2020’s Juukan Gorge disaster highlighted how very, very far Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, still has to go. It’s immensely frustrating for communities to see CSR pledges revealed as no more than PR stunts and lip service in such a devastating way. And it can erode our hopes of either altering the fact that destruction has become the hallmark of human “progress”, or developing new ways of living with each other, our past and future, and this planet.
But there are ways that we as individuals can regain a sense of control over at least our own contributions to destruction: by spending with and investing in truly responsible organisations, donating money, time and skills to charity, and changing our personal behaviours to reflect those values. Of course, small businesses can do the same, and if you’re a small business owner, you can start making these changes immediately.
As a white Australian descended from white Europeans, there’s absolutely no doubt about my privilege in Australian (and indeed global) culture. The way post-invasion Australian systems are and have always been conceived and structured, there is quite literally no way I can avoid that privilege in some form or other. I benefit from the past and present exploitation of people who are not white every day of the week, every month of the year. A “typical” white Australian life necessarily includes those benefits indirectly or otherwise. With white dominance in the nation’s halls of power, that situation isn’t going to change any time soon. And that’s frustrating, especially as we have in this country the oldest living culture(s) on Earth and, in my education at least, learned absolutely nothing about them.
Some years ago, that frustration led me to start donating a percentage of my business income to Indigenous Australian charity and not-for-profit organisations. Every month, I had a lot of fun researching organisations and excitedly donating that cash to them. I mentioned those donations on LinkedIn and Twitter, the main sources of my work as a professional writer, linked to the charities’ websites, and in the process pointed out that my peers and connections could do the same.
Donating was a great way to learn about Indigenous communities and the work they’re doing to support themselves to thrive in contexts very different from my own. And yet my frustration about the lack of progress on Indigenous issues, and the enormous void that exists across Australian culture as a result of colonial genocide, only grew. So when I saw an opportunity to volunteer my skills with Barayamal, I jumped at it.
I find giving time and skills much more fulfilling than just cash (although cash donations are ideal when my time and skills aren’t needed or relevant). Where my professional writing is professional, I always feel like there’s a lot riding on anything I write for Barayamal, because the organisation has made such progress, and has such potential to make so much more — and not just in my lifetime. So the work is a matter of heart for me, not just a professional exercise.
That dislocation between heart and professional exercise led me to train to be a teacher of English as a second language. This added a string to my professional bow, and an extra, very fun source of income for my small business, and gave me the skills to build and deliver communications workshops to Barayamal business accelerator participants. They also led me to volunteer in locally owned and run schools in Colombia and, more recently, Ghana. We can argue all day about the ongoing colonisation of humanity by the proliferation of the English language, but the on-ground reality is that, for example, the people who are today collectively called Ghanaians, but are of course people of many different tribes, want to be able to take advantage of work opportunities in English-speaking countries to expand their own lives and to provide for their families in ways that they simply cannot in Ghana. For the best part of a year I was graciously given the opportunity to help adults looking to work in places like Canada, the US and the UK grow their confidence and capability with the language of their oppressor. My goal was to help them, in some small way, to gain entry to a world that can provide them with advantages that have so long depended on them — and on denying them.
As you can see, volunteering with Indigenous organisations has changed my life. Since that first step of making a “policy” in my small business of donating a portion of my monthly income to Indigenous charities, more and more of the possibilities and enjoyment that is to be gained from volunteering to work with people from Indigenous cultures have become clear. Giving my time and skills to these groups is the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done, and is something I really love. Which brings me to a final note, on time.
If you love Indigenous cultures, or learning about First Nations’ histories, philosophies and communities, or you feel passionately that reparations must be made to First Nations Australians, remember that love is not a feeling. Love is an act, and acting requires time, patience and energy. It also requires humility and a commitment to learning and growth. But acting on love is the most rewarding thing you can do. By volunteering, your passion can contribute to concrete change.
Article by Georgina Laidlaw
UX writer. Content creative. Content and copy strategist. Language trainer. I love uniting brands with their audiences through well-chosen words.
I have tertiary qualifications in marketing, English (including linguistics), and education. Love words, love people, love doing great work.