Malpa is an Aboriginal controlled organisation that promotes health and wellbeing among Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal young people and communities.

Malpa’s Young Doctor projects work with communities to teach Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children, aged 9 to 11, to be health ambassadors and positive role models within their communities. Communities use a mix of traditional and contemporary approaches to creating good health to design and run their own projects. Each program is supported by local health, education and cultural leaders. At the end of 2017 there were over 1,000 Young Doctors.

Venture mission

Malpa is a Warlpiri word which means ‘friends on the journey’. The Young Doctor model is built on the traditional practice of selecting young people within a community to become healers (doctors). These Young Doctors become positive role models and sources of leadership to their peers and community, leading to the development of career aspirations aligned to strengthening their local community.

Malpa aims to create young people who will have ‘clear heads, strong hearts and long lives’. By placing Aboriginal culture at the core of the Young Doctor projects, young people and communities are empowered to take control of their destiny and lead positive change. Each project is adapted to the needs of its community. Program activities are designed to reflect the key Malpa themes of leadership, health literacy, nutrition, hygiene, environmental health, and well-being and identity.

Goal of SVA partnership

SVA is supporting Malpa to strengthen its program and organisational foundations to better support communities to lead inclusive health and wellbeing initiatives. Through strengthening organisational foundations, Malpa will have a strong platform from which to scale.

SVA support

‘Through Malpa, young people grow up with a sense of responsibility, cultural identity, and aspirations that support their engagement with education opportunities. Our partnership with SVA has the potential to empower more young people, provide a cultural connection between mainstream health services and Aboriginal Peoples, create stronger communities and advance reconciliation.’

Don Palmer, CEO of Malpa


Malpa joined the SVA venture philanthropy portfolio in July 2017.

Case study - Training young doctors to Close the Gap

Five years ago, Malpa founder Don Palmer was visiting an Aboriginal community in Alice springs, and the level of sickness and general poor health experienced by people shocked him.

He spoke with the community’s Elders and asked how this happened. The Elders spoke about how health interventions don’t consider the Aboriginal way, or seriously involve Aboriginal people.

For Aboriginal communities health knowledge has traditionally been passed down from those with knowledge to a few young children, who have the right outlook, aptitude and attitude. These children then grow up with the knowledge, and sense of responsibility, necessary to improve the health and wellbeing of their community.

Malpa’s Young Doctor project draws upon this traditional knowledge, and western practice of medicine, to improve health outcomes in Aboriginal communities. To date the program has taught more than 1,000 Young Doctors, between the ages of nine and 11, to be health ambassadors and positive role models within their communities.

And it’s having an impact. Palmer gives the example of a young Dhalayi Doctor in Kempsey who was a reluctant participant in the project. He’d long been disruptive in mainstream class. He began the 15-week course in grade four, and would make trouble in nearly every session. When the program came to an end he asked to continue to participate.

‘Next time around he was outside the meeting room often fifteen minutes early and asking how he could help.’

‘He became something of a role model to the other Dhalayi Doctors. At the end of last year he was elected by his fellow students as head student.’