Ganbina: helping indigenous teens stay on track

4 min read

"When I was younger, for the wrong reasons, I wanted to get out of school. As a kid from rural Victoria, I didn't know about the opportunities that were out there. But the support I had from Ganbina helped me to stay on track – emotionally and academically." (Joseph Barnes-Hill)

Joseph Barnes-Hill was just 13 in 2008 when he became involved in Ganbina, an independent organisation working in Greater Shepparton. It supports young Indigenous people through secondary and tertiary education, helping them to attain meaningful employment and financial independence. "Ganbina's aim," the website reads, "is to empower Indigenous communities to achieve true social and economic equality with other Australians within the next two generations."

Given the statistics, this sounds likes an ambitious goal. Across Australia, 46.1% of Indigenous students do not complete Year 12 (or equivalent), compared to 14% of non-Indigenous students. Meanwhile, after school, only 39.4% of Indigenous youth engage in employment, education or training, as opposed to 74% of non-Indigenous youth of the same age.

However, Ganbina's success is turning these statistics on their head. Every year, at least 80% of the students in the program complete the grade. And since the organisation's founding in 2004, more than 900 pupils have completed Ganbina's JOBS4U2 program.

Ganbina success stories

Take Joseph, for example. Now 20, he works as a team leader at the Reach Services Group in Melbourne. At the moment, he is busy with both a recruitment drive and the establishment of an education team. "Ganbina isn't about trapping kids and dragging them to school," Joseph says. "It's about giving them all the support they need, so they want to finish school, and providing them the tools to further their career."

Now that Joseph is living in Melbourne, these "tools" come in the form of regular networking dinners. Ganbina provides graduates studying and working in the city with opportunities to meet corporate high-flyers. "I've met the senior managers at CGU, seniors at Allens Law Firm and John Gandel, who co-owns Chadstone. That sort of exposure to such powerful professionals just isn't part of day-to-day life in rural Victoria. It's taught me how to conduct myself in the professional arena."

Another regular attendee at these dinners is Allen Roberts. Like Joseph, he first joined Ganbina as an unenthused teenager. "I wasn't really engaged in school for a number of years," he says. Fast-forward 10 years and, at 24, he's an assistant relationship manager at Westpac. A major stepping stone along the way was scoring an internship at Goldman Sachs, which Ganbina organised when Allen was 19, studying political science and criminology at Melbourne University. "Goldman Sachs is the biggest investment bank in the world and one of the best known brands, so it did wonders for my CV. The gentleman I worked with was, and still is, a mentor of mine."

Allen believes that Ganbina's success comes down to its recognition of each student's needs. "Ganbina takes the time to get to know the individual. Each participant receives an individualised program. And I think that's why it has such a high success rate. You can't put a square block in a round hole."

Anthony Cavanagh, Ganbina CEO, agrees. "We start with the kids at a young age and work with them, helping them build their aspirations to get the best out of their education. The JOBS4U2 program open doors and show them how to believe in their futures – that there are life opportunities outside of Shepparton. We also engage with their parents and the wider community. By the time the kids are 16 or 17, they often want to become role models. Their younger siblings can see that success can be theirs, if they work hard and have a view to a better future."

Ganbina and BT

The relationship between Ganbina and BT evolved through Jawun Indigenous Corporate Partnerships. 

Jawun connects corporate and government employees with Indigenous Australian community organisations, like Ganbina, by coordinating secondments. BT employees leave their day jobs for six weeks to share skills with these organisations, whether it's to support business analysis, marketing, project management or HR systems. In return, they have a unique experience, enriching from both a personal and professional perspective.

Since co-founding Jawun 15 years ago, almost 700 Westpac Group employees – including those from BT – have been on Jawun secondments, translating to almost 100 years' worth of time.

David McLeod was one of those employees.  A workforce manager at BT, David spent six weeks on secondment at Ganbina in February and March 2013. "It looked like a great opportunity – to go and live in a community and learn more about myself, while at the same time giving back," David says. "I have a background in workforce management and business analysis. Ganbina was looking for someone who could work through the computer system, extract data, quantify it, bring it to life and present it to sponsors, to demonstrate the social return on investment. We discovered what we thought, which is that the program is really successful and it's actually achieving its goals in a quicker time and at a higher rate than even the KPIs suggest."

For David, the experience inspired significant personal and professional growth. "I formed really good relationship building skills," he says. "I came back knowing a lot more about Australian culture and about myself and my skills set – that I can take on projects independently and execute them . . . I've also become a committee member of Westpac's Indigenous Employment Action Group, which is aligned to the Reconciliation Action Plan. Our job is to encourage people to celebrate culture and encourage meaningful careers. It's allowing me to keep up my passion."

1 COAG Reform Council: Education in Australia 2012: Five years of performance 
2 Australian Bureau of Statistics: Census of Population and Housing: Characteristics of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2011: Labour Force: Key Findings

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This information is current as at 15/06/2015.