Australia’s RAP network has more than doubled in size since the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020. But what are the elements that make up a really effective framework which has positive impacts for First Nations people and the organisation? Here we explore some ideas on how to develop a successful RAP.
In 2006, eight organisations adopted a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) to help turn their good intentions into positive actions. Today, the RAP network is 2450-strong, ranging from small community organisations to multinational corporations.
“We have a direct impact on four million Australians every single day — more than a quarter of the working age population,” says Peter Morris, general manager of Reconciliation Australia’s RAP program. “That includes 73,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people currently employed by organisations with RAPs, a rise of more than 10,000 in one year.”
The RAP network has more than doubled in size since the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020. Morris believes the pandemic played a role by encouraging organisations to reflect on both their core business and their broader obligations. However, there were other influencing factors that year.
“One was Rio Tinto’s destruction of the sacred site at Juukan Gorge,” says Morris. “Revoking our endorsement of Rio Tinto as an Elevate RAP organisation and suspending the company from the RAP program sent a strong message that a RAP comes with meaningful accountability. Another was the global movement around Black Lives Matter, following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota. That made a lot of Australian organisations think about the challenges facing black people in Australia and how they could make a difference to their lives. A RAP was a clear answer to that question.”
The RAP structure
Morris, who has done much of his work in the US, sees different approaches to reconciliation around the world. Some strategies are procurement-specific, others employment-specific, and some are designed to increase the representation of people from diverse communities on boards.
“The difference in Australia is that our RAPs create a framework to help organisations move in a strategic direction that holds all of the pieces together,” he says. “A RAP is a long-term, structured journey that enables organisations to start wherever they are and set goals to move them forward across the three pillars of relationships, respect and opportunity.”
Organisations can progress through four levels of RAP:
The entry-level RAP provides very basic building blocks to start the reconciliation journey. About 1000 organisations have a Reflect RAP.
An Innovate RAP encourages creating thinking around how the organisation can develop and strengthen relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. For example, a financial services organisation might test more innovative products for First Nations consumers. About 1000 organisations have an Innovate RAP.
Stretch RAPs are defined by measurable targets and the broader challenge of embedding reconciliation throughout the business. At this level, reconciliation will change the way an organisation does business. About 200 organisations have a Stretch RAP.
Fewer than 20 organisations have achieved an Elevate RAP. They have all committed to at least one project designed to drive transformation in their organisation, their sector and in society more broadly.
A RAP is a long-term, structured journey that enables organisations to start wherever they are and set goals to move them forward across the three pillars of relationships, respect and opportunity.
Companies effecting transformation
At the end of 2021, Wesfarmers employed about 3800 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander team members. The company’s first Elevate RAP includes a goal of employing more than 1200 young First Nations people and providing opportunities to First Nations team members to build successful careers within the group. Other goals include delivering more than 120,000 instances of cultural awareness training and increasing the diversity of its supplier base.
“Wesfarmers is honoured to be invited to produce an Elevate RAP and join a cohort of Australian companies deeply committed to reconciliation,” said Wesfarmers managing director Rob Scott. “We look forward to continuing to work with Reconciliation Australia, other RAP organisations and local communities to build a more fair, just and reconciled Australia.”
Key issues confronted in Commonwealth Bank’s second Elevate RAP include removing barriers to appropriate financial products and services, understanding financial abuse in the First Nations context and embedding First Nations rights considerations in the business.
“As the nation begins an important public discussion about constitutional recognition and an Indigenous Voice to parliament, Commonwealth Bank is supportive of the Uluru Statement from the Heart,” said Commonwealth Bank CEO Matt Comyn. “Taking the advice of our Indigenous Advisory Council, we are supporting conversations across the bank to understand what is proposed and how it might contribute to better outcomes for First Nations peoples.”
Life without Barriers, one of Australia’s largest providers of out-of-home care, is the first not for profit organisation with an Elevate RAP. In collaboration with First Nations stakeholders, the organisation made what Morris describes as a very brave and thoughtful decision to step away from providing care to First Nations children. Instead, they will place decision-making with family and communities.
“Equally important is our organisation’s commitment to advocating for resourcing and investment to be directed into community-controlled organisations,” said Life Without Barriers CEO Claire Robbs.
Reconciliation Australia’s latest program evaluation confirmed that the commitment of the organisation’s leaders is fundamental to a RAP’s success.
“The support and engagement of boards and senior executives is critical,” says Morris. “Without it, there’s a good chance the RAP will be treated as a tick-the-box exercise. Now, as we draw closer to the referendum on the Voice to Parliament, every board in Australia should be asking itself not only how do we respond to this national conversation, but how do we as an organisation incorporate and honour the voices of First Nations peoples in the way that we work? This is a once in a generation moment and Reconciliation Australia is encouraging leaders to think about the opportunity it brings to educate your stakeholders on the Voice to Parliament and also to reflect on your own governance as it relates to listening to the voices of First Nations people.”
Building board representation
Among other commitments, the AICD’s new Innovate RAP will focus on improving the representation of First Nations people in Australian boardrooms. Of the 1400 RAP partners that responded to the latest annual survey on their impact, 490 had one or more First Nations people on the board. Of these, 259 are in the NFP sector, 141 in the government sector and 26 with peak bodies. Only 64 are on the boards of private businesses — and Morris suspects they’re alone in the boardroom.
“One of the things we learned from the research into increasing the number of women on boards was that you need a critical mass of three or more to drive real cultural change,” says Morris. “The statistics show we have a long way to go to make sure the voices of First Nations peoples are included at the decision making tables at the places where strategy is being set for major businesses in Australia.”
How to develop a successful RAP
AICD RAP manager Deanne Poole has set out five ways to ensure your RAP counts.
- Develop and draft a Reflect or Innovate RAP with a strong focus on the mandatory deliverables. These are vital to ensure organisations are primarily focused on respect and relationships, and that they have begun to address the cultural intelligence requirements of the organisation.
- Seek additional external or internal advice to help increase all employees’ cultural knowledge. Ongoing cultural guidance is important to inform change, and also for developing guiding cultural protocols and policies that will create a cultural safety net for the organisation.
- Data is critical. All organisations need to measure their progress. This means establishing your starting points for employment, procurement, cultural knowledge and stakeholders then having mechanisms in place to track the changes.
- Once you’re collecting relevant data you can identify what’s working and what needs to change. You can also report on your progress internally and to Reconciliation Australia.
- You might never win over all of your employees but, if your RAP is linked to organisational goals or values, you can set targets for deliverables or KPIs for staff to achieve. Performance reviews could also include RAP requirements. It’s vital that staff see the work as integral to their role, not a voluntary task they need to add to their job.
The AICD responds to feedback
After completing its first RAP in 2019, the AICD commissioned a review by IPS Management Consultants. This identified areas of weakness as well as strength, prompting a journey of reflection, open dialogue and improvement. By asking difficult questions and engaging in challenging conversations, the AICD is aiming to create a more robust, meaningful and effective RAP.
“We’re acting on that feedback,” says AICD Sector Lead — First Nations Justin Agale MAICD. “We want to ensure our RAP helps to make reconciliation part of our DNA as we facilitate and support positive change for our members.”
Actions so far include making the AICD’s position on reconciliation and the Voice to Parliament more visible through events, media exposure and education.
“First Nations and other members have said they’re impressed to see how seriously we’re taking this,” he says.
The new Innovate RAP aims to strengthen governance by incorporating the insights of First Nations people, improving the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australian boardrooms and supporting self-determination by focusing on these areas:
- A strong First Nations voice in RAP development and implementation, respecting self-determination. The AICD recognises the importance of including First Nations voices in the RAP's development and implementation, ensuring that the plan remains relevant, respectful and effective.
- Improved governance, resourcing and executive accountability. The AICD is committed to enhancing the governance structure supporting the RAP, allocating appropriate resources and holding executives accountable for achieving the plan's objectives.
- Alignment with the AICD's mission and driving impact within its sphere of influence. The RAP's objectives align with the organisation's broader mission to strengthen society through world-class governance, and it seeks to accelerate sustainable change within the AICD's sphere of influence.
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