Walking beside our First Nations People - Supporting Indigenous-led change through the gift of time

Roche acknowledges First Nations People as the Traditional Owners of the land on which our Sydney headquarters is based, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.

For Libby Hewitt (Rare Conditions Partner, Huntington's Disease) and Kym Short (Chapter Lead, Compliance Partners), a unique opportunity to spend six weeks immersed in Indigenous organisations, working with First Nations People and developing a deeper understanding of history and culture, was one they could not pass up. As part of Roche’s reconciliation strategy, the company is partnering with Jawun, a non-profit organisation, facilitating corporate and government organisations coming together with Indigenous people to affect real change. Libby and Kym became Roche’s first two secondees to participate in an immersive, hands-on and rewarding secondment program.

"It's a very magnanimous thing of your employer to gift your time to an organisation; you don't often get those opportunities in life, so I was very keen to contribute to something so worthwhile," says Libby. "As a New Zealander, I'm fascinated by Indigenous Australian culture. I was also so impressed by the Jawun model. It's the most amazing networking business model I've seen and I really wanted to learn more about it."

Kym adds: "I was delighted to be selected for the Jawun secondment. I believe opportunities present themselves in your life when they're meant to; and for me, it was the right time, from both a professional and personal perspective. I also wanted to increase my awareness and education on Indigenous and First Nations Peoples' issues; to dig deeper into closing the gap and reconciliation, and understand why we are still not able to make significant progress in this area."

Jawun (which means 'friend' in the Kuku Yalanji language of Mossman Gorge) is focused on empowering Indigenous-led change and fostering meaningful connections between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

To drive real change, Jawun's Indigenous partner organisations – located in 12 regions across Australia – identify the specific needs or goals in their local communities. Jawun then places secondees from both corporate and government sectors that are matched to these desired skills and expertise, who can help the organisations advance important local initiatives and projects.

The Jawun model typically sees secondees relocate to live and work within their host community for the duration of the six-week program. While Libby and Kym were due to be on the ground in their allocated communities - Libby in La Perouse, NSW & Kym in Alice Springs, NT - the COVID-19 border closures and lockdowns across Australia meant both were instead offered the opportunity to support the La Perouse community, virtually.

"I was incredibly disappointed not to be able to go on site and have face-to-face contact, however, the experience was still amazing," says Libby. "Jawun did incredibly well in enriching our experience of Indigenous culture virtually."

"While I would have loved to work and live in Alice Springs for six weeks, it wasn't the primary reason why I applied for the secondment," says Kym. "My desire to service the community, by far out-weighed the opportunity to travel to Central Australia. I wanted to see if I could help to make an impact, so I was determined to follow through on this commitment."

With Roche being its first secondment partner from the pharmaceutical industry, Jawun was able to tap into this specialist healthcare knowledge and expertise to support two important health and wellbeing projects in the La Perouse community.

"The strength of our model of engagement is that we are Indigenous-led, working across sectors to generate shared value for our various partners," says Jawun Regional Director for Inner Sydney, Ed Morris. "We bring corporate, government and Indigenous leaders together to share their skills and knowledge, to create real change that is built on understanding, respect and trust. We place around 400 secondees into these Indigenous partner organisations each year, but this was the first time we've had participants from the pharmaceutical industry. With Libby and Kym's involvement, we were able to establish foundations to address critical healthcare and early childhood needs in the La Perouse community."

Libby's project for Gamayngal Health involved undertaking a comprehensive assessment and plan for establishing a viable and sustainable local Aboriginal medical service that could meet the complex healthcare needs of the local community.

"There are health issues endemic to Indigenous Australians that are representative in La Perouse, as they would be anywhere. There's a really strong sense of care for the health of the community, and concern that its health needs are not being serviced adequately – which means health outcomes will get worse unless they can actually tackle some of the key issues, such as the absence of an onsite GP service," says Libby.

Kym's skill set was perfectly suited to support Gujaga Childcare, which needed to establish robust frameworks, policies and processes to meet compliance standards, with a particular focus on children's health and safety; staffing arrangements; and continuous quality improvement.

"It was an eye-opening experience. First Nations People have a lovely unique cultural view on some key concepts," says Kym. "For example, sustainability can also focus on preserving toys and equipment from previous generations, to ensure they can be used for many years to come – rather than discarding them when they are old or outdated. Limiting waste, reusing materials, and caring for what they already have; as well as being culturally aware of sustainability practices that have served them well for many generations, are all natural parts of their lives. It was clear waste was not an option, and this was front and centre of their daily practices."

While both successfully delivered their projects at the end of the six-week program, the opportunity to immerse themselves in Indigenous history and culture and work directly with people from the La Perouse community, was the most rewarding part of the experience for Libby & Kym.

"I'm so grateful for the experience Jawun provided; I feel like I have gained so much more than I have given," says Libby. "First Nations People have a formidable dignity and resilience, which shouldn't surprise us as they are the longest surviving civilisation on earth."

For Kym, the experience also came with enormous responsibility: "It's clear we have not done a great job with supporting First Nations People, their history, storytelling, health, education or wellbeing – the statistics speak for themselves. First Nations People have earned their seat at the table; we must pull out the chair and ask them to sit down. Education and compassion is key, and listening will be paramount to success."

Roche has been a proud secondment partner of Jawun since 2020.

Libby's highlights

If I had to choose one word to describe my whole Jawun experience, it would be joyous. It was so uplifting to interact with such interesting, good people; who are focused on the future, on the young and on making a better world. Most people wouldn't even know this wonderful stuff is going on; there are people day after day doing amazing things in their communities.

What I learnt: First Nations People have an incredible connection to their environment; it's just amazing. It feels like it is in their DNA; such a deep attachment to earth and sky and sea. I was also in awe of the patience shown by First Nations People in their endeavours towards constitutional change. Their view of ‘time’ seems governed by a focus on improving life for those who come after them, and bringing forward the learnings from the past into the ‘here and now’. They have resolute belief in their own resilience, survival, place and culture.

My final thoughts: We shouldn't make the patience of First Nations People our excuse for ignorance, we need to be active. We need to wake up and do what's right, even though it's not going to be easy. The situation faced by Indigenous Australians is only going to change if we actually step up with them and make it happen. That means supporting the community; it doesn't mean just waxing on about it, it means doing something about it.

Kym's highlights

I fully immersed myself in the experience and felt like I belonged from the very beginning. I think that is their gift; they give you that feeling. I never thought that I was in the wrong place. I did have fear in my head that I couldn't do what they wanted me to do, but they never had that fear – they had absolute faith I could deliver what they needed. It also gave me a renewed sense of working, reinforcing the value of relationships and integrating both the task and people in a balanced way, rather than just execution of the project.

What I learnt: The importance of earning and building trust – and not a work-based trust that comes from delivering a project, but rather a personal trust that comes from sharing and being open about yourself. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a harsh reminder that relationships are really important, because we missed them. So, building meaningful relationships which ultimately lead to trust is paramount, and is an honour to earn. I also saw the benefit of slowing down and enjoying the experience. In the corporate world, we're so used to going at a fast pace, that we don't slow down and get perspective. In First Nations culture, it's not about doing things quickly. It's about making sure what you do is considered and meaningful.

My final thoughts: Indigenous communities are on a long-term journey for recognition and respect. You can't just walk in there and say we're going to implement change; they've heard it too many times, they're exhausted from it. It's about committing and walking alongside them. The Jawun model creates a bridge, ensuring what’s delivered is Indigenous-led change. That's where Jawun really comes into its own.

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