Aboriginal Resource Development Services
Aboriginal Resource Development Services (ARDS) Aboriginal Corporation is a Yolŋu organisation operating across two offices in Nhulunbuy, North-East Arnhem Land, and Darwin in the Northern Territory.
ARDS has a vision that First Nations people – particularly Yolŋu – are able to engage on equal terms with the wider Australian society, and its organisations and systems. To achieve that vision, ARDS works through creative media, research and policy development to span the gap that often exists between the information that mainstream services typically share, and the information First Nations communities want and need.
Like many other non-profit organisations across Australia, ARDS was heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Biodiversity zones were established, preventing ARDS staff from travelling between its offices, or to the Yolŋu communities that it serves across North-East Arnhem Land. ARDS’ ability to deliver a number of its government funded projects was compromised, with a material impact upon its financial health. All of this occurred at a time when ARDS was between CEOs.
Brendan Ferguson, a Director in SVA’s Darwin office, was approached to take on the role of Interim CEO at ARDS. Brendan filled the Interim CEO role for 8 months, whilst balancing existing SVA project commitments, until a permanent CEO was identified and appointed.
To support ARDS through a challenging period, working with ARDS’ Yolŋu Board to establish the foundations of a strong organisation on which a permanent CEO could subsequently build.
The role we played
The role of Interim CEO required a focus on all aspects of the organisation’s health. Specific areas of focus included:
- Stabilising the organisation’s cash flow, primarily through the reallocation of ARDS resources towards Covid-19 health messaging for Yolŋu, and renegotiation of existing funding agreements with the Northern Territory and Australian Governments to account for the pandemic and its restrictions
- Strengthening ARDS’ relationships with stakeholders in the region, including both government agencies and prospective Yolŋu partner organisations
- Clarifying the organisational structure, documenting staff roles and identifying development opportunities for, and with, all Yolŋu and Balanda (non-Indigenous) staff
- Strengthening governance arrangements to secure greater Yolŋu control of the organisation.
During the period of our involvement with the organisation, ARDS’ Board and staff made significant progress in strengthening their organisation, as evidenced by the following achievements:
- ARDS’ cash position was significantly stronger by the end of 2020 than it was at the start of the pandemic, with a large pipeline of work secured for the ’20-21 financial year
- ARDS had secured capital investment in its network of transmitters across Yolŋu homelands, and in its Nhulunbuy office, including a refurbished multimedia studio and the creation of a training facility, opened in November 2020
- ARDS welcomed the Chief Minister to its Nhulunbuy office to launch its Cultural Competence Training package in June 2020, an online and face-to-face, fee for service offering with significant potential to improve the way in which non-Indigenous people engage with Yolŋu in the region and as a source of on-going revenue for ARDS
- At the November AGM, the ARDS Board agreed on changes to its Rule Book to improve its governance arrangements and strengthen Yolŋu control of the organisation.
It has been great to watch the progress that the new CEO, Ben Grimes, has continued to make in partnership with the ARDS Board and staff, across many of the identified areas for improvement. A critical focus for Ben and the Chair, Gawura Wanambi, has been on creating meaningful pathways for Yolŋu staff development in the organisation.
Finally, a very important outcome of this work was the opportunity that Brendan enjoyed to learn about Yolŋu language, culture and gurruṯu (the kinship system). There were learning opportunities both ways, but Brendan undoubtedly benefited most from the experience and in particular, the relationship with Gawura (Gamarraŋ), a connection for which he will be forever grateful.