GO Foundation creates student ‘ecosystem’

The GO Foundation was formed in 2009 by AFL Sydney Swans stars Adam Goodes and Michael O’Loughlin to close the gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students through education, journalist Sue Osborne writes.

It started in the NSW town of Dareton. With a population of approximately 600, around a third of whom were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage, Dareton was GO’s initial foray into community work.

For three years, GO participated in various community programs, including presentations on healthy lifestyle, vocational training for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, the donation of sports uniforms and equipment to local schools and the donation of $20,000 worth of playground equipment and fencing for the local community centre.

In 2014, the GO Foundation refined its focus to education, believing that education was the key to creating a brighter future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

The GO Foundation established its board of directors and partnered with a number of individuals and organisations who believed in the mission of the GO Foundation. The Sydney Swans, Allens Linklaters, QBE and KPMG are all Founding Partners.

Initially it provided scholarships for students to attend independent schools. It has evolved into something much more holistic over the years, creating what it calls a "student ecosystem”. The GO Foundation now works with public schools too.

When we partner with a school, it’s not enough for the school to take in a student and do nothing else. It’s not a box ticking exercise.

Better with support

CEO Shirley Chowdhury said research shows students do better when they are supported holistically, from the home, the community and culturally.

GO Foundation does not support sending students to board far away from their country. Rather, they want families to be deeply involved in their children’s education. When they do provide a scholarship, parents and the schools contribute to the cost.

“We know when the families are involved, the long term outcomes are better,” Chowdhury said.

GO Foundation partners with Ascham School, Barker College, Knox Grammar School, Pymble Ladies College, St Catherine’s School Waverley, St Gregory’s College Campbelltown and Waverley College.

“When we partner with a school, it’s not enough for the school to take in a student and do nothing else. It’s not a box ticking exercise,” Chowdhury said.

“The school needs to show respect for the history and culture of Aboriginal people, with everything from Welcome to Country, to flying the Aboriginal flag, to teaching Aboriginal culture and history to non Indigenous students in a respectful way.”

Any schools that partner with Go are expected to contribute financially to AIME Mentoring coming to the school on a weekly basis to provide homework support to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students attending, not just those on a GO scholarship. In Year 12 they would support CareerTrackers coming in to provide help with the transition to university.

Backed by research

This ecosystem philosophy supported by GO Foundation stems from their own research which shows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students have a better chance of going on to higher education if they are well supported in all areas of their life.

Their ecosystem puts culture at the centre of its model, believing that to walk in two cultures successfully Indigenous students have to know who they are and know more about their heritage.

Their Promotion of Further Education to Indigenous Communities report suggests that promoting early engagement in education may better prepare students for further education, as will having positive role models in the community.

Role models

Goodes and O’Loughlin, as well as having corporate roles with the Foundation, provide hands on support mentoring students, acting as all important role models promoting education.

Several times a year they attend mentoring sessions working closely with students.

“We want to talk directly to Indigenous students and their families, their teachers and those people helping them make the decisions. Year 12 is not enough. Go further. Go into further education. Pick the pathway that is right for you, that matches your skills. University, VET, entrepreneurial training. It doesn’t matter, just go further. It will change your future,” O’Loughlin said.

Chowdhury said:” Our partners are very involved, it’s a two-way process. The Sydney Swans are our main supporter. They provide all the backroom support for us such as IT and accounts and we are housed on their premises.

“They also provide internships for some of our students and we are involved in the Indigenous round.

“Our partners need to be committed to working towards reconciliation over the long term.”

The GO Foundation website states: “We work with our ecosystem partners to make their workplaces culturally safe and inclusive. We believe that our Indigenous culture and heritage should be shared and celebrated within our workplaces so that all Indigenous Australians can take their authentic selves to their work, every day. This is how we will create long lasting systems change”.

The GO Foundation website provides videos from Goodes and O’Loughlin which can be used as resources for school projects. There are also videos by students talking about the importance of culture and education.