Australia. Image, Wayne Qulliam.
Organisations that plan ahead can usually survive conflict and major changes. They are also better at keeping new plans going, sustaining economic development, and reliably delivering services and support to their members and communities.
“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
5.6.1 Dealing with change and continuity
If an organisation doesn’t recognise when it needs to adapt and change, it will be overtaken by external realities and may lose important opportunities.
But organisations also need to be able to protect cherished values and stability.
Effective governance is about working out the balance between the need for continuity and consolidation, and the need for renewal and innovation. At different stages of an organisation’s life the balance will be different.
Poorly governed organisations often lurch from one crisis to another, have a high turnover of staff and board members, and trouble managing internal conflict.
High staff turnover means an organisation loses important corporate knowledge.
When older leaders leave, they take valuable experience and history with them. Also, new governing members with fresh energy will take time to learn their roles and get a full understanding of the organisation’s rules and issues.
So your governance arrangements need to be able to respond to these changing conditions.
Your organisation may need different kinds of leadership at different times. It may need to rethink its representative arrangements, the way it makes its decisions and the way it communicates with its members.
Having sound decision-making processes, credible leaders, and a strong internal culture of trust and team work provide your organisation with the resilience to withstand damaging crises and changes.
Apply this check-up to your processes to manage change and crises in your organisation or group. It will help you analyse your current processes for managing change and give you ideas for what else you could do.
5.6.2 Planning: what is it, why do it?
Staff and young people from the Warlpiri Youth Development Aboriginal Corporation head out on a trip. Yuendumu, Northern Territiory. Image, Wayne Quilliam
“Leaders may have developed the most ingenious strategy ever, but it means nothing if it doesn’t get done.The better conceived your organisation’s strategy and the more competently it is executed with accountability and measurement, the more likely it will get done and please the community … First Nations usually have limited … resources and selecting the best possible strategies also requires an answer to the questions, ‘What could we do and what are we able to do?’”
(John Pealow, ‘Strategic Management and Accountability for First Nations: Best Practices to Consider’, Institute of Governance, Canada)
Definition: Planning helps you deal with change. It is a way for an organisation to collectively:
- set its governance values and commitments to members
- identify short-term and long-term objectives
- prioritise how those will be achieved
- assign responsibilities for implementation
- track progress and outcomes
- revise and adapt to new conditions
- ensure accountability.
But it can be a lot of work. This means it is often the last thing that organisations and governing bodies make time to do.
So what happens? People get caught up in planning after a crisis or project has already begun, and resort to using band-aid solutions.
Planning allows an organisation to look at the big picture of where it is heading. It helps organisations measure how well they are doing. So even if there is a high turnover of leaders and senior managers, the organisation will have a better chance of staying on track.
|Make sure its services meet the changing needs of its members.|
|Set up a reliable process for routine operations and projects.|
|Better anticipate external financial, policy and funding changes.|
|Create a basis for future evaluations.|
|Enable the governing body and all staff to develop a shared understanding of their roles and responsibilities.|
|Set up strong relationships with government and other agencies.|
|Give the community an understanding of the work of the organisation.|
Definition: Strategic planning is a way of looking ahead to where you want to be; it’s about the really big things you want to achieve for your members. It is a collective process where you draw up a ‘language picture’ for your future direction and how you are going to get there.
It’s also a way of being on the front foot in making your own decisions about your future, rather than having them imposed on you from outside.
It enables an organisation and its members the opportunity to think through and document:
- what they are doing now, for whom and why
- where they want to head to in the future
- what they need to do to get there
- how they are progressing along the way.
A strategic plan sets out:
- your vision and values
- priorities and targets
- along with specific solutions, strategies and timeframes for achieving each of those.
The governing body should officially adopt this plan at a meeting, and the managers and staff should then proceed to carry it out and report on progress to the governing body.
Marlene Spencer and Sarah Brown explain how the Board Directors of WDNWPT prioritized and developed a five year strategic plan for the organisation.
5.6.3 The strategic planning process
Strategic planning is the role of the governing body, and is best done inclusively, with the support and advice of your staff and members.
The best strategic plans are those that:
- are short
- are free of jargon
- become part of the daily work of the organisation
- are regularly reassessed.
For the strategic planning process to be effective and legitimate, it should involve:
- the nation or community members your organisation represents—they help identify future goals and priorities
- your leadership network—including the governing body, top managers and elders
- your staff—they provide information, advice and analysis
- an enthusiastic coordinator—someone needs to pull it all together
- key stakeholders—they can often make valuable contributions to planning
- a written plan that is consistent with the values and vision of the organisation
- a plan that gives the staff challenging, responsible assignments and realistic timeframes
- a list of actions to ‘get some runs on the board’.
The Warlpiri Youth Development Aboriginal Corporation has designed a fantastic strategic plan that pays close attention to cross-cultural communication and understanding. It uses effective visuals and graphics to get across the corporation’s story about its future vision.
|Assess current situation, preferences and interests.|
|Develop a vision and purpose.|
|Plot short- and long-term direction and goals.|
|Determine internal strengths and weaknesses.|
|Determine external opportunities and threats.|
|Understand success factors and risks.|
|Identify actions and performance measures.|
|Develop implementation plan with responsibilities and timeframes.|
|Identify resources and capacities needed.|
|Evaluate performance and progress.|
There are many approaches to planning, but most contain some similar basic steps.
This resource sets out the key steps for developing a strategic plan and the specific actions and issues that need to be addressed at each step.
Conducting a SWOT analysis can be a useful tool for strategic planning. Use this template to think about your internal and external strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and then rank the priority of each.
5.6.4 Create your own governance development plan
Successful organisations are the ones that regularly monitor how well their governance arrangements are working, make the hard decisions to change what’s not working and then craft their own solutions.
The Yarnteen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation in Newcastle calls this organisational process ‘restless renewal’.
Something as important as a plan for rebuilding your governance needs to be initiated and championed by the governing members and senior management of the organisation, along with your wider network of leaders and elders.
It needs people with real authority and cultural legitimacy to take the lead and make changes to governance, so that the results win the support of your members and external supporters.
To help you work through the process of evaluating and rebuilding your governance, we have provided a governance development and action plan
It is a type of strategic plan, but focuses on setting out your specific plan of attack, your best options, and solutions and tactics for achieving the governance goals of your nation, community or organisation.
The plan contains a series of steps with tips, advice and tools, and also explains some of the basic terms, concepts and issues. You can work through it progressively, or you can work on specific areas you have already identified as priorities for change.
You can use the many self-evaluation tools and check-ups provided throughout the toolkit to start assessing the current state of your governance.
You can adapt the plan to suit your own circumstances. It can be used by small groups, communities and nations as well as organisations
Topic 3 on Getting Started also has some useful tips for developing an action plan.
This Governance Development and Action Plan is based on a strategic planning template that was developed by Dr Ian Hughes at the Yooroang Garang: School of Indigenous Health Studies in The University of Sydney.
You can customise the template to suit your own needs, doing it in chunks, or using it to create a longer-term strategic approach to your governance rebuilding
Your plan can start off small and focus on a limited number of specific issues, or it can be based on a wide-ranging evaluation of your governance.
If you carry out a broader plan containing major initiatives, make sure you have a realistic timeframe for implementation that allows several years for the changes to be made. This will enable you to prioritise changes and carry them out at a pace that builds confidence rather than creates anxiety and uncertainty.
Governance rebuilding needs time for innovative solutions to be tested out in the real world—you will probably want to refine your arrangements over time.
So don’t set things in concrete too early. And get feedback on what your members think about the changes.
Some things your nation, community or organisation will need to consider and decide when you are starting a governance development plan:
- What is your vision for your future governance and self-determination as a group?
- What issues and areas of your governance do you want to work on first?
- Who needs to be involved in doing it with you?
- What do you know about your governance issues already and what else do you need to find out?
- What are your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and risks in tackling the issues and making the changes?
- What are your ideas and solutions for addressing the governance problems you’ve identified?
- What are your new goals and objectives for these problem areas?
- What resources, additional support or skills do you need?
- How are you going to make it happen—what actions will you take? When will those be done and by whom?
- How will you know you’re making the progress you want?
- How will you know you need to make more changes or refinements?
This charter of governance expresses the resolve of Indigenous people in the Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly to manage their own affairs, build sustainable communities and determine their own future. It sets out their governance vision, strategies, goals, practical governing arrangements and structures, and relationships with their community members and partners.
The Murdi-Paaki Regional Assembly (MPRA) is an unincorporated organisation. It operates as the peak representative structure that represents the interest of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in 16 communities across Western NSW.
MPRA have developed their own Charter of Governance (PDF 476 Kb). It outlines how they plan to manage their own affairs, build sustainable communities and determine their own future. It explains the decision-making relationship that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Murdi-Paaki region have with the government and the wider community. It sets out MPRA’s governance vision, strategies, goals, practical governing arrangements and structures, and relationships with their community members and partners.1‘Charter of Governance,’ Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly, published September 2015, [link]
In this clip Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly (MPRA) Chair Sam Jeffries talks about how MPRA chose not to become an incorporated model and how their Charter of Governance serves as their guiding document.
Jeanette Barker and Trish Frail, members of the Murdi Paaki Regional Assembly from Brewarrina, NSW. Image, Wayne Quilliam.
Governance capacity lies at the heart of maximising self-determination. Don’t let your governance evaluations and planning work go to waste.
We all know about hundreds of plans and reports that sit in filing cabinets and never get used again.
Unfortunately, many people think that once you develop an action plan for building your governance, it will simply happen. It won’t.
Just like a footy team, everyone in the organisation—the governing body, management and staff—needs to develop and practise their new governance skills and procedures.
The same applies for nations and communities. If you want to change your governance arrangements you have to be able to walk the talk.
5.7.1 Signs of poor governing capacity
It’s easy to tell when there is low governance capacity in an organisation. You will know you have problems if:
- the governing body is confused about its roles and responsibilities, does not have the skills and confidence it needs, is not making policies or enforcing its own rules, and has a high turnover
- the governing body is not supervising or evaluating the work performance of their top manager.
- the governing body’s meetings are poorly attended, dominated by the bullying behaviour of a few and overwhelmed by mountains of complex paperwork, resulting in poor decisions
- the top manager takes on more decision-making powers than he or she should, and individual people on the governing body routinely interfere with the administrative work of managers and staff members
- staff morale and work performance are low.
It is critical for the members of a governing body and the top manager to understand their own distinct roles within the organisation, and the responsibilities and limits to their powers.
You will find more information on this important division of roles and responsibilities in Topic 7.
5.7.2 Developing your governing body
Because members of a governing body often have different levels of skills, experience and confidence, it is important they have regular access to a variety of governance training, updates, orientations and inductions.
Governing bodies need to develop governance capacity regarding:
- their given roles, responsibilities and accountabilities
- the goals and objectives of the organisation
- how to develop and enforce their own policies
- other organisational policies they will be expected to implement
- how to run effective meetings and make informed decisions
- their relationship to members and the community
- the cultural values, role and commitments of the organisation
- their relationship to the CEO, staff, funders and other stakeholders
- legal and ethical standards
- the financial structure of the organisation
- their role in reviewing reports from management and auditors.
Today, governance training can take various forms. It is best to look for training that suits your needs and local situation.
But remember that one-off training and inductions are not sufficient to build resilient governance. Confidence and capacity build up over time and it takes practice and experience to tackle the real-life problems that governing bodies deal with.
The most successful approach to building governance capacity is one that:
- becomes part of the daily routine of your organisation
- builds on your existing strengths and knowledge
- relates to specific conditions and local problems that need to be solved
- is carried out on the job so that understanding is embedded in practice
- is based around identifying culturally legitimate solutions for governance problems
- includes role-play and problem-solving scenarios that enable solutions to be practised and refined.
This means, for example, that inductions for incoming members of a governing body are best done face to face and then repeated at regular intervals. Also, each member should be provided with a copy of the organisation’s strategic documents.
To be effective and sustainable, governance capacity should be developed as a continuous cycle.
The Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) was a Finalist in Category A of the 2014 Indigenous Governance Awards. Here CEO Muriel Bamblett speaks about the importance of training to empower directors to undertake their role effectively.
- Develop board member role descriptions that are distinct from management and staff responsibilities.
- Develop values statements for the board, management and staff regarding their roles and responsibilities.
- Hold some private board meetings without staff in attendance, to allow for more open discussion.
- Make policies that enable your governing body to draw on independent external expertise and advice.
- Have the chair or an executive committee set agendas for board meetings so meetings are not only focused on management and its priorities.
- Provide short, accessible background information for any matters you intend to bring up in a board meeting.
- Define the skill sets board members need to have. Actively look for people to fill skill gaps and give existing board members the opportunity for professional development.
- Focus on orientation and training for new board members.
- Develop procedures for routine evaluation (and self-evaluation) of board performance.
- Use mentors or management support to achieve more effective chairmanship, if needed.
5.7.3 Produce a governance reference manual
More and more organisations are creating their own governance reference manuals to serve as an information kit that can be used by their governing body and members, and placed on their website.
This list of contents will give you an idea of the kinds of information you could include in a governance reference or induction manual for your leaders. Your community and nation will also be better informed about how you do things if they have access to it.
Successful organisations are those that allocate resources to providing their own regular, in-house governance capacity development—not just to the governing body, but to all managers and staff as well.
The commitment to effective governance has to run throughout the whole organisation.
Ensuring members are kept informed
Association of Northern Kimberly and Arnhem Aboriginal Artists (ANKAAA) was established to support Indigenous artists and Art Centres. ANKAAA’s members are spread over a huge geographic range (1 million square kilometres) and are situated in some of the most remote terrain in Australia. ANKAAA’s membership is both linguistically and culturally diverse and includes members from over 100 different language groups.
In light of this, the ANKAAA Board of Directors meets face-to-face only four times a year but they also hold a further four to six meetings via teleconference. Holding meetings via teleconference saves the organisation money in travel expenses while also ensuring that everyone is kept in the loop with what is going on in other regions (without the need to travel vast distances).
Given the linguistic diversity of ANKAAA’s members, the Annual Report is not only available in printed form but is also delivered to members via a PowerPoint presentation at the Annual General Meeting. This is a great way to ensure that members in attendance understand the information contained in the Annual Report, as well as allowing them to ask any questions as they arise.
Dreaming big and the importance of planning
Ashburton Aboriginal Corporation (AAC) benefits Aboriginal people in the Pilbara through increasing employment and enterprise opportunities, and by providing education and training services.
AAC wanted to do something to help the local youth. The organisation had been discussing different ideas about what to do for over two years but nothing seemed to stick, until someone suggested sub-leasing a section of a local station named Peedamulla to run a youth training facility.
The initial dream was to run a section of Peedamulla as a training facility in the areas of station work, station management and hospitality and in addition, create a viable commercial business for the benefit of Ashburton Shire Aboriginal communities.
The Board of Directors and the CEO agreed that it would be a great opportunity for the youth of the Ashburton region, but despite the initial excitement over the proposal everyone was well aware that dreaming big was just the beginning.
There were a lot of factors that the Board of Directors needed to take into consideration to make sure their dream for Peedamulla station would become a reality. Things such as, negotiating with the Peedamulla station managers for a sublease, structuring the training program, updating existing infrastructure, organising contractors, finding staff for the facility as well as hiring a station manager. However, first they needed to consider whether the dream for Peedamulla was one that was practically viable. Through careful planning and consideration, the Board of Directors and the CEO identified other practical issues which needed to be taken into account before the youth training facility could be up and running. These issues involved answering questions about whether the land at the station needed to be regenerated. How many head of cattle could the land sustainably maintain? Was there water access on the property? And what were the costs involved in getting things up and running?
After these and many other issues were identified, the Board and the CEO painstakingly worked through them one by one to make sure their dream of a youth training facility would not fall by the wayside due to bad planning and rash decision making.
Everyone involved in the initial planning stages knew that in order to make their dream into a reality they would have to work through every issue they could think of, right down to the smallest detail. This was not a quick process and doing it right took a couple of months.
Janet Brown, CEO of ACC, talks of the careful planning process undertaken by Board;
“A risk analysis was undertaken as a part of the whole consultation process (but we don’t give it that name). We came out knowing about the land needing regeneration, the risks of putting too many cattle on the land at first – and things like that. But the bottom line was that we decided to go ahead. At the first meeting we talked about how much it was going to cost, what the potential issues might be with accessing Peedamulla’s water. At the second meeting everything was on the table and the Directors looked at everything they could. We do this as a matter of course. We look at proposals over time. At the first meeting we float the idea. At the next meeting we might bring up someone to present and make sure the full range of information is on the table and then we have a robust discussion. By the third meeting we may be ready to reach consensus, but only after everyone has had a chance to think things through”
The Board was determined to see the dream for their youth training facility come alive and through extensive planning and careful consideration they were able to make this happen.
Today, the training facility is known as Ashmulla and is run on over 1 million hectares. At present the Board, CEO and station manager are all working towards getting Ashmulla stocked up and running at a profit to benefit the Ashburton Shire Aboriginal communities.
The process of taking a dream from the boardroom table through to an operational enterprise was a long one, but well worth it. With careful planning and good decision making, Ashmulla looks to be successful well into the future.
Doreen James, chairperson of AAC, is excited by the possibilities for not only for the youth in her own community but also for Aboriginal youth from other communities stating that “Doing work on the station will help build resilience and give young ones more purpose and new set of skills”.
Practicing collective decision making
Galambila Aboriginal Health Service Incorporated (AHS) is the peak provider of high quality, culturally appropriate, holistic primary health and related care services for the Aboriginal communities residing in and around Coffs Harbour, Urunga, Bellingen/Dorrigo, Woolgoolga, Corindi and Ulong in North Eastern NSW.
Galambila’s governance structure supports the Board of Directors by focusing on strategy, planning and risk while the CEO, supported by the executive team, focuses on managing the daily operations of the organisation. This separation of duties means that the Board, which is democratically elected by the community, is able to fulfil its purpose of representing the views and wishes of the community and ensures that the organisation is responsive to those desires.
The Galambila Board practices collective decision making and all decisions are made on the basis of the consensus of the entire Board. All conflicts of interest are noted at the beginning of every meeting and a register is maintained to ensure that the Board acts to fulfil its duties ethically and without undue influence from external parties. As the Board meets monthly, it enables the Board to keep current with any major issues affecting the governance of the organisation and respond to those issues in a timely manner.
The Board has a key role in the development of the strategic direction of the organisation. It is highly involved in the development of the strategic plan. The Board supports the strategic plan by developing policies which allow and direct the use of the organisation’s resources to carry out strategic plan and support the organisation’s Vision and Mission.
Developing a structured decision making model
Waltja Tjutangku Palyapayi was established in recognition of the severe sickness, poverty, helplessness and distress experienced by Central Australian Aboriginal people as a result of dispossession of traditional lands, cultural disintegration and social and economic marginalisation. Waltja supports self-determination for Aboriginal People living in remote communities in central Australia, as well as the development and provision of community services that are governed by local Aboriginal People and which provide employment and professional development for local Aboriginal people. Examples of community based services that Waltja currently provides or supports include child and youth programs, aged care, disability services, financial literacy training, cultural maintenance and support for aged care and art centres.
Waltja’s members are Aboriginal women who are permanent residents of remote communities in the Central Australian Region. Each year Waltja holds its Annual General Meeting, at which a Board of Directors (a Maximum of 12 Senior women) are elected by people from Waltja’s membership. The Board of Directors are representative of each of Waltja’s target communities and are elected at Waltja’s AGM by their peers on the basis of the length of their membership with Waltja, their community service, leadership and advocacy skills. Five Executive Directors are then elected by the Board of Directors. Directors and Executive Directors hold office for one year and are able to run for re-election the following year.
All policy decisions and strategic planning are made at the Board of Directors meetings. At every meeting correspondence is tabled. Often there are visitors presenting information for the Directors to discuss. First an executive member will explain why something is important and needs to be talked about and then Waltja’s Manager or staff may give some background information. The Board makes decisions by listening and talking together. Sometimes they break up into language groups for discussion and then report back to the whole group.
Waltja aims for consensus decisions but can use voting if a consensus is not reached. However, unresolved issues are usually carried forward to the next Executive or Directors meetings with additional information. Talking in meetings is usually in several languages; English, Warlpiri, Luritja, Western Arrernte, Eastern Arrernte, Pintupi, Kaytetye Anmatyerre, Alyawarre and Pitjantjatjara. All of Waltja’s directors are multilingual in the region’s Aboriginal languages and speak and understand English. Waltja’s Directors declare any conflict of interest and stand down from decision-making when a conflict of interest might arise.
Keeping the community informed
Waltja is committed to ensuring the community is kept informed about what the organisation is doing. Because Waltja represents many people from different language groups across vast differences they use a combination of ways to ensure their message gets out.
Some of the ideas proven to work well include:
- Visiting community: Board members, staff members and management get out and about within their communities as well as working on programs within community and proactively seek community feedback, which is then used to improve Waltja’s service delivery.
- Sending faxes containing important information to remote community members and service workers. This ensures members and service workers who may not have guaranteed access to the internet remain informed.
- Making sure managers give reports and up-dates at Board meetings.
- Waltja’s Family News publication is published 3-4 times a year and is widely distributed to communities across the Central Australian region.
- Waltja maintains an easy to use and informative website which can be accessed by community and stakeholders at any time.
- Waltja staff make sure that community members feel welcome and comfortable in visiting the office or ringing up to ask questions or seek information.
- Having community contact people, who disseminate information by word of mouth amongst their family and peers. These people also hold informal consultation within their communities and convey feedback to Waltja.
Building capacity and confidence for governing bodies.
Waltja was established in recognition of the severe sickness, poverty, helplessness and distress experienced by Central Australian Aboriginal people as a result of dispossession of traditional lands, cultural disintegration and social and economic marginalisation.
The structure of the Waltja Board consists of one Director and one Proxy elected from each community. From a community perspective, this means that if a situation ever arises where a Director is unable to attend a Board meeting, their community’s voice can still be heard by using the proxy. From a personal perspective, it means that Directors feel supported by the proxy whenever they have to talk about or make decisions that may impact their own community.
Waltja’s system of inviting a second woman, the proxy, to attend meetings along with each Director also works well in encouraging community development by allowing more experienced women the opportunity to mentor younger or less confident women.