Former Essendon football player Dean Rioli has been appointed to the Board of health and education organisation, Bridging the Gap Foundation.

Passionate about sustainable and meaningful employment, Rioli has worked tirelessly since retiring from the AFL to bridge the gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

A Munupi man from the Tiwi Islands, Rioli has been appointed Deputy Chair of the Foundation. He said he jumped at the opportunity to combine his two passions of employment and health.

“I’ve been involved in Aboriginal recruitment and training for 14 years, so a huge focus of mine is supporting Aboriginal people into full-time work, including pathways to employment,” he said.

“The focus of Bridging the Gap Foundation is purely on fundraising for health research and employment outcomes, and they are the two things I am passionate about most.”

“It was a perfect fit for what I’m hoping to do.”

Rioli fell into the mentor role from a young age, visiting schools and communities to provide positive messages and support. Despite playing 100 games for Essendon from 1998 to 2006, Rioli is most proud of his achievements post-football in supporting his own people in training and employment.

Speaking to his passion for bridging the gap, Rioli started the Rioli Fund for Aboriginal Health in 2007, just one year after retiring from AFL, in a bid to raise money and awareness for Aboriginal child health and mental health.

Since retiring 14 years ago, Rioli has worked hard to create meaningful employment opportunities for Indigenous people. Through his business Dean Rioli Aboriginal Employment Services (DRAES), he has supported over 100 people into full-time work.

Rioli is a current Board member at JobsBank and is the Managing Director of Bunji Hire, an Aboriginal-owned company that provides a comprehensive range of plant equipment to clients via rental or hire facility.

Rioli said that in the 14 years he has been working in Aboriginal procurement, he has seen a lot of change.

“The biggest change I find at the moment is there are a lot of mainstream organisations wanting to improve their diversity in the workplace,” he said.

“They want to be educated more with how to create culturally safe working environments for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.”

He said employers are looking to become more inclusive and trying to figure out what the best practices are in making people feel safe in their working environment.

Rioli is eager to see things improve, which would mean more employment opportunities and improved working relationships between employers and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“I’ve seen a lot of change in 14 years and as long as things continue on that trajectory, it’ll continue to improve.

“Some organisations I’ve worked with have never employed Aboriginal people in the past, so that’s what I’d like to see: more organisations looking to improve their diversity in their workplace,” Rioli said.

Bridging the Gap Foundation was established through the Menzies School of Health Research and Charles Darwin University to fund research into health and education. The Foundation aims to ‘bridge the gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians’ health and education opportunities and outcomes.

Their vision is reflected in one statistic: the ten-year gap in the average life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians—with health and education being major contributors to this gap.

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By Imogen Kars