Whole of Community Engagement Initiative
The Whole of Community Engagement (WCE) initiative has been operating through the Office of the Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous Leadership at Charles Darwin University for the past two and half years. This has been supported by the Australian Government through the Higher Education Participation and Partnership Program. The original intent of WCE was to build aspiration and capacity for higher education in selected remote Indigenous communities across the NT. Participating communities included Galiwin’ku, Gunbalanya, Maningrida, Tennant Creek, Yirrkala and Yuendumu. To achieve the aim, a key strategy was the employment of remote Indigenous community-based staff to provide leadership and direction in partnership with campus-based staff. This strategy has ensured that community voice has remained central to activities planned and delivered through WCE. This approach has been fruitful on many levels, particularly over the past twelve months, as relationships have strengthened, community priorities have become clearer, and tangible community-driven actions have surfaced. Key achievements include implementing mentoring programs; strengthening Indigenous school leadership and governance; enhancing youth leadership capability; supporting Indigenous teacher aspirations; raising awareness of further study pathways; improving organisational systems; highlighting Indigenous student success stories; identifying strategies to improve language, literacy and numeracy provision for remote learners; and bringing community stakeholders together to identify opportunities for working together. This has involved more than 100 partnership activities with community-based organisations and schools, and engagement with more than 2500 people.
In late September 2016, the WCE team won an Australian Rural Education Award from the Society for the Provision of Education in Rural Australia (SPERA). The award was for an existing project that demonstrates a proven link between a rural, regional and/or remote school or learning context and the local community, and benefiting a defined group. The award was accepted by Mr David Scholz and Mr Geoffrey Shannon on behalf of the WCE team. The award acknowledged CDU’s strong partnerships with local stakeholders from the six participating communities. This was timely reassurance that the WCE initiative was achieving its aim. It was also worthy recognition of a collective effort that shows the true value of culturally respectful community engagement work aiming to drive positive change. In November, the WCE initiative was also nominated for a 2016 CDU Vice Chancellor’s Award in the general staff team category for exceptional performance.
As 2016 came to an end, the realisation set-in that WCE was also due to wrap up. A great deal of effort was invested into evaluating and finalising community-based activities, disseminating key research findings, and implementing exit strategies in partnership with key community stakeholders in each of the six communities. It was recognised that WCE only marked the beginning of a growing commitment to Indigenous participation in higher education. Many staff finished in their roles throughout December, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our WCE staff members for their contribution over the past two and half years. It has been a challenging, but extremely rewarding experience for most.
However, the WCE initiative is not yet finished. In mid-January we received confirmation from the Australian Government that our request to continue key strategic aspects of WCE throughout 2017 had been approved. This will see further strategic investment in adult English Language, Literacy and Numeracy for remote Indigenous communities. This is an important step in supporting tangible pathways into higher education within the NT.
Whilst this is my last formal contribution as the Program Manager for WCE, I look forward to sustaining the relationships developed through WCE. I also look forward to maintaining a commitment to Indigenous higher education in my new Equity Fellow role.
Written by Associate Professor James Smith