Building wellbeing through culture and empowerment

By: Rod Reeve   |   Managing Director at Ninti One

For decades, governments and other decision makers have framed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs as a ‘problem’ to be solved.

The Ninti One-managed Cooperative Research Centre for Remote Economic Participation has developed an evidence base that illustrates that taking a ‘strengths-based’ approach that incorporates culture and local empowerment is critical to strengthening the wellbeing of remote Aboriginal communities. 

The 7-year research effort demonstrates that wellbeing is measurably improved when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ cultural authority is recognised and communities have significant influence in designing, implementing and assessing philanthropic programs.

The Interplay Wellbeing Framework is a practical tool which provides community voices in assessing the impact of investments and programs.  It builds on strengths and provides holistic measures of wellbeing which combine community views and quantitative data.

The Framework – launched in early 2017 at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet – was developed in a ‘shared space’ involving community members as well as researchers and government officers, led by the Centre for Remote Health’s Associate Professor Sheree Cairney. Community members have been enthusiastic advocates of the benefits of ensuring programs and investments are underpinned by strong culture and community control.

Our research emphased the critical role of culture and empowerment in the achievement of wellbeing. For example, Aboriginal literacy has a direct positive impact on wellbeing; and other cultural factors appear to have equally important impacts on wellbeing (often indirect). These include learning about culture at school, strong links between the community and school, learning in one’s first language at school, practicing culture through ‘caring for country’ and hunting for food sources, together with the importance of law and ceremony in one’s life.

A key intended outcome of this initiative was increased impact from philanthropic investment in activities that demonstrably promote local empowerment with embedded cultural values.

In good news for government and philanthropists alike, these findings highlight that ‘close the gap’ on the priority areas of education, employment, health and wellbeing can indeed be achieved through policies and programs that build from the Aboriginal priority areas of culture, empowerment and community, such as the Empowered Communities program.

The Interplay Wellbeing Framework is being used collaboratively with the CAGES Foundation, other philanthropists and their partners to measure improvements in wellbeing of remote Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander communities associated with their investments and approaches.

“The Interplay Wellbeing Framework aligns perfectly with what we have learnt from the communities we support which is that culture, country and language are central to wellbing. We also appreciate the importance of developing this tool in a ‘shared space’ which ensures that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are leaders, designers and deliverers of tools like this in and for their communities.” Rachel Kerry, CAGES Foundation.

Rod Reeve can be contacted a You can learn more about the Interplay project research at You can read more about the relationships and see videos of community members here.

Aug. 15, 2017

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