In 2013, the Willum Warrain Gathering Place in Hastings sought a volunteer with appropriate skills and experience to work with them to develop policies, governance structures and funding options. Russell Jaffe volunteered to do the work through what is now known as ‘Community First Development’, originally ‘Indigenous Community Volunteers’. Since then, Russell has continued to work with Willum Warrain to develop a Strategic Plan which then led to a contract to develop a ‘Master Plan’ for the future of the organisation. The later involving significant community consultation and input from different Traditional Owner groups.
Russell’s approach has been to work in partnership with the Board and staff at their pace, taking directions and guidance from their aspirations, needs and requests. As the organisation has grown, the work has included providing resources and materials for development of organisational policies and process; facilitating the development of strategic plans and working work with the Board to define their roles and responsibilities, and to be available as a sounding board when needed.
Important to the ongoing relationship has been the maintenance of clear boundaries which respect the self determination of the Gathering Place only providing advice and materials and assisting in negotiations with the local Shire within the given mandate. Over time as the relationship has developed and strengthened there has been room for more free-flowing advice and counsel.
Aboriginal organisations can be wary of outside people who come to them for a short period, provide a service, and then disappear. The value of a years-long relationship was demonstrated as the volunteer/consultant’s advice and input was sought more and more. The knowledge and trusted relationship built over time was especially valuable in the development of the Master Plan, which involved helping to reconcile the varying perspectives of different stakeholders.
A fundamental requirement in undertaking working with Aboriginal groups is an understanding of the injustices perpetuated on their communities and the subsequent disadvantage which prevails across their populations coupled with a strong belief in Aboriginal self-determination.