Tags: Community & relationships Mental health Community connectedness Standard of living

“The stories of these Indigenous students are extraordinary, showing that financial barriers continue to be a significant factor in the completion of university studies. If we eliminate that, as we are doing with this type of assistance from Australian Unity, we go some way to ensuring future generations do not continue to experience the same inequities.” – Adjunct Professor Tracy Westerman.

Indigenous students laughing and smiling, sitting at a table outside

For Indigenous youth, removing education barriers and increasing mental health resources has never been more important.

And an Indigenous-owned business is striving to make a difference.

An Australian Unity supply partner, Position Promo is an independent, Aboriginal-owned and operated company that supplies promotional merchandise and apparel. 

Position Promo’s objective is to provide employment opportunities within its business, engaging with other Indigenous-owned organisations and businesses who are also committed to the long-term employment of Indigenous people. All of which support economic participation and inclusion.

One project in particular they’re passionate to support is the Westerman Jilya Institute for Indigenous Mental Health.

Established by Njamal woman and Australian of the Year (WA) 2018, Adjunct Professor Tracy Westerman, the Institute aims to provide clinical and cultural best practice to train, develop and undertake vital research, enabling organisations to meet the needs of high-risk Indigenous communities.

In Australia, the rate of Indigenous suicide is drastically higher than for non-Indigenous people.

Research has shown younger Indigenous people are most at risk, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged between 15 and 24 almost four times more likely to take their own life than non-Indigenous people of the same age.

This greater risk has been linked to, among many things, mental health distress, education barriers, and experiences of racial discrimination.

Creating better outcomes 

For every order that Position Promo receives it invests a percentage of revenue into the Position Promo Social Impact Fund. 

Position Promo then identifies social impact projects that align with their vision to create better outcomes for Indigenous people.

A percentage of the revenue received from the orders placed with Position Promo by Australian Unity has been invested directly with the Westerman Jilya Institute to create Aboriginal student scholarships for up-and-coming Indigenous students studying psychology degrees.

2020 Jilya Scholarship recipients

These students, skilled in Indigenous-specific mental health programs, will then continue their work in remote and rural communities after completing their studies.

“Our highest risk communities have consistently and generationally been our most remote ones,” Dr Westerman says. “A lack of service access is a major factor as noted in successive coronial and parliamentary inquiries.

“The most recent Fogliani Inquiry into the deaths of 13 Indigenous children in the Kimberly noted some shocking realities – first, that none of these children had a mental health assessment. This is something that you would expect to be a basic right of all parents and families. Second, that all of these children and their families experienced ‘system failures’, meaning a lack of access to culturally and clinically appropriate services.

“This scholarship directly addresses what bereaved Indigenous families have been asking for over decades. We have heard these voices and responded in a way that successive Governments have failed.”

Shane Hamilton, Director of Position Promo, says Australian Unity’s partnership has been mutually beneficial during a challenging period that has seen the COVID-19 pandemic affect many businesses.

“Our partnership with Australian Unity has enabled us to expand our offering during a difficult time for many businesses through the COVID 19 period,” he says. “Without their support to partner with us, our revenue would have taken a considerable hit. 

“In addition this has provided additional funding for our Social Impact Fund to enable us to fund initiatives like the Westerman Jilya Institute, to demonstrate that every dollar spent with an Indigenous business has a $4 uplift in spending towards outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander initiatives.”

Karl Whatham, Sourcing Manager – Procurement and Property for Australian Unity, says it’s inspiring to see Position Promo’s Social Impact Fund making such a real difference.

“It’s very pleasing, Position Promo has done a tremendous job of partnering on these initiatives and telling the story of the impact,” he says. “They are responsive, professional and proactive, and they also align with our values in terms of their community and wellbeing focus.”

Education the key

As part of the Institute’s aims, Dr Westerman is pushing to eliminate one very real barrier to Indigenous people studying at university – the financial barrier.

Dr Westerman with scholarship winner Taylor-Jai McAlister

“The support has been absolutely critical to that end goal,” she says. “It is the reality that not all of us start out in life on an equal playing field. Education is a significant life equaliser. 

“The stories of these Indigenous students are extraordinary, showing that financial barriers continue to be a significant factor in the completion of university studies. If we eliminate that, as we are doing with this type of assistance from Australian Unity, we go some way to ensuring future generations do not continue to experience the same inequities. 

“I am so personally thankful for this support; in a field such as suicide prevention and mental health we see so few tangible and positive outcomes sadly. 

“Australian Unity’s partnership with Position Promo has enabled immediate benefits to occur in our highest risk, most vulnerable communities and in a way that is clearly impactful. Our scholarship program responds to the needs of bereaved Indigenous families who have frankly been neglected by Government over decades, including having access to the essential, psychological services that every Australian should have a basic right to.” 

For more information on the Westerman Jilya Institute for Indigenous Mental Health, click here.

Both Position Promo and Australian Unity are part of Supply Nation, which connects companies with Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander businesses and suppliers. In December 2019 Australian Unity also became a member of Social Traders. Social Traders operates to broker relationships between social enterprises and business and government buyers.

Australian Unity is committed to supplier diversity through identifying and fostering mutually beneficial relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses and social enterprises. Strong relationships enable our business to engage and actively build capabilities within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses and social enterprises across Australia leading to positive social and economic outcomes.