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Origins of Jawun

In 2000, Cape York Indigenous leader Noel Pearson

published his seminal essay

Our Right to Take




At the time, the state of affairs

for Indigenous people in the Cape was grim.

The Fitzgerald Cape York Justice Study, conducted

a year later in 2001, found that alcohol abuse and

violent misconduct had become socially normalised

in Cape York communities. In his essay, Pearson

examined the culture of excessive drinking in the

Cape, and argued that ‘passive welfare’ (payment

given to individuals or groups without any

From left: Grace George (KPMG secondee), Ben Andrade (Macquarie Capital secondee) and Kim Hogan (Westpac secondee),

Cape York, 2014.

Photo: Daniel Linnet, Linnet Foto

reciprocation on their part) had led to a breakdown

of traditional Aboriginal values and become the

most pressing problem for his people:

Once we see the direct connection between

our passive welfare dependence and

our outrageous social problems, we realise

the utmost urgency in the need for the

transformation of [our communities].

The solution to the passive welfare crisis, Pearson

argued, was to facilitate the return of Indigenous

people to the ‘real’ market economy. But the

method was critical. In order to achieve lasting

change, the focus needed to shift from ‘giving

assistance’ to Indigenous people—an approach

that had consistently failed to deliver lasting

social and economic improvements—to

empowering Indigenous communities to

resolve their own problems.

These principles became the core philosophies for

Jawun, which was established in 2001 under the

name Indigenous Enterprise Partnerships (IEP).

The founders of Jawun believed in supporting

Indigenous-led programs that would promote

and enable self-reliance, entrepreneurial activity

and economic independence among Indigenous

people—programs that would help them take their

place in the ‘real’ economy. To achieve these aims,

they created a network of partnerships between

Indigenous, corporate and philanthropic groups,

with Jawun operating as the facilitator or point

of connection between each group.

Within the network, Indigenous partners

determined the priorities for social and economic

development in their regions; corporate partners

provided staff (known as secondees) for

select periods to support Indigenous partner

organisations in their objectives; and philanthropic

trusts and foundations provided valuable

leadership and financial support. The network later

expanded to include government partners, with

government departments providing secondees

from 2011 (see Figure 1).