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RAP Working Group Spotlight – The role of business in reconciliation, collaboration and strengthening bonds

In conversation with Mike Butler, UrbOriginal First Nations Consultant.

In a world striving for inclusivity and genuine connections, Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs) stand as pivotal documents for businesses and organisations in Australia. These plans focus on bridging the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the broader Australian population. 

Understanding Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs)

A Reconciliation Action Plan is a corporate document, steering organisations toward actively participating in the process of reconciliation in Australia. It’s not merely a document, but a commitment to reshaping perspectives and creating meaningful change. 

RAPs promote collaborative relationships with First Nations Australians by seamlessly incorporating the history and values of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities into the core framework of businesses, urging them to adopt practical strategies for advancing reconciliation within their spheres of influence.

Why Should Businesses Get Involved?

Mike Butler, BROOKS’ First Nations consultant, emphasises the imperative role of businesses in reconciliation. Historically, Indigenous groups faced barriers in economic participation, often working without pay or under unfair conditions. Integrating businesses into the reconciliation process represents a crucial step toward rectifying these injustices.

Engaging businesses in reconciliation isn’t just about meeting social responsibilities; it’s about fostering tangible results. Thousands of businesses have seen the positive impact on their operations and culture through adopting RAPs. It’s a transformative journey that enriches the organisational structure and offers a fresh perspective on business operations.

Guiding Companies through Reconciliation

The RAP process allows for the dissemination of Aboriginal knowledge, unveiling a treasure trove of wisdom often overlooked. By infusing Aboriginal concepts into business settings, a shift occurs, enriching the organisation’s internal culture and fostering a deeper understanding of Australia’s history. 

“I love the continuous learning process and cherish the opportunity to share my Aboriginal knowledge with the businesses I engage with. There’s a wealth of timeless wisdom that’s been here all along, often unseen, and I find immense joy in unveiling and sharing that. Connecting with individuals in these working groups is equally rewarding; they’re genuinely good-hearted people,” said Mike.

Truth-telling is often a confronting process. There is a lot of ugly stuff in Australia’s history of colonisation. Often, people need time to absorb and reflect on what they’ve learned. 

“It’s not about guilt-tripping people; it’s about providing knowledge. During our RAP Working Groups, I encourage people to take a moment, reflect, and form their own perspectives. When approached with reason and openness, this process often leads to positive insights,” said Mike.

BROOKS RAP Working Group meet monthly to discuss and reflect on how they can support First Nations Australians

The BROOKS RAP Working Group: A Genuine Approach to Reconciliation

Over the past two years, the BROOKS RAP Working Group has endeavoured to meet regularly, carving our space each month to listen, reflect and ask questions about what reconciliation means for the company as community engagement practitioners. 

An initiative which was highly successful this year was the BROOKS RAP Presentations, where each staff member gave a presentation on whatever topic they wanted to talk about relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs. 

“As the only Aboriginal person in the group, there’s a natural sort of tendency for me to lead the group and deliver a lot of stuff,” said Mike. “The staff presentations helped to disrupt this dynamic, creating a culture of collaboration and shared learning. It felt more like a traditional Aboriginal yarning circle than a lecture.”

String Making: Metaphor for Collaboration

During a recent RAP meeting, the BROOKS RAP Working Group participated in a string making workshop—a skill that Mike had acquired from the Dharug community. This seemingly simple craft embodies a profound metaphor within Aboriginal culture. The act of twisting strands of stringy bark into a strong rope mirrors the strength found in unity and friendship. It symbolises the idea that together, individuals become stronger, a sentiment deeply embedded in Aboriginal wisdom.

String making isn’t just about crafting; it’s a communal activity fostering connections and conversations. This process mirrors the essence of yarning, a term denoting conversation and sharing within Aboriginal culture. Such activities create a comfortable environment, encouraging inclusivity and diverse voices, vital elements often overlooked in community engagements.

Simple rituals, like sitting in a circle and engaging in activities like string making, serve as powerful tools for inclusion. They encourage individuals to see beyond their immediate circles, promoting a broader understanding of community and fostering collaboration.

Lance Brooks and Rebecca Hansson learn how to make friendship bracelets with stringybark.

At BROOKS Community Engagement, our engagement approach seamlessly integrates with the RAP process, reflecting our shared dedication to cultivating authentic connections, a sense of belonging, and unity.

We recognise that effective community engagement goes beyond merely ticking a box and fulfilling legislative requirements. Rather, we believe that fostering genuine relationships and creating safe spaces for a diversity of voices to be heard is critical for effective decision-making and collaboration.

Our participation in the RAP process has significantly enriched BROOKS Community Engagement. As we move into the next stage, ‘Innovate,’ next year, we eagerly anticipate further growth and development through continued commitment to the RAP journey.