Waltja Tjutangku Palyapayi Aboriginal Corporation serves an area of 900,000 kilometres with an estimated population of 13,000 people. Its name is a Luritja term meaning families; for a big lot/ everybody; really good together— and its governance is award-winning.
Waltja’s agenda is set by a board of 19 directors, all Aboriginal women aiming to improve outcomes for families in communities across the bottom of the Northern Territory. The corporation generates income through competitive tenders with government, philanthropic grants and has an art-based social enterprise, Tjukurrpa Tjutangku.
Because the service area is so large and diverse, the governance structure is multi-layered—and for it to work, it needs to be tight. As in most corporations, the CEO is the funnel for translating the directors’ vision into action. What makes Waltja special is that the directors have a strong presence on the ground where the work is being done— in their home communities.
Waltja directors have a voice and a close relationship with the workers, and there’s a full circle of accountability, as a program manager suggests:
You’ve got to have good leadership, and the leaders have to know what’s going on. With Waltja we’ve got two levels. We’ve got directors who come from every community that Waltja works with. Those women then elect five of the directors to form the executive— the chairperson and four others—to work with and support our CEO to manage Waltja’s operations. That makes a really strong structure. Then, when we go out with our workers, to work on different programs on community, those directors are looking after the workers. They’re helping everyone to understand and be involved. And that means our programs work well. So our governance is from the top, from the directors and the executive, and also from the bottom, from the programs where the directors are helping.
Waltja’s CEO is at the centre of the operation, but the directors are deeply interconnected, and the workers become part of the family, as executive director Irene Nangala explains:
Waltja learns what’s happening in the community from the directors. Directors talk to exec. Exec talks with workers. Waltja workers are invited by the directors to come to the community. They stay; they meet the directors and their families. They make friends. They become family. They listen to all people in the community with the directors, young and old, men and women. We work together, Anangu/Yapa and Kardiya, workers and directors and community. It gives Waltja a better understanding of community and what people need, and gives us a strong voice with communities and with government. We make family from far and near. That’s why we called the organisation Waltja—family.
Because of the information they receive from members, community and the CEO, it’s relatively easy for Waltja directors to see that the CEO is doing a good job. However your corporation works, your directors have to keep an eye on the work. It’s their job to ask the CEO what they need to know to be sure the corporation is on track; and it’s the CEO’s job to report on the work in just enough detail that the directors can make good decisions.
This article about Waltja appeared in a 2018 edition of the ORaCLE (Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations).