Waltja Tjutangku Palyapayi
Developing a structured decision making model
Waltja Tjutangku Palyapayi was established in recognition of the severe sickness, poverty, helplessness and distress experienced by Central Australian Aboriginal people as a result of dispossession of traditional lands, cultural disintegration and social and economic marginalisation. Waltja supports self-determination for Aboriginal People living in remote communities in central Australia, as well as the development and provision of community services that are governed by local Aboriginal People and which provide employment and professional development for local Aboriginal people. Examples of community based services that Waltja currently provides or supports include child and youth programs, aged care, disability services, financial literacy training, cultural maintenance and support for aged care and art centres.
Waltja’s members are Aboriginal women who are permanent residents of remote communities in the Central Australian Region. Each year Waltja holds its Annual General Meeting, at which a Board of Directors (a Maximum of 12 Senior women) are elected by people from Waltja’s membership. The Board of Directors are representative of each of Waltja’s target communities and are elected at Waltja’s AGM by their peers on the basis of the length of their membership with Waltja, their community service, leadership and advocacy skills. Five Executive Directors are then elected by the Board of Directors. Directors and Executive Directors hold office for one year and are able to run for re-election the following year.
All policy decisions and strategic planning are made at the Board of Directors meetings. At every meeting correspondence is tabled. Often there are visitors presenting information for the Directors to discuss. First an executive member will explain why something is important and needs to be talked about and then Waltja’s Manager or staff may give some background information. The Board makes decisions by listening and talking together. Sometimes they break up into language groups for discussion and then report back to the whole group.
Waltja aims for consensus decisions but can use voting if a consensus is not reached. However, unresolved issues are usually carried forward to the next Executive or Directors meetings with additional information. Talking in meetings is usually in several languages; English, Warlpiri, Luritja, Western Arrernte, Eastern Arrernte, Pintupi, Kaytetye Anmatyerre, Alyawarre and Pitjantjatjara. All of Waltja’s directors are multilingual in the region’s Aboriginal languages and speak and understand English. Waltja’s Directors declare any conflict of interest and stand down from decision-making when a conflict of interest might arise.
Keeping the community informed
Waltja is committed to ensuring the community is kept informed about what the organisation is doing. Because Waltja represents many people from different language groups across vast differences they use a combination of ways to ensure their message gets out.
Some of the ideas proven to work well include:
- Visiting community: Board members, staff members and management get out and about within their communities as well as working on programs within community and proactively seek community feedback, which is then used to improve Waltja’s service delivery.
- Sending faxes containing important information to remote community members and service workers. This ensures members and service workers who may not have guaranteed access to the internet remain informed.
- Making sure managers give reports and up-dates at Board meetings.
- Waltja’s Family News publication is published 3-4 times a year and is widely distributed to communities across the Central Australian region.
- Waltja maintains an easy to use and informative website which can be accessed by community and stakeholders at any time.
- Waltja staff make sure that community members feel welcome and comfortable in visiting the office or ringing up to ask questions or seek information.
- Having community contact people, who disseminate information by word of mouth amongst their family and peers. These people also hold informal consultation within their communities and convey feedback to Waltja.
Building capacity and confidence for governing bodies.
Waltja was established in recognition of the severe sickness, poverty, helplessness and distress experienced by Central Australian Aboriginal people as a result of dispossession of traditional lands, cultural disintegration and social and economic marginalisation.
The structure of the Waltja Board consists of one Director and one Proxy elected from each community. From a community perspective, this means that if a situation ever arises where a Director is unable to attend a Board meeting, their community’s voice can still be heard by using the proxy. From a personal perspective, it means that Directors feel supported by the proxy whenever they have to talk about or make decisions that may impact their own community.
Waltja’s system of inviting a second woman, the proxy, to attend meetings along with each Director also works well in encouraging community development by allowing more experienced women the opportunity to mentor younger or less confident women.