Just over a decade ago, Managing Director of Dynamic Exchange and CTT-certified consultant Annalise Jennings championed the transformation of indigenous communities in Far North QLD, Australia, empowered with resources and tools based on the Barrett Model and HAI Principles. Here she tells the story of the ‘Whole of Community Change’ program.
“Well, I remember it quite vividly, actually. It was my first time in an Aboriginal community. I was invited by two elders, who had previously invited me to their country. It was over a cup of tea, by a billabong that they shared their story with me. They shared the plight of Aboriginal people. They told me that two of their own children had taken their lives. I actually felt my heart break. It was only a couple of years later that a third child would also perish. I was there on holiday, I took some leave from banking, and I knew at that moment that I wasn't going back to banking, and yet I didn't know what I was supposed to be doing there. I asked in prayer for guidance because I thought, I'm here for a reason. What am I supposed to do now? They asked me to stay longer. I took extended leave, and they invited me to their community. I showed up in their community, really, as a friend.
They took me to a Flying Doctor Service that had a conference facility. I sat down next to the elders who invited me, and I thought, “I wonder who's coming today?!” More and more people were entering this facility, and I thought, once more, “somebody really significant must be visiting; I can't wait to meet this person.” As the numbers grew, there were about 50 people in there, and Dez, the elder who invited me, took command of the meeting and brought everybody into presence. He introduced me and pointed to the whiteboard! I thought, “What am I presenting?!”, I took the long way around the table… trying to work it out.
I then drew the seven levels Barrett Model.
Within the seven levels of consciousness model, I asked them to share with me what's happening around survival? What's happening right now? What are the possibilities for the future? Share with me what's happening around the internal relationships and the potential for transformation. The room became quite animated. People were sharing their experiences. I asked them where do they really want to be? They responded, “Well, we're all about legacy. We're all about future generations. We see ourselves in this space of giving, sharing, and caring for our future generations, but we struggle in these other areas.”
We were there for quite some time. After a couple of hours, another one of the elders got up and banged his hand on the table really loudly. He said, “This is it, this is what we need, we're doing this!” That's when I realised I was going to be doing something, but I didn't know exactly what yet…
It became about engaging as many people in the community as possible, in all sectors, so everybody felt included through focus groups, one-to-one in homes or under beautiful trees out in nature, and wherever I was invited. My approach was always one of appreciative inquiry and positive psychology. Tell me what's working well and what we could imagine. I am really glad that I did it that way, because what I didn't want was to take people into a spiral of deficiency needs but rather into a conversation of hope and possibility. The more people that I spoke to, the more ideas came through, around what a visionary community-owned plan could look like. I say community owned because that was really essential.
This had to be community-owned, not government-owned, by the people for the people. And so that was the beginning. I started to use the Barrett Model during sessions where I put all of the keywords onto separate coloured cards. I'd have this splash of colour across all of these trestle tables. I'd ask people just to navigate their way around and pick ten words and come back. I'd collect all of those cards that they'd selected and manually put them into the system. What would have taken five minutes to complete online was a process of weeks.
I had a lot of qualitative information, lots of quotes, and people really felt a part of it. So by the time it came to me actually running a strategic forum around, what we’re doing with all of this data, I had spoken to hundreds of people.
About two years before this experience, I started to get restless. I didn't know what I wanted to do. I just knew that I wanted to do more in the space of community and humanitarian work. I'd been in corporate agendas for close to 25 years. While, I had cultivated a sense of community within corporate, I felt like I had become institutionalised.
I registered a business name called Dynamic Exchange. I loved the words dynamic exchange because I'd read a Deepak Chopra book that speaks to the reciprocal energy that exists within us, between us, humanity and the universe. I put all my faith that as opportunities or situations emerge, I would recognise this feels like the energy of dynamic exchange. We're going to go that way. That’s when I received the invite from the elders.
I did a lot of one-on-one coaching. People would complete the ‘personal values assessment’. I then called the program Whole of Community Change. Originally, I created a conscious parenting program as I wished to learn how to be a better parent to my sons. I was running it on weekends whilst still working in corporate. The elders heard about this program and wanted me to run something similar. However, when I spent a bit of time in the community, I realised that there were so many systemic issues that we really had to get on the balcony and look at this from a systemic perspective and understand all of the points of cause and effect.
I said a parenting program isn't going to cut it. It was interesting how Whole of Community change evolved because I didn't know what I was doing there, let alone creating a program. If I did, I would have come in with an agenda. So thank goodness, I had no idea what I was doing there. I intuitively included service providers, councillors, and federal state government; everybody was invited.
I started to talk to the younger members of the group; I felt, you know, we really need something for 18 to 35-year-olds around Leadership. I developed a program with them to really understand some of those limiting beliefs holding them back. A cohort came together on a three-day intensive Leadership Program. The beauty of that is that on day three of the program, the community leaders had created a party for them back in their community; literally, a red carpet was laid out. They had laid the tables with white linen, and the younger kids brought their food to the table while others had to line up. They were given beautiful treatment in recognition of the leadership sessions that they had undertaken. Subsequently, l was invited to other communities, where further programs emerged. Together with community members, I created Parenting programs, ‘women of worth’, ‘men of worth’ as well as coaching programs for students, their parents and educators.
We focused our attention from problem to possibility, I didn't ask about domestic violence or truancy at school or court appearances - I didn't engage in any of that conversation. We had badges made up, “Drop the rock and feel the ripple effect”, and people all over the community were wearing these badges. The ripple effect became a metaphor for transformation, and people were talking about it. When I presented the findings to the council of elders, the mayor and the local Aboriginal Council, they shared with me that the safe house, which had housed up to 12 children at a time, was empty.