The woman taking on all sides to make Australia fairer
11 November 2019 at 8:29 am
As a charity, business and sporting leader, Ros Moriarty is fighting for change through sustainable community-led solutions. She’s this week’s Changemaker.
As the managing director of Indigenous design studio Balarinji, the co-founder of the Moriarty Foundation, and the independent chair of Football Federation Australia’s Women’s Football Council, Moriarty has a lot of experience in a lot of different sectors.
But her varied roles are all tied by the driving force to create positive change, whether it be for Aboriginal children and their families through the Moriarty Foundation, gender equality through the Women’s Football Council, or supporting and promoting the work of Indigenous artists through Balarinji.
The sporting and education programs run by the foundation have been nationally recognised for their impact on Indigenous communities, receiving $4.5 million in government funding to expand to 12 new sites across New South Wales and Queensland over the next three years.
The conversation around gender equality in sports has flipped on its head, and a Balarinji-Qantas collection of aircraft featuring Aboriginal designs saw Indigenous stories and art celebrated nationally.
For her efforts, Moriarty was recognised as a winner in the 2015 100 Women of Influence Awards and is an inductee of both the Australian Design Institute Hall of Fame and the Australian Businesswomen’s Hall of Fame.
In this week’s Changemaker, Moriarty discusses how to combine business with a purpose, the joy of social change and the importance of contributing mindfully.
How did your design business lead to being involved in the charities space?
We’ve always been involved in responding to social requests, particularly from the Indigenous community, since the very beginning of our design business. We were Cathy Freeman’s first sponsor, from when she was 16 for about five years. We would often respond to groups wanting support for kids travelling somewhere. We always had a pro bono arm of the design company and helped out when we could. About eight years ago we decided to formalise that into a foundation because we felt we wanted to focus our efforts into a sustainable and measurable change focused on Aboriginal children.
What kind of changes have you seen since you started that foundation?
Our aim is to enable families and communities to help their own children realise their potential. The change we’ve seen is the day-to-day consistency that we’ve been able to deliver.
We’ve been in the Gulf of Carpentaria and in Borroloola, day in day out to establish an embedded set of programs across the whole of a child’s life-cycle. We’ve been able to deliver a really consistent youth program and a football for wellbeing program. In areas where nutrition is a challenge, we provide hot meals at every football session. Where opportunity isn’t always on offer we’ve been able to provide long-term employment for our local early childhood educators and we’ve been able to take our young players on tour nationally and internationally and then bring some of them through on scholarships. We’ve also been able to create jobs for local Indigenous coaches and really support career trajectories.
Our focus is on the kids, but we are really looking at what the scaffolding around these children is and how we develop sustainability based on that. I think consistency is one of the really great outcomes because the community sees these programs as their own. It is driven locally, and a local advisory group meets regularly and guides the programs.
What would you say you’re trying to achieve in your career?
I’d love to say there was a grand plan from the start, but I’m not sure that’s the case. My husband and I started the design company to reflect and celebrate the heritage of our three children. I think the change-making aspect of encouraging Australian designers to look local rather than international examples has been something that I’ve felt of value for the career I could develop.
In terms of the foundation and other voluntary work that I do, it’s all around motivating change that is sustainable and measurable. It’s really creating a different kind of trajectory, particularly for Aboriginal children, or in the case of the work, I do with the Women’s Football Council that’s really about redressing the inequality of opportunity that women have in the sport. So I guess the common themes through that work are change through innovation and authentic solutions.
What are some of your biggest learnings throughout your career?
The central place that a really committed, cohesive, culturally connected team has because you can’t achieve anything of any substance alone. The quality of the teams we’ve been able to build around our work has made all the difference. Another learning is just to not be afraid of the challenges and not be afraid when it gets difficult. Be direct and always endeavour to be authentic.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into the social change space?
It’s really important to focus on the change you can create because the byproduct is how fulfilling the change is and how rewarding it is personally. But the focus really needs to be on what change you can drive because the space is already pretty crowded and it’s the idea that to work for change for good is a privilege. The outcome needs to be well-considered and of benefit to what you’re trying to achieve. We run our NFP operations like a business so that it is accountable and it’s stretching investment and it’s really focused on what measurable change it can report.
How has the experience of being involved in the social space changed you and your outlook on the world?
It brings a lot of joy and a kind of optimism that it is possible to drive change. It’s a really rewarding space and it brings a lot of responsibility. It’s not for the faint-hearted, and I think it can be difficult and tough. You have to be resilient, resourceful, and innovative, but it’s certainly enriched my professional career. So much of it is heartwarming to the extent that it’s also difficult and can carry a sense of challenge with it, but you just need to work through that.
Are you reading anything interesting at the moment?
I’ve been reading Jane Harper’s The Dry, about a pretty dusty, drought-stricken town. It was really interesting and definitely worth a read.