Vanuatu Mobile Force personnel unload aid supplies from Australia to be distributed at their damaged barracks gymnasium days after Cyclone Pam in Port Vila. Photo by: REUTERS / Edgar Su

CANBERRA — There is no clear policy on Indigenous people inclusion in development projects despite there being similar strategies for gender and disability, Sheena Graham, assistant director of DFAT’s international development policy said, while highlighting the steps that both Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and aid suppliers can take to ensure inclusion in development projects.

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Graham was speaking at the 2019 Aid Supplier Conference hosted by DFAT in Canberra, Australia, last week, which included a focus on expectations of aid suppliers to practice inclusion in supporting Australian aid projects.

A component of the SDGs

DFAT has faced challenges in bringing Indigenous communities to the forefront of development projects as some partner countries did not want to work with them. But the Sustainable Development Goals have brought a change to that thinking with the responsibility for countries to ensure no one is left behind.

“You have to make sure the hardest to reach and most vulnerable are benefiting from the investment,” Graham said.

Australian Indigenous procurement strategy delivers

The Pacific Labour Facility is a new addition to Australia’s aid program — and it is also the first major Australian aid contract awarded to an Indigenous business following the introduction of new procurement rules.

This thinking applies to low- and middle-income countries as well as high-income countries, with the latter needing to consider domestic policies as well as implications of development assistance. Through the SDGs, donors have a responsibility to ensure their programs are inclusive of Indigenous voices.

DFAT has been working with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on ways to ensure Australia’s development programs, economic policy, trade policy, foreign policy, and domestic policy do not create disadvantage. By supporting more Indigenous partners in the aid program, including through the Indigenous procurement policy that has led to successful partnerships with traditional aid suppliers and indigenous supplier i2i Development, DFAT is developing better programming for Indigenous recipients of the aid program.

Tony Martens, director of i2i Development, advised aid suppliers that in working with an Indigenous partner it was not about “just gaining a contract.”

“We have professionals and we want to engage with Indigenous professional around the world,” he told the audience. “The expectation is that when we enter into a partnership we are looking at deliverables of the contract, and where else we can be used to facilitate supply chain to bring in more Indigenous suppliers to gain business opportunities.”

For aid suppliers, the importance is looking at opportunities for Indigenous inclusion both within their operation as well as in the delivery of development projects.

“We bring an Indigenous lens to everything we do,” Graham told the audience. And this was important to ensure the gaps in quality of life and opportunities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians do not get replicated by Australian aid programs in the Indo-Pacific.

Thinking about disability

For suppliers, the importance of disability inclusion to the Australian program has been demonstrated through its development-for-all strategies — first implemented in 2009. As the Australian aid program continues to evolve disability inclusion based on its learnings, DFAT expects aid suppliers to be joining the journey.

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Shelly Thomson, from DFAT’s disability branch, explained there were DFAT tools to assist in making supplier programs disability-inclusive — including the safeguard screening matrix. This is used to analyze the risk of aid investments and includes potential risks to vulnerable groups including people living with a disability.

“But we need to go a step further and look at inclusion and empowerment as well,” Thomson said.

Suppliers, she said, were expected to incorporate people with disability and their needs into the design and delivery of Australian aid programs. There is an expectation that aid suppliers engage with organizations working with people with disabilities, and clear consideration of disability within tender responses. Data collected on programs, impact, and outcomes should also be disaggregated to incorporate disability, following the Washington Group on Disability Statistics methodology.

To support disability inclusion, aid suppliers also need to ensure they are looking inward. Alexandra Kay, a disability inclusion adviser with Australian aid supplier Scope Global, explained that better disability programming begins by employing people with disabilities. Scope Global has inclusion targets to support this, and it has gradually been breaking down barriers to employment of people with disabilities — including as part of international postings commonly considered “high risk.”

According to Kay, the key to overcoming apparent risks is to incorporate disability inclusion into program planning from the start.

“Budget in and consider disability inclusion from the design phase,” she advised suppliers. “It gets more expensive if you try to be inclusive later.”

Gender-inclusive organization strategies

Gender inclusion within the Australian aid program has been supported by strategies and targets ensuring more than 80 percent of investments effectively address gender issues in their implementation. Gender was a priority of former foreign minister Julie Bishop when she took over the aid portfolio in 2013.

DFAT’s Women in Leadership Strategy aimed to promote women into senior leadership roles. This was supported by education and other strategies to limit unconscious bias that may favor males in procurement and recruitment processes, as well as flexible working arrangements themselves to encourage women returning to work.

2020 targets now exist for DFAT on gender, with mixed results so far. But a lesson has been that the initial strategy did not speak to all — including women who didn’t want to rise through the ranks and women employed locally. New plans are being devised to make strategies inclusive to all.

Reducing socioeconomic barriers to development players

Rosanna Duncan, chief diversity and inclusion officer at Palladium, provided an important lesson to aid suppliers on how development organizations and partners can reduce discrimination through recruitment to improve diversity.

Master’s and doctorates are common necessary qualifications for the recruiting of development staff, even within nontechnical positions. Duncan explained that this could immediately exclude people from diverse socioeconomic groups who do not have the financial means or time to complete a degree at this level.

Needing on-the-ground experience in development was also a barrier. Getting the initial experience could require having a gap year to work in a volunteer position. But again, this creates socioeconomic barriers as only those who can afford a gap year can take one.

Removing certain requirements for nontechnical roles is an important first step in creating an inclusive workforce. And reshaping the idea of “development experience” to include experience closer to home — including in youth services, drug and alcohol support, and other transferable positions — is also critical. Both can help bring new people, approaches and ideas to global development solutions — including those that support Australian aid.

About the author

  • Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Senior Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.