The Clontarf Foundation has partnered with Sodexo Australia to improve the future of young Indigenous boys and men in Australia.

The partnership comes alongside Sodexo’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), the company will support Clontarf’s work in mentoring and counselling Indigenous students as well as providing them with access to employment.

CEO of Sodexo’s mining operations in Australia, Paul Cooper, said this was a partnership, not a sponsorship, and that Sodexo decided to do this initiative outside of the RAP.

“For us it’s about engaging at the front end of our Reconciliation Action Plan. We’ve made some commitments, and this provides an amazing platform to build and really expedite on everything that we’re trying to do as part of our RAP,” Mr Cooper said.

“[It] gives us an opportunity to start at the beginning with the boys. The boys come from local communities a lot of the time … most of them want to go back to those local communities where they’re from and look for employment.”

Mr Cooper said Sodexo operates in a lot of remote regions of Australia, particularly in their mining business.

“We can start working with them as they work through their school years and start talking to them about what the future might look [like] and providing opportunities ready for when they finish their education, to hopefully transition [them] straight into a job.”

As part of the initiative, Mr Cooper said Sodexo will facilitate events and workshops to introduce Sodexo’s senior leaders to students and determine each student’s drivers and motivations.

Mr Cooper also said that all the company’s senior leadership has already completed cultural awareness training and that Sodexo will also offer training to Indigenous students to prepare them for future employment and avoid culture shock in the workplace.

Paul Cooper, Sodexo CEO Mining APAC; Students from the Clontarf Academy in Waterford; Ross Kelly, Clontarf Foundation Chairman. Photo supplied.

While mining is the largest part of Sodexo’s business, Mr Cooper said there will be opportunities for Indigenous students in many other sectors as well.

“We operate in corporate services, healthcare, education, aged care, so we have a number of business units that can provide opportunities,” Mr Cooper said.

Mr Cooper said 90 percent of Sodexo operates in local communities and that partnerships like this are all about reinvesting back into those communities.

The mining CEO said Sodexo chose to partner with Clontarf because of their success rate as a foundation that propels Indigenous boys into employment and education opportunities.

“For us it’s a success story that we’d like to be part of. We think that we can contribute to improve the work that Clontarf is doing,” Mr Cooper said.

Although Mr Cooper would not disclose the “significant amount of money” Sodexo is investing into this partnership, he reinforced that there was “no set agenda on a return in investment.”

“This is about Clontarf telling us what they actually need, and us providing that … the money for us isn’t the driving force behind this, it’s an investment on … the right thing to do,” Mr Cooper said.


The Clontarf method

Founded in 2000 by former Fremantle Dockers coach and Sydney Swans player Gerard Neesham, the Clontarf Foundation works with Indigenous boys and men through football academies and schools to provide pathways for employment or study after high school graduation.

Every student at Clontarf has personalised mentorship and support to ensure they find employment or engage in further study that is specifically suited to them.

The Clontarf method is showing great success as school attendance rates have reached 80 percent, retention rates of Clontarf participants have reached 90 percent, and 80 percent of students stay engaged in further study or employment one year after finishing Year 12.

Clontarf has over 8,000 boys in 128 schools across Western Australia, Northern Territory, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

“We see ourselves as … very much at the bottom of the pyramid. We’re really in the supply area, we want to develop well-rounded young men who are confident to be able to get through their schooling and then get into the workforce,” Mr Neesham said.

“The opportunities that partners of Clontarf have is that they provide opportunities for employment [for the boys].”

Clontarf’s largest partners are Rio Tinto and Wesfarmers, with their biggest financial support coming from the Ramsay Foundation.

“It really opens up [opportunities] for local boys to take local jobs, in a lot of cases,” Mr Neesham said.

“These partnerships are critically important because if we were to fund ourselves from a government point of view, we wouldn’t know where all the jobs are.”

Mr Neesham said it’s vital Clontarf has strong relationships with its partners to give their students a better chance at getting jobs with their partners.

“These partnerships are critical to development … the whole aim is to make it easier for our young men to transition,” Mr Neesham said.

“It’s a pretty difficult transition … so we act as family.”

The partnership launch saw Clontarf students networking with industry leaders and cultural performances by the Girrawheen Academy Kaali Dance Group.

“We look forward to this program, with Sodexo’s support, continuing to grow and help more and more boys contribute meaningfully to society,” Mr Neesham said.

By Hannah Cross