Q&A with NRMA RAP lead Di Ellis and Group CFO and RAP executive sponsor Michael Gabriel. 

    NRMA RAP lead Di Ellis

    Q: How did you become involved with NRMA’s RAP?

    A: I’d like to start with “Yaama”, which means “hello” in Wiradjuri. I’m a proud Wiradjuri woman from Peak Hill. My grandfather is also from Badu Island in the Torres Strait, so I’m lucky, I’ve got both cultures. I was employed in December 2021 by the NRMA and I’m proud to be the Senior Indigenous Affairs Manager at the NRMA.

    I live, breathe, shower and eat with Reconciliation — I’ve dedicated my life to Reconciliation. To sit here for a company like the NRMA and understand how valuable that is in our sphere of influence is important in what we do. That’s why I love Reconciliation, because it’s not just about doing an acknowledgement of Country, it has to be authentic. When you’re doing an acknowledgment of Country, we try to encourage our employees to talk about whether they saw a native tree on the way to work today. Do you thank the ancestors for a beautiful day? Do you thank the ancestors for the rain we had because your lawn needed watering and your tanks needed to be filled with rainwater? That’s Country.

    NRMA RAP lead Di Ellis00:48

    Q: What makes NRMA’s Stretch RAP significant?

    A: The RAP is embedded into the core of what NRMA does and that’s what I’m proud of. It’s not built on, it’s built within. It’s very strategic. Our RAP is not just artwork on a wall, it shows our commitment.

    That’s what that artwork represents. It makes our commitment visible in the community and that’s why we’ve got it on our tow trucks. Our reconciliation journey at the NRMA is also about supply diversity, procurement and cultural awareness for our staff.

    One of our deliverables is to mentor other businesses. Whether you’re starting your journey, we can come in from my level and speak to people at your all-hands meetings or group gatherings. We can show you how to start. I can share templates and have conversations with people, explaining how to start driving your reconciliation plan by focusing on your core ingredients. These are the ingredients in your business to create real impacts. Then we can get our leadership team to come in and speak from the steering committee, as well.

    Q: How have you approached internal education to achieve your RAP objectives?

    A: I talk to people at the grassroots level. Through my 20 years of experience in Indigenous Affairs and working on various RAPs, I know how not to talk at people, but engage with them meaningfully. I speak to people inside the NRMA the same way I speak to Elders on Country. What would you like to tell me? What are your blockers? It’s not dictation, it’s about asking. We do the same thing here in the governance of the NRMA. I ask our steering committee, what are your blockers? What are your fears? We break those down because, without acknowledging them, we can’t further our journey.

    It’s about active listening and connecting non-First Nations people with First Nations people. A corporate has to understand how to talk to a community, and a community needs to know how to be heard by the corporate. This is true within an organisation, because different levels of management have different priorities.

    Q: What are the deliverables in your Stretch RAP that you’re most excited about?

    A: We run cultural immersions, like at Murramarang Beachfront Resort in Durras, where I’m headed tomorrow to film an Elder. One of our deliverables is a self-paced cultural walk for our guests at our tourist sites. They’ll be able to walk around our park and see plants with information in the local language of that specific Country. For example, in Murra, it’ll be Yuin country. We’re helping to revive and present local languages to educate everyone who visits. They’ll see a storyboard of their totem with a QR code that links to a video of Elders explaining those totems in their language. This way, visitors can both see and hear the language, making it real. We’ll also provide information about indigenous plants like the lilly pilly, not just lemongrass.

    Q: What does this year’s National Reconciliation Week theme “Now, More than Ever” mean to you?

    A: It’s about doubling down on reconciliation. We’re still here. It’s about culture, not just dancing, but achieving strategic outcomes. After the referendum, I cried, it hit me very hard. We had a high-profile person speak to everyone and we made a public statement about the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which is still on our website, showing the company’s true allyship. Internally and publicly, we voiced our support. Despite my initial worries, I was reassured by the board, managers and allies within the NRMA that we would double down on reconciliation. There’s a lot of mourning in the communities, but also hope. Now, more than ever, that hope is crucial, because reconciliation is here to stay. It’s a strategic document and that’s what makes me proud. That’s why National Reconciliation Week is so important.

    NRMA Group CFO and RAP executive sponsor Michael Gabriel

    Q: Di discussed how a key part of NRMA’s RAP is having it “built in” rather than “built on”. How do you see that coming to life in the activities of the NRMA?

    A: When we started the RAP, it was probably driven like a corporate initiative. To be honest, we struggled initially with understanding its purpose. So, we did a couple of things. We employed specific resources to help us manage it and, importantly, we employed Indigenous people, which helped significantly. It sounds logical, but it’s a crucial factor. We also built a plan that linked to each of the business activities. For example, our holiday parks are all about experiential stays. By connecting with local Indigenous communities and running tourism events, it became much more powerful than simply saying, “We want you to do X." They owned it. We connected the RAP to the strategy of most of our businesses, making it more meaningful and easier to implement.

    Q: What have you learned on NRMA’s RAP journey?

    A: We need to have dedicated resources. Each business needs its own working groups to work towards their activities and take ownership. More importantly, you want people in those working groups who want to be involved. Allocating people who are genuinely interested and want to drive the agenda makes it much more powerful. Setting objectives that divisions or business units own makes implementation easier. The Stretch RAP has become more challenging over time. From a tourism perspective, connecting our guests with Indigenous culture at our holiday parks, hotels or resorts offers an easy way for people to experience and connect with Indigenous culture. At the same time, these communities can connect with our business as partners, building trust over time. This hopefully creates momentum through regional communities.

    Q: Have you found challenges or learnings from that internal process of building cultural awareness?

    A: It’s interesting, because you can approach cultural understanding traditionally through courses and monitoring. However, our value surveys indicate that people feel comfortable identifying within the group, which relates to the language and how we discuss these initiatives authentically. We conduct traditional training and senior leadership immersion, but having senior leadership emphasise its importance and enacting the strategy in each group raises awareness. For example, our patrols are trained about the significance of the symbols we use, like logos on trucks, so they can explain their meaning. Symbols can be meaningful or meaningless, and having our patrols, whose average age is 54 and are 99 per cent men, as advocates is important and takes time. We must be careful not to reduce it to just a sticker on a truck or van.

    Q: Why does this year’s National Reconciliation Week theme “Now, More than Ever” resonate with you?

    A: The referendum was very disappointing from my point of view. For us, the message is that we haven’t stopped. In fact, it’s probably more important than ever. It’s crucial to show our staff that the board and executive team are more committed than ever. National Reconciliation Week will be vital to demonstrate engagement across the group, because this isn’t something that will stop. It will take a generation to change, making this year especially important.

    As an executive, what key moments or experiences helped educate you along your journey with RAPs?

    A: Not being afraid to try things is essential. People often worry about saying or doing the wrong thing. Having Di, with whom I have a close relationship, allows me to ask if I’m unsure. Not being afraid to say the wrong thing is important because people’s intent is usually sound. Going on immersions in communities, like our visit to Wilpena Pound in South Australia, was amazing. Spending time understanding Indigenous culture is powerful and communities appreciate the effort. Acknowledgement doesn’t have to be read. It should reflect what you think about the area and what you see. Overcoming these simple hurdles makes things much easier.

    #NRW2024: Now More Than Ever

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