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New WA employment hub invests in Indigenous business

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A new multi-million dollar employment hub in Perth could be the answer to soaring demand for Indigenous business in WA, says Wirrpanda Foundation CEO Lisa Cunningham.

Since 2015, and the introduction of the government’s Indigenous Procurement Policy, demand for Indigenous business has risen rapidly.

In 2013, government contracts were awarded to just thirty Indigenous businesses totalling $6.2 million. This year, 1470 Indigenous businesses have been hired to manage Commonwealth contracts worth a hefty $1.83 billion.

And now, the West Australian Indigenous Business and Employment Hub (WAIBEH) will open to the public in 2020.

“WAIBEH will provide an incredible collaborative space for networking, opportunities and growth,” says Cunningham.

“It’s a one-stop shop for business, Indigenous businesses and job seekers in WA.”

WAIBEH is a partnership between the Wirrpanda Foundation and the Federal Government and will focus on helping Indigenous businesses become self-sustainable and competitive. It will offer mentoring, workshops and training and provide businesses, job seekers and entrepreneurs with industry links, advice, support and office space to improve collaboration and growth.

Portrait of Lisa CunninghamCunningham is hopeful it will further boost Indigenous employment.

“The work we do at the Wirrpanda Foundation to enhance Indigenous access to education and employment is really valuable,” she says.

The organisation was launched in 2005 by former West Coast Eagles player David Wirrpanda and focuses on improving the quality of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Cunningham, a Curtin education graduate, has led the organisation since 2007. She is a firm believer in the power of education to change lives.

“Education, in particular early education, is critical for personal development and access to employment,” she says.

“Five years ago, we had a young woman who was working as our receptionist. But she really wanted to be a boilermaker welder. We found her a pre-apprenticeship, followed by an apprenticeship and now she is a qualified tradesperson.

“Her career success has had a huge impact on her family and lifted her up as a role model in her community.”

The busy CEO says a vital component behind Wirrpanda’s success is trust from the community.

“Trust and respect are very important to the Wirrpanda Foundation,” she says.

“For example, years ago we had a fly-in fly-out model. But we quickly realised we didn’t want to be seen telling people what to do and then flying out. Now we only employ local team members in our regional programs who are connected to – and respected by – the community.”

Programs offered by the Wirrpanda Foundation include cross-cultural training, support and youth mentoring, school retention and access to employment services. Many have gained national recognition.

The popular ‘Deadly Sista Girlz’ sessions aim to engage, educate and empower Indigenous teenage girls to make better choices on their health and future. Topics include leadership, fitness, goal setting, mental health, financial literacy, and drug and alcohol education. The program was honoured with a coveted Deadly Award for Excellence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education.

“It was an incredibly proud moment for all the staff, especially the women who work in this program,” Cunningham says.

“The Deadly Sista Girlz program continues to grow, and winning these high-profile awards opens doors to additional funding and support.”

The Curtin graduate credits her education degree with helping her forge a path in the not-for-profit space.

“Education is not just about teaching in a school,” Cunningham says. “There are a variety of career paths. My education degree has offered me an incredible career.”

She says her proudest career achievement to date is leading the growth of the Wirrpanda Foundation.

“We started out with just three people and one local program,” she says. “Today, we have 90 employees, eighty-seven per cent of whom are Indigenous, and multiple programs across the country that make a real difference.”

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Did you know?

  • Since 2005, the Wirrpanda Foundation has reached more than 45,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People nationally.
  • Programs run in Perth, regional Western Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, ACT and Queensland.
  • The Wirrpanda Foundation has assisted 700 jobseekers in finding employment and provides ongoing mentoring to employers and participants.
  • Deadly Sista Girlz has reached more than 4,000 Indigenous girls and is delivered to 21 sites nationally.
  • The Wirra Club, focused on school retention, has engaged more than 15,000 children.
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