Filling the indigenous talent pipeline

Down on the floodplain of the Goulburn River, in the regional town of Shepparton, a quiet revolution is taking place.

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There’s a bunch of indigenous kids in that town of 30,000 souls bucking the national averages for dropping out of school and missing out on jobs. Instead of ending up unemployed, they are completing high school, gaining entry to university, winning internship opportunities, and travelling nationally and internationally to meet other inspiring Indigenous leaders.

" It is the most important thing for our community. From education, we can solve the other issues."
Carly Mohamed, law student

The secret weapon these kids have on their side is an independent school-to-work training program called Ganbina. Started by a bunch of local businessmen in 1997, and lead today by Taungurung man, Anthony Cavanagh, Ganbina is setting some astonishing records for success.

For example, in 2014, Ganbina achieved a 100 per cent completion rate for its Year 12 students, according to a recent evaluation of its programs by the Indigenous consulting unit within global accounting firm PwC.


It’s good news for corporate Australia. Many of the 600 companies that have created Reconciliation Action Plans struggle to fill the positions they have promised to Indigenous Australians.

It’s true they have employed almost 30,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, according to Reconciliation Australia. But even with the best will in the world, many companies cannot find enough suitable applicants to achieve their RAP goals. Why?

Ganbina’s chief executive, Anthony Cavanagh, believes there are just not enough Aboriginal kids completing school, getting training and going to university. When they drop out of mainstream education, they can’t get jobs. The statistics speak for themselves, he says.

• Around 46 per cent of Indigenous students do not attain Year 12 or equivalent, compared to 14 per cent of non-Indigenous students.

• Just 39.4 per cent of young Indigenous Australians take part in post-school employment, education or training, compared to 74 per cent of non-Indigenous young people of the same age.

• The number of young Indigenous Australians who are unemployed is nearly double non-Indigenous youth of the same age (31 per cent compared to 16 per cent). 

Finding people who agree on the problem is easy. What’s hard is to find the people who agree about the solutions. This makes Ganbina particularly interesting.

Ganbina began delivering its programs 13 years ago. Since then, it has helped nearly 1,000 young Indigenous Australians finish school, undertake further education or training and secure jobs – real ones that they can keep.

It’s cheap and effective, the report finds, delivering its services for about half the average spend of similar organisations.

“Its program retention rate are the highest by comparison, it achieves gender balance to a greater extent than other considered organisations (42 per cent male participants and 58 per cent female participants) and it reaches the broadest age range of participants (primary school through to 25 years),” the report’s authors write.


Ganbina’s funding model is at the heart of its success, Cavanagh says, as it is solely dependent on and supported by philanthropic and corporate investors, and without any government funding.

“That allows us to be flexible and innovative. Someone can walk in the door and say, ‘Anthony, I want to start my own business.’ This is an actual case. We didn’t have programs that support that kind of initiative, so we are developing one.”

Instead of having to return to government funders to ask for a new contract, Cavanagh can call up any of his investors and “have lunch with them tomorrow.” The Ganbina team decides how the money is spent based on their decades of experience and the needs of participants.

The downside of Ganbina’s financial model is the hard work required to attract ongoing “investment” – a term intended to remind supporters their dollars deliver a real return. The 69 investors listed on the website include everyone who ever donated money or time, no matter how little.

Despite this challenge, the program is gaining momentum. In the past five years, 300 participants have joined. It’s a voluntary program. Without the endorsement of the community and the support of parents, kids wouldn’t take up the opportunity. 

The program achieved a Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 73.6 per cent from participants, their families, local businesses and both the Indigenous and wider community in Shepparton, the PIC evaluation found. 


Lanie Marsters joined Ganbina in Year 7, and is completing Year 12 this year. The young Woorandjeri woman originally from New South Wales, she had always planned to drop out in Year 10.

“I had no motivation at school. I didn’t see the point,” Marsters says. Later, some of the older Aboriginal students at her school told her about Ganbina and its leadership program, which runs from Year 10 to Year 12.

“You have to be at school to be in Ganbina’s leadership program,” Marsters says.That inspired her to join.

Marsters works with a project officer and says the program helps her in a practical way.

“It was the fact Ganbina supported me and did stuff: helped me with school work, paid for it,” she says. She doesn’t know how many Indigenous kids attend her school, but says, “in my year level, it’s less and less.”

Marsters, who want to study journalism, loves the leadership program. In her time with the program she has met with representatives from Ganbina funders, travelled to Uluru to speak with Indigenous leaders, and also travelled to New Zealand to meet with Maori elders.

“We went rafting in Year 10; we have dinners where there is a guest speaker,” she says. “And we went to Rumbalara Aboriginal Cooperative.”

The leadership program is teaching Marsters a lot about her culture. “I only knew what my mum and Nan told me,” says she. “It makes me feel proud and independent.”

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Bethanie Collie went into 'rebel mode' when she hit Year 7. “I hated school. I never did my homework. I was always on detention. I wanted to drop out the first chance I got,” says Collie, whose mother is Gunditjmara and father is Yorta Yorta.

Today, Collie is completing year 12, working through the second year of a traineeship with ANZ bank, and contemplating a university course. What turned her around?

Her sister’s experience helped. “I saw the support they offered her,” says Collie. “She gave me the push. She said even doing the interview would be a good experience.”

From day one of the leadership program, Collie was hooked. She loved meeting the other participants and experienced a sudden burst of confidence.

“I started to enjoy school more,” she says. “The things we learn in Ganbina make us grow up, and be a role model in the school. I wouldn’t want my little sister not doing years 11 and 12.”

Collie’s roles in the most recent annual Ganbina awards night for achievement and leadership illustrate her sense of achievement. Painfully shy when she joined Ganbina, Collie surprised herself by being among the MCs for the awards and delivering a speech.

“The more you do, the more confident you feel,” she says. “I used to be very shy, and I don’t like speaking in public. But afterwards I felt really great.”

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Carly Mohamed always planned to finish school and become a lawyer, inspired by her great grandmother and her father.

“My grandmother always had a focus on her children being educated,” she says. “Even though it was really difficult, she made sure her kids finished year 10. That was enough to make me feel motivated, and then I found I enjoyed school and learning.”

With so much determination, why join Ganbina? Mohamed says the program project officers sought her out, and she found herself attracted by the features of the program.

Although she wanted to go to university, she didn’t actually know the steps involved in realising her goal. Nor did Mohamed realise her law degree opened up options beyond practicing law.

Her experiences in the leadership program fostered a strong interest in her community.

“Ganbina gave me the idea of the broader benefit. It changes my thoughts about the importance of giving back,” she says. As an intern with PwC in Indigenous Consulting, Mohamed is now interested in using her qualification help Indigenous people in business.

This is an inspiring and motivating idea for Mohamed, who enjoyed being introduced to many Indigenous leaders.

“One of the main messages I got from every Indigenous leader is, ‘Whatever you accomplish as university will impact the wider community.’ As a young person you forget,” she says. “You are focused on yourself.”

Now in her second year of law at Monash University, Mohamed says the support she receives helps her manage the difficulties of living in Melbourne, away from her home and family.

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All three young women wish Indigenous schoolchildren across Australia could have the benefit of the Ganbina program to smash through the stereotypes and prove them wrong

As Mohamed says: “I wish they could complete their education.”

“It is the most important thing for our community. From education, we can solve the other issues, like the health gap, for example.”

Kath Walters is a content marketing consultant and freelance journalist

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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