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Kicking Goals for Indigenous Youth

20 December 2013 at 10:02 am
Staff Reporter
Work through the AFL has led WA-based Not for Profit leader, Lisa Cunningham, to help form a national organisation that empowers indigenous youth. Cunningham is this week's Changemaker.

Staff Reporter | 20 December 2013 at 10:02 am


Kicking Goals for Indigenous Youth
20 December 2013 at 10:02 am

Work through the AFL has led WA-based Not for Profit leader, Lisa Cunningham, to help form a national organisation that empowers indigenous youth. Cunningham is this week's Changemaker.

Cunningham started her career in the Not for Profit sector 14 years ago as WA State Manager of AFLSportsready – a national, independent Not for Profit employment and education company.

Through her work with the organisation she met former West Coast Eagles football player David Wirrpanda. When Wirrpanda started his own Not for Profit, the David Wirrpanda Foundation (now known as the Wirrpanda Foundation), in 2005, Cunningham was asked to apply for the Chief Executive Officer position by West Coast Eagles Football Club CEO and Wirrpanda Foundation board member Trevor Nisbett.

Her application was successful and since then has led the Foundation, which aims to improve the quality of life for Aboriginal people by promoting strong role models and healthy life choices.

From its humble beginnings, which included one Western Australian program and about three staff members, the Wirrpanda Foundation has now gone national with about 40 staff members and a team of volunteers.

This year the Foundation’s Deadly Sista Girlz program, a mentor program that engages, inspires and empowers Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls between the ages of 8 and 17 years, won the 2013 Deadly Award for Excellence in Education.

What are you currently working on in your organisation?

We provide health, wellbeing, education and employment programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Currently we are working on the sustainability of the organisation and our programs. Initially as a Foundation we would receive funding and commence the program. Now we like to source several sources of funding so we can continue our work in the area.

In terms of our credibility amongst community and really making a difference this is important.

Critically I think you need to realise it’s ok to say no if it doesn’t fit with the Foundation’s simple guiding principles.

What drew you to the Not for Profit sector?

Believing we can make a difference. We need Corporate Australia, Government and community to work together. I believe a collaborative approach without replication is the only way to make change.

How long have you been working in the Not for Profit sector?

Fourteen years, I have been at the Foundation for almost eight years.

What was your first job in the Not for Profit sector?

My first job was the WA State Manager of AFL SportsReady, a group training scheme that assists athletes and  young people in general with traineeships in the sport and recreation area.

What is the most rewarding part of your work?

There are so many rewarding moments but I think one of the most is working with the Foundation staff.

We employ inspirational people and over 75 per cent of our staff are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

I think the Foundation is a living example of Reconciliation in action. We are building capacity in the staff and the people’s lives we touch!

What has been the most challenging part of your work?

The most challenging part is providing organisations with an understanding of the challenges Aboriginal people face.

Australia needs to do more to understand Aboriginal culture and how it impacts on people’s lives.

Often media reports on negative stories which only add to people’s perceptions. I believe if there was better understanding then we would have more tolerance. We set out to tell the good news stories and celebrate the successes.


What do you like best about working in your current organisation?

I like how the organisation is organic and is constantly evolving and improving. We have sound governance through our shared services from the West Coast Eagles Football Club but we also have the flexibility to respond to needs.

We are creative and solution focused.

I consider my greatest achievement to be …

Leading an amazing team and to enable our Aboriginal staff to  have a voice.

Favourite saying …

“The harder you work the luckier you get.”

I’m always being asked …

What can we do to help? How can we make a difference?

What are you reading/watching/listening to at the moment?  

I am reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, I don’t get a great deal of time to watch but I love Monday nights on the ABC; Australian Story, Four Corners and Q&A.

Through your work, what is your ultimate dream?

My ultimate dream would be for me to do myself out of a job. I see my role as one of empowerment and enabling.

My greatest challenge is …

Taking Non Aboriginal people on a journey, so that they can understand the issues and why the disparity exists.

School taught me …

People skills, structure, time management and working with deadlines.

What does a typical day for you involve?

Rise around 6am and go for a walk with my husband Peter and dog Fred. Every second day I then go to the gym for 45 mins. If I have a breakfast I walk in the evening.

On arrival at work I have a chat to everyone; the challenge is our staff in remote offices where you don’t have that face to face contact. I endeavour to make everyone feel valued.

I limit myself to two to three meetings every day, as our work involves delivery of services and I ideally like to visit the programs.

Every day is different and I have the rewarding job of watching our staff grow.

What (or who) inspires you?

My grandmother, she worked hard her entire life and never owned a house but always took people in who needed help and provided them with a roof over their head and a meal.

Both my grandparents were unselfish and embraced the community. Nothing was too much trouble.

Staff Reporter  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

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