SPONSORED: Generating true, meaningful and long-lasting societal change is an ideal that countless people across the national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community are working hard for every day.
Across local community projects and national initiatives there has begun a growing and long overdue awareness from those outside of the community that First Nations people themselves, backed by the knowledge, strength and wisdom of 40,000-plus years of culture, are best placed to generate meaningful change for their peoples.
Harnessing and supporting this upswell of First Nations talent and energy has become the focus of the Atlantic Fellows for Social Equity Program (AFSE), an Indigenous-led lifelong, collaborative fellowship program and platform for systemic change across Australia and New Zealand.
The year-long intensive Fellowship program hosted by the University of Melbourne develops powerful understandings of inequity and social change, grounded in Indigenous ways of knowing, doing and being.
Successful applicants enter the program as Fellows and go on to join a growing community of AFSE Senior Fellows and global Atlantic Fellows. They also have the opportunity to complete a graduate qualification in Social Change Leadership through the Melbourne Graduate School of Education.
Torres Strait Islander man, Shane Webster, Ngāi Tūhoe woman, Tania Pouwhare, and Quandamooka man from Minjerribah, Dean Parkin, are all Indigenous individuals who share a passion for working towards meaningful societal change. All three are also Atlantic Fellows who have had their projects and work in the social change space strengthened by the Fellowship program.
Before becoming an Atlantic Fellow, Dean Parkin worked in various fields as a policy advisor, strategic designer, engagement strategist and management consultant. He applied to be an Atlantic Fellow because of the opportunity it offered to be part of a cohort founded on collaboration.
“For me it was really about the idea of fellowship and, to be honest, less about the projects, because I kind of figure those of us that are in social change have either, through our own work or through our own activity, involved ourselves in a whole bunch of projects,” Parkin said.
“This idea that you could get different change agents from different sectors and with different experiences, who could not only agree well and collaborate well, but disagree well and respect each other through philosophical or ideological differences – I joined to be a part of that and to see how that could develop over time.”
From the Bay of Plenty in Aotearoa New Zealand, Tania Pouwhare has been working alongside other Fellows to establish a minority supplier diversity body modelled on Supply Nation in Australia.
“The best thing about the Fellowship is the other Fellows. The collaborations with other Fellows are values-led; we’re doing these things together because we have shared values and vision, and, most importantly, we trust each other absolutely,” Pouwhare said.
For Shane Webster, the General Manager of Regions at Jawun, the Fellowship has allowed him to take time to reflect on and experiment with major social change ideas and projects.
Webster realised there is a need to build digital capacity within the organisations he was working with, which led him to focus his Fellowship social change project on Indigenous digital empowerment.
“As a Senior Fellow, my experience is translating into major changes in my projects,” he said.
“The opportunity to meet and collaborate with Fellows has had a transformative impact on how I approach systemic change. It is still early days though; the real social impact will come as we grow our network with future cohorts and collaborate to develop project ideas through to implementation.”
Professor Elizabeth McKinley, Executive Director of AFSE and Professor of Indigenous Education at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, said the AFSE program is needed now more than ever.
“With many people protesting around the world calling for social change, the AFSE program will foster Fellows’ capacity to accelerate the change needed for Indigenous communities to build a society in which we all wish to live,” said Professor McKinley.
“We are working for Indigenous-led social change to build on the incredible strength, resilience, knowledge and understandings Indigenous people bring to the world.”
The Atlantic Fellows for Social Equity is one of seven global and interconnected Atlantic Fellows programs to which the foundation, The Atlantic Philanthropies, has committed more than $US660 million worldwide.
Established by American/Irish businessman Chuck Feeney, the co-founder of the Duty Free Shoppers Group, Atlantic Philanthropies has given away US$8 billion over the course of Mr Feeney’s lifetime, largely anonymously.
Atlantic Fellows for Social Equity (AFSE) is calling for Indigenous and non-Indigenous applicants in Australia and New Zealand to apply for the program. Applications are now open. You can check eligibility and find out more about how to apply at: socialequity.atlanticfellows.org/apply.