The Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience is going global

    Jack Manning Bancroft thinks big. At 33, he has been a CEO of the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME) for a decade, an organisation he founded as a teenager after taking a bunch of his university mates to meet school students in the Sydney suburb of Alexandria. Starting as an informal program to mentor Indigenous students to help them complete their education, AIME incorporated in 2008.

    The organisation is in the process of scaling its model. It wants to become the IKEA of mentoring, says Manning Bancroft at AIME’s offices at Gadigal House, on the site of the old Redfern Public School. “We’ll provide the toolkits and let people put it together themselves.”

    This year, 10,000 Indigenous high school students, about 25 per cent of the Indigenous high school population, are part of AIME, and 7000 university students volunteer as mentors. AIME offers 100 hours of support to students from the ages of 12–18, including free tutoring, career transition and visits to university campuses. It prides itself on bridging the gap between mentees and their non-Indigenous peers. For the past six years, the rate of AIME students entering university, employment or training after high school has hovered between 73 and 78 per cent — compared to 40 per cent for the general Indigenous population — on par with 75 per cent for Australia’s non-Indigenous population.

    As a University of Sydney scholarship student, Manning Bancroft worked to get his startup off the ground. The big break came when then Sydney University chancellor, Professor the Hon Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO, gave Manning Bancroft a contract to run AIME full-time for 12 months in 2007.

    “They were doing their best, but they certainly had very little endowment,” says Bashir of the decision. “I did support Jack’s request for office space, for support in kind and for some financial support. I consider this as being one of the finest ideas brought to us at Sydney University.”

    jack manning bancroft graffiti

    Manning Bancroft seized the opportunity. “I decided to incorporate and become our own organisation.”

    With that foundation established, Manning Bancroft set about growing AIME’s footprint around Australia. “We spent six years knocking on any door, kicking doors, trying to go through chimneys, trying to go through back doors, being rejected again and again. I went on a road trip, paid for the flights, and met with 16 universities that all said no. Then, at the last one, I fell in the arms of this guy, Adam Shoemaker (then deputy vice-chancellor at Monash University), who said, ‘We’re in, the money’s sorted, let’s talk about how to make it work’.”

    Greg Hutchinson AM, an advisory partner at Bain & Company and an experienced director, has been a supporter since the two met when AIME was seeking early stage funding.

    “What I look for in not-for-profits is clarity of mission and evidence around the mission. Jack has got that,” he says. “What I see in the team is they have a strong human component to this; they have the passion and anger to stay with something, no matter what. But the evidence is critical and what Jack has done is build an evidence base that would convince the sceptics.”

    The effects go far beyond Indigenous education. “He’s bringing thousands of uni students into the reality of Indigenous issues, so people are personally involved,” Hutchinson says.

    indigenous child in hoodie

    Social Ventures Australia was also an early AIME supporter.

    Manning Bancroft took a meeting at an investment bank, raising eyebrows when he turned up in one of the colourful AIME hoodies mentors wear on their school visits, now the signature product of AIME’s cross-subsidising apparel business. “I said to them, ‘Look, I’m not wearing a suit and it’s not because I disrespect you guys. It’s actually because I want a kid that we work with to see the same Jack walking through Martin Place that they would in the room. I want them to see the same mentor and the same person’,” recalls Manning Bancroft.

    As it has grown, the mentoring model has remained essentially the same. Key to its ability to scale has been the message that students do not have to give up their identity, says Manning Bancroft, a Bundjalung man.

    “We’ve said to the kids that this isn’t an intervention program where you have to give up your culture and become someone else. This is not about you being mainstreamed and having to sacrifice your history, or your identity. It’s actually about saying that you can live a plural existence. You can live an existence where you’re Aboriginal and you’re a lawyer.”

    This success in different cultural contexts has convinced Manning Bancroft that the model can work globally. “I see a world in three or four years’ time where 500,000 kids are being mentored around the world and 500,000 mentors are working with them,” he says. With programs already in South Africa and Uganda, AIME’s next move is to the US. In 2019, AIME will fly 200 lead mentors from 200 US campuses to Australia for a festival of mentoring.

    “I see it as Davos meets Coachella,” Manning Bancroft says, referring to the annual World Economic Forum leaders’ meeting in Davos, Switzerland, and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival held every year at the Empire Polo Club in California. The mentors will return to their campuses and replicate the AIME model there, taking university students into schools to mentor underprivileged and minority kids.

    “Australia is effectively a continent when it comes to our Indigenous people. We’ve already done the global expansion when we left the Eora nation in Sydney and went down to Wollongong, to the Dharawal nation. We’ve done that again and again in 40 different nations already.”

    The time is right for AIME with young people in America, Manning Bancroft says. Movements like Black Lives Matter and the gun control activism of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, who had 14 of their classmates killed in a school shooting in February, have mobilised young people.

    The organisation has already signed up several corporate partners, including Spotify, Pandora, iHeartMedia, the BBC and The New York Times, to assist with the campaign to get AIME off the ground in the US.

    Yet even though AIME is launching a new international phase in its growth, Manning Bancroft recognises that there’s still work to be done at home.

    “The job’s not done and won’t be for a while, but I feel like after 12–13 years, we’ve really done enough to be assured that the program here for Indigenous kids will keep going. We’re one of the few groups in the non-profit space to start to share an Australian idea internationally. It’s great that it’s got a really strong Indigenous core to it.”

    aime crowd

    Board Rollcall

    An Indigenous corporation governed by the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 (Cth), AIME’s board must be majority Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. AIME’s Indigenous directors include Social Ventures Australia’s director of consulting, Jason Eades, the University of Wollongong’s first Indigenous dean, Paul Chandler MAICD, and Manning Bancroft’s mother, Bronwyn Bancroft, an artist who has sat on the boards of arts organisations including the National Gallery of Australia. Non-Indigenous members include chair Tom Dery AO, former worldwide chairman of M&C Saatchi and journalist Jeff McMullen AM.

    Like many not-for-profit boards, the directors of AIME pitched in when it hit a tight spot. “The thing about our AIME directors at different stages is that the people who have just rolled up their sleeves and got their hands dirty have been so valuable to us. There have been so many times we’ve just been battling and holding it together with a shoestring,” says Manning Bancroft.

    The board meetings, though, have often been fairly bruising, he says.

    “As a CEO, there are not many board meetings I walk away from with lots of applause. You rip ideas apart. It can be a challenging environment, those two hours, and often you can leave as a CEO feeling quite depleted.”

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