Ever wondered what it's like to leave your desk job and travel thousands of kilometres to work in a remote Aboriginal community? Andrew Wegman, an Analyst in Macquarie Capital's Infrastructure and Energy team, did just that.
As an Analyst in the Macquarie Capital Infrastructure and Energy team in Melbourne, Andrew Wegman first heard about Jawun in 2015 when he was part of the Macquarie Summer Internship Program. In 2017, Andrew was working as a graduate in the infrastructure and energy team, when Jawun again piqued his interest.
Since 2014, 25 Macquarie employees have chosen to go on secondment with Jawun, a not-for-profit organisation that partners with Indigenous communities. Its aim is to empower Indigenous-led change to foster meaningful connections between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Andrew put his hand up for the chance to spend time in the East Kimberley and is the most recent Macquarie secondee on the Jawun program.
“Jawun struck me as a really good way to give back to the community," Andrew says. “It's one of the things that differentiates Macquarie – they give individuals the chance to broaden their experience."
Experiencing life in a remote community
While he had traveled to remote areas in other countries, Andrew had never spent any time in remote Australian communities before the secondment.
"Kununurra almost defines remote but the town itself was more developed than I had imagined. It was a real adjustment - going from working in a Melbourne office in a suit and tie to heading into the outback. I tried to go in with relatively few expectations."
Remote communities often need to develop proposals to apply for funding, but there are limited resources available. This is one of the ways Jawun helps by bringing the expertise needed to get the proposals started, while also training people in the skills they require to take projects forward.
Andrew worked with MG Corporation, the native title body for the East Kimberley region, developing a proposal to explore options for improving Aboriginal housing outcomes and increasing home ownership.
"MG Corporation is committed to building a strong economic and social base for Aboriginal people. Housing can form a key part of that by providing stability and structure for those within the community," explains Andrew. “Home ownership is a complex and challenging goal for many people, particularly in remote regions that often face additional headwinds. But it can have profound benefits."
Applying skills in a different context
Andrew says the community in which he was working faced a complex web of challenges.
"Layered on top of one another are issues like intergenerational trauma, unemployment, cycles of poverty, and substance abuse. There's also high rates of suicide and mental health issues," Andrew explains. “Kununurra is really grappling with these things and how to support the community. The housing proposal, and home ownership, is tied into these challenges." However, even though on the face of it there were few similarities between his work at Macquarie and that at Jawun, he was able to draw on many of the same skills.
"The skillset that I used was developed at Macquarie, but I had never applied it in the context of a remote community, with different goals and outcomes," says Andrew. “That's one of the real benefits of Jawun, that you can take those skills and use them to give back."
Learning from each other
Andrew taught practical sessions in using Excel, as well as helping put together a proposal for a land distribution policy. But he felt he learnt even more from his new colleagues.
"I got an incredible amount out of the project by engaging with the community, learning from the community, and being really open to other people learning about me and the world I come from. I made lifelong connections with people I would rarely come across in my normal day to day life and I'm lucky to count them as friends now."
It wasn't all work either. Most weeks Andrew went fishing with elder, Ben Ward, played footy for the Waringarri Crows, and volunteered with a local educational organisation.
Working together on the challenges
"There are complex social issues at play, yet there's still a real sense of optimism and resilience," Andrew says. "It's important to acknowledge that we're not going to solve all of these challenges but if we work together we may solve most of them."
Living in a remote community has challenges, like high crime rates and isolation, but Andrew says the biggest challenge he faced personally was being exposed to diverse ideas and remaining open minded.
"The biggest challenge was learning to understand a very different way of life with a very different set of values," Andrew says. “The secondment allowed me to learn a new set of skills that may not be at face value directly relevant to M&A work I do. It's given me new ways to think about myself and the way I relate to people."