It’s my job today to be the loud enthusiastic hand-talking person to keep you all awake after lunch so I’m sure that Paul did this on purpose. I’m going to take you somewhere warmer. I’m going to talk about the work that I’ve been doing in the Pacific for the last four years so unlike Melbourne which is currently my watch tells me 14° I’ve spent most of the last four years in 33°, 90% humidity, too many mosquito bites to count.
Why is someone talking about the Pacific at a diversity inclusion conference you might be asking? It’s still a really interesting place for us to learn about how sport can achieve some social change and the Pacific provides us with a really nice context. What I’m going to start by doing is explaining the slides behind me are just literally photos of my trip. There’s nothing in them. There are no words. It’s just photos so that you’ve got something else to look at if you don’t want to look at me! But what you can see up there is a lovely staff member from the NRL, called Lepa, is learning sign language so we can see that when we’re talking about this Pacific context I’m not going to be talking about how much they can learn from us, I’m going to be talking about what I learnt from the four years in those communities and working with those programs because I think we actually have a lot that we can learn in an Australian context from going over to low middle income countries and looking at the work that they’re doing in diversity and inclusion and delivering sport to their communities.
But first of all I will explain very briefly about the focus of this project and what this was about so the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade has for the last six years a program called the Pacific Sports Partnerships where they give effectively would have been Australian aid money to national sport organisations to go and do sport for development work in the Pacific. It started with four sports, it now has 14 and it’s all across the Pacific region so Melanesia and Polynesia predominantly and the programs I’ll be talking to you about today are the ones that I was working on as a research and evaluation contractor with a colleague of mine from the University of Technology Sydney, Dr Nico Schornkoff.
We worked with the NRL, we worked with Netball Australia and we worked with the International Cricket Council of South East Asia so we played with three sports. I will put a caveat after working four years with the NRL I still know very little if anything about Rugby League. That was one of my key learnings is learning how important this game was to some of our communities. The countries that these programs are run in we were in Tonga and Samoa for netball. We were in Papua New Guinea for cricket and we were in Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga for the Rugby League program so we got to go to a whole lot of different places.
The focus of the programs though wasn’t about delivering sport. The focus of the programs was about delivering sport to try and achieve something else and each of those programs had a design behind them which was trying to achieve different development outcomes. So the netball programs were predominantly about achieving health outcomes. They were in Tonga and Samoa. Many of you would know that Tonga is officially the world’s largest as in fattest country. Their average weight for an adult woman in the 70’s was 76kg. It’s now 92kg. So if you think of average is the middle so there’s a lot of very, very large people in that country. It’s also a very conservative nation, very, very strong Christian nation so we have issues around what’s culturally appropriate to participate in so the sport of netball worked really well. It was an appropriately female sport and it was a sport that was active enough that they could get some health outcomes. It also ended up having some really nice gender outcomes which I’ll to you a bit about later.
In cricket the focus was on women’s empowerment so they ran programs in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea to develop different skill sets in young girls from high school to early 20’s around their personal development and empowerment.
The NRL program which you can see on the screen here was focused more on education so this program was run in primary schools around staying in school, about healthy behaviours and respect. When we talk about respect in this context the program was not so much focused on respect as in non discriminatory language as we would think of it, it was about respect for yourself, so brush your teeth, wash your hands after you’ve been to the toilet sort of stuff, respect for others, don’t hurt people and respect for the environment, pick up your rubbish. That was deemed to be a really culturally appropriate and age-appropriate way of starting conversations about prevention of violence against women and children. Papua New Guinea is officially the fourth most dangerous country in the world and it has exceptionally high rates of gender-based violence so by talking to primary school age children about this concept of respect it was an appropriate way of introducing those sorts of concepts to very young children.
So that’s the two-minute version of what this program was.
I’ll now change the photo and talk to you about what sort of things we learnt and what we can learn in Australia from what these projects were doing in these countries. Interestingly my dot points I’ve got here in my notes reflect a lot of what’s already been said this morning so that’s always a relief to know that you’re on the right track and you’re building on the words of those who have come this morning.
One of the things that we found really clearly from this work in all of these different countries is the importance of diversity in program design. We’ve heard a number of speakers talk about the importance of local solutions and engaging with local communities to get what they need so it would not work if we barged into different cultural contexts or different communities and tell them “this is what’s going to work for you because it’s worked over here”. It’s not the same and even this idea of the Pacific is not a thing. The Pacific Ocean is a thing but this idea of one national or cultural context of the Pacific is really not a thing. In Papua New Guinea there are four million people. There are 865 different language groups, not dialects, language groups. There are very distinct different regions, one of the program regions that we were in is Bougainville which is seeking independence so we are really talking about very culturally, geographically, ethnically, racially different groupings across these programs and it became really clear really quickly that even if we’re in the same country the program design and the program delivery needed to make sure that it accommodated these different communities so what worked in urban Tonga and I use that word accurately in a Tongan context but in our context it wouldn’t feel urban at all but urban Tonga programs would not look the same as what we would do out in the villages for example so we still have that idea of what we would think of the Pacific or a whole country, it doesn’t work.
We need to take the program where it was needed and work with local communities in a really active engaged way to make sure that we heard what they needed and what they wanted to create a more inclusive sport participation opportunity for these health or social outcomes. The other thing that we noted it was really, really key, all of these programs were delivered by staff from that country so the Australian partners would fly in to set the program up and then realistically the local delivery happened from local indigenous Tongans, indigenous Samoans, indigenous Papua New Guineans so there was a lot of local ownership, local design, local delivery.
If the national bodies had of held on a bit too tightly of “this is how you should do things” it wouldn’t have worked as well as it did because what we found is I would go back to New Guinea every six months, get more mosquito bites, more coffee and we would find out that the local staff on the ground in each of the regions had done something, with “oh, we really didn’t like what you wanted us to do there so we’re doing it this way now” and luckily for us as evaluators but also luckily the NSO involved embraced that local iteration and design because it worked for that community so the idea of control and command from a central body doesn’t really work in this space because you do need the local community to adapt to their needs.
Let’s have a look at a different picture. This is one of my favourites. You can see that’s in Tonga. They dress beautifully for school and I don’t know how they stay so clean! You’ll also see that that’s a netball court. You’ll notice that it’s not a netball court. There is infrastructure. This idea in Australia that you need to have courts and you need to have balls and you need to have safety doesn’t really apply so much in the context I was operating in so that would be a court, it would be mown if we were lucky and it’s marked out with oil or petrol as how the lines would be marked out and you can see most of them, all of them are playing in bare feet. It’s a very different context. But that taught us something as well. That taught us about this idea of the broadest understanding of inclusion and this is where I come back to what the topic of today is about.
In all of these programs we weren’t really in a multicultural focus because most of the communities we were working with were relatively monocultural so you were working with Tongan communities in Tonga for example but concepts around inclusion for women and girls participating was very new particularly in cricket and rugby league. The concept of inclusion for people with a disability was often very, very new. We had concepts around going to settlements so Papua New Guinea obviously very poor. They have slums or settlements including settlement children into programming was quite new. The program was introducing concepts of inclusion in its broadest sense but I will go back to what can we learn from this community? What we can learn from this community were two things I found really powerful that we don’t do as well here. The NRL program in particular was designed to be gender equity focused, this respect concept. They would not start the programs, so the staff would turn up, the kids would be invited out of the classroom. They would not start the program until the girls were also on the field because you can imagine when it started the teachers would send the boys out and then would give the girls some homework to do. The staff would stand there with their arms crossed and the balls still in the ball bag and all that kind of stuff until the girls were out, so they showed us this principle of no one left behind. You were never having anyone left behind in the classroom. They would not start until everyone in the classroom was on the field of play. Whether they played or not was up to them but they had to be there.
We initially saw that as a girl thing which was great. We also noticed that they were doing it for their students with disabilities. As you can imagine in Papua New Guinea and places like this the support for children with a disability is limited. There is not as much equipment or accommodations available but they would literally just bring the kids out and they would make up a version of the game on the spot for those children so less planned accommodation and design but they would still figure out a way to do it.
One of the really nice examples of that that we saw was in the highlands of Papua New Guinea which is arguably the most dangerous part one of their development officers was a man who was deaf. They gave him the job because he was the best rugby league guy in the town. There was no official sign language and he just made up his own version and he taught the kids that version and they figured out how to do it. Coaching is often very visual so it didn’t actually make that much difference to how the program was delivered but they were demonstrating that he was great. They were demonstrating that women could do it because they had female development officers on the field. They would never have just male staff, always male and female staff. I think we could do that better here, that concept of leaving no one behind.
New photo – This is why I don’t want to play Rugby League when I go out into country because I am this! I never feel so little as when I’m travelling with these programs.
The other thing that these programs have done well that I think we’re getting better and better at in Australia is purposeful design for what you want to achieve so if you want to achieve gender outcomes you need to design your program to achieve gender outcomes. I know I’m preaching to the choir here but you’d be surprised how many sport organisations think that “if we just keep our fingers crossed and wish hard enough that the gender outcomes will happen”. It’s not as straightforward as that, let alone if we start talking about multicultural inclusion or including people with a disability or same sex or gender diversity.
The other thing that we found that was exceptionally interesting in this context was that across the Pacific and Melanesia there are extraordinary amounts of gender diversity. Netball in Samoa and netball in Tonga are very largely run by what I would call the Fa’afafine Mafia. Fa’afafine, it’s not a third gender. I still don’t know the right way to explain it but it is born men who will present as female and they are extraordinarily involved in netball. They are an accepted part of the netball community and netball in those countries couldn’t run without them so they do that a lot better than I think we do here. They are an embedded part of the netball culture. They can’t play as women. They have to play mixed or men’s teams but the men’s teams in Tonga and Samoa are Fa’afafine or (14:10) depending on which country you’re in so it’s much easier and accepted in that sporting context in netball, not in all other codes so there are some really interesting things that we’ve learnt there.
My last point. I thought I better get all the sports represented on the screen. The thing that we noticed across the four years of this program is that each of these sports were brave in that they allowed iterative design. They tried stuff and if it didn’t work they’d evaluate it, they’d tweak it, they’d change it, they’d adapt it. They didn’t come up with the manual that had to be completed for four years and then it failed because it didn’t change with what was needed so this idea of iterative design was really, really crucial and it worked that well in the different contexts because they allowed it to be a bit more bespoke.
It’ll get closer and closer to something that might work or at least giving it a chance to work if you’re allowed that iteration and change.
My last comment because one of the questions I was asked was I had to talk about where to from here. Our big discussion in this space I think is what a lot of people have spoken about this morning is that idea of best practice versus bespoke, that we understand that there are some key things about best practice that we should include when we’re wanting to have inclusive and diverse sport but we also need to recognize that local communities need their own local versions to make it work in that community. The risk of having just best practice without that local bespoke design is that we all do exactly the same and then it works for nobody so if you take away one thing it can just be that. We need best practice but bespoke local engagement and design.
Thank you very much.