Australia & Canada: Peer-to-peer exchange

It was a crisp autumn day in the little mountain village were I live in Canada. I walked through piles of brightly coloured leaves, as more floated down around me in shades of gold, orange, red, and green. I daydreamed of bear burrowing down into snug dens to doze away the snow bound winter.

While my friends were busily waxing their snowboards and sharpening their ice skates, I was on the search for some industrial strength sun block – strong enough to allow me to brave the merciless Australian climate. The rich scent of possibility was in the air.

I had just won the Australian Endeavour Executive Award to spend two months, of sultry Australian summer as opposed to frigid Canadian winter, working with SVA. The Award provided professional development opportunities for “high achievers” in business, industry, education or government from a range of countries to further develop their skills and knowledge, deepen professional engagements, strengthen mutual understanding and build linkages and networks between the people of Australia and the Award holders’ host countries. It’s hoped that on returning to their home country, the Award holders would share their updated skills and knowledge with colleagues. I was the only Canadian to win the Award this year and it was an exceptional opportunity, arriving at just the right time.

Pictured here are some of the graduates chosen by the Aboriginal Human Resource Council to attend Inclusion Works ’10, an event gathering 565 business leaders, HR professionals, Aboriginal employment officers, Aboriginal business representatives, students, career practitioners, school administrators/teachers and many others in Toronto for three days in April 2010.

I’d been researching the development of a newly formed charitable arm for the Aboriginal Human Resource Council. The council was formed in 1998 as a national not-for-profit organisation, with a mandate to advance the full participation of Aboriginal people in the Canadian economy and to work towards the creation of a more inclusive society. After 12 years of working with employers to assist them in becoming workplaces of choice for Aboriginal talent, we were now ready to use our experience and networks through our charitable organisation, the Indigenous Inclusion Foundation (working name), to assist Aboriginal people in developing the holistic personal and professional skills needed to enter into and thrive in the workplace. We planned to use our national network and Aboriginal lens to identify innovative, grassroots service providers that we might assist in going to scale -organisations that were working to close the unacceptable socio-economic gap between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal population in Canada and to meet the real needs of our Aboriginal peoples.

SVA was a perfect fit – an exceptional model of best practice and innovation and I was delighted to be able to spend two months working with them. What I did not anticipate, however, was just how much synergy there was between the SVA experience and our council’s, both where we had been and where we strived to go. The synergism could be found in any number of areas, from the range of social investment models explored by SVA like social impact bonds and the SVA Future Trust, (approaches which could be valuable additions to our financial sustainability and which we are now discussing with our partners to develop), to our shared belief in the importance of in-depth Social Return on Investment (SROI) reporting, and a recognition from the SVA experience and expertise, that we at the council should strengthen our SROI work.

The gracious hospitality and generosity of the SVA staff in sharing their expertise, making their networks available and finding time in their busy schedules to meet with me was more than I could have anticipated. This interest and openness to share and learn was also delightfully evident in every person I met with, including leaders from Ganbina, Reconciliation Australia, Rio Tinto Aboriginal Foundation, Career Trackers and AIME. I was getting many exciting and innovative answers, but found myself with only more questions to ask. It was a good kind of problem to have.

The heart of the matter, for me, was that the experience far exceeded my personal and professional expectations. Two months was too short a time for this work; but I am very and sincerely grateful for the privileged opportunity to meet and work with the passionate, dedicated change-makers of the SVA team and its network. I am also very gratified that firm commitments have been made to collaborate with SVA and many in its network in the future. Emails continue to be exchanged daily, conference calls have been scheduled and I can look forward to greeting Adrian Appo from Ganbina on Canadian soil this northern hemisphere summer! The network grows and all of our work is stronger for it. It is exciting to know that such educated and empowered leaders are passionately working towards positive social change and sustainable development in our quest for better living for all.

I am back in Canada now and miss the gentle sea breeze from your fabulous beaches, the laughing call of the kookaburra, the forever incongruous, (to me!) sight of kangaroos hopping languidly through the eucalyptus trees, and so much more. Here the snow is gone in the valleys and the bear are groggily meandering around in their slow twilight of awakening. My visit to Australia was a fabulous experience and I look forward to strengthening the relationships I’ve made further and applying many of my new insights for the betterment of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples.

With best wishes,

Dana Reiter