Skilled volunteering in practice: NAB and Jawun
For the intrepid employee, skilled volunteering offers a deeper level of immersion. On volunteering secondments, volunteers break out of their comfort zones and challenge not only their professional adaptability, but their preconceived notions life for communities dealing with social inequality. Jawun is an Indigenous support organisation that works with major corporations to supply Indigenous community projects with skilled volunteers to spearhead capacity building.
Fiona Page, NAB people and culture business partner VIC/TAS, spent five weeks volunteering as the HR manager for the Gawooleng Yawoodeng Aboriginal Corporation in the East Kimberleys, a women’s refuge that provides crisis accommodation and support for women and children escaping domestic violence.
“To me it was a fantastic opportunity to apply my skills in a context that is completely different from my norm,” Page says. “It was about testing myself and learning about our indigenous population, learning about being able to influence people, and being influenced myself.”
As an HR expert, Page’s first priority was to apply the new state award to all employee contracts. “None of their employees had employment contracts,” she says. “I had a look at the new award, what benefits people were getting, what we needed to transition them to and then drew up employment contracts for the team.
“From there it grew into developing a range of basic HR policies and procedures for them to use going forward. Everything from annual leave policies to performance management.”
Page added to her own skill set by documenting broader business policies including the process used to admit women to the refuge. “A lot of that was just in their heads and they operated fairly well, but as the team continued to grow it was becoming problematic,” Page explains. “At the end of my time there they had a handbook of policies and procedures that they could update and build on as they needed to, and they all had employment contracts.”
When the focus is capacity building, but the schedule is tight, it’s a balancing act to get instruction vs implementation correct. “It’s the classic consulting conundrum,” Page confirms. “How much time do I spend with the individuals taking them through what is really some dry stuff, versus doing it for them and hoping they carry on later?”
“Some of the policies and procedures will not really be tested until they have to be used. It would have been nice to stick around a little bit longer and see them embed that.”
For Page, her placement was an opportunity to work towards her IDP. She wanted to experience, in some small way, life in a rural indigenous community and see, first-hand, the deplorable issues they face. “I got to learn a lot about what some of our indigenous communities have to deal with, unemployment and domestic violence in particular. It was really eye opening for me,” Page says.
The vehicles for professional and personal growth can be as unexpected and unfamiliar as the experience itself, as Page discovered.
“One thing that was really impressed upon me was how important it is to understand where an individual is coming from. Particularly with Indigenous people, they always want to know ‘where are you from?’, ‘who’s your mob?’, ‘what’s your story?’.
“In the broader context of larger corporations, it is important to understand where somebody is coming from,” Page says. “What’s their basis, where have they been in their career, how has that impacted where they are now and what strengths do they bring to their current situation? That is something I will continue to reflect on and implement with my own team.”
 Australian Bureau of Statistics: Voluntary Work, Australia, 2006