5 Minutes With CEO of Jawun Shane Webster

Shane Webster

A proud Torres Strait Islander man, the CEO of Jawun – an organisation that brings corporate and government partners together with First Nations communities to affect change – puts relationships and shared values at the forefront.

I was 15 or 16 when I started as a dishwasher at a local Italian café in Adelaide. That small business had two owners and the first would watch us like a hawk and come down hard on anyone not performing. The second owner took the time to know us and ensure we had everything we needed to do our jobs – no-one wanted to let him down. The first owner was the burning fire. The second was the calming water – always be the water.

My first real boss was a political chief of staff. He was intensely focused on cutting through the rationale for why an action was being put forward. He was kind, he was patient and he was unbelievably brilliant. He had a knack for lowering his voice and drawing people in – quite the tactician. To this day, my starting point whenever anyone presents me with a problem is to understand the rationale before moving forward.

The first time I was disappointed in a business outcome goes back to when I worked in politics as a ministerial adviser. I was tasked with opposing a draft bill from a minor party. Had that bill succeeded it would have had an extremely positive effect and righted some wrongs with the Aboriginal community in South Australia. It was a really heartbreaking experience for me. I learnt then that it’s important to do what’s effective and to do what’s expected but you never really want to stray too far from your own personal cultural values. I think success is shrinking those three points of the triangle with yourself squarely in the middle.

My first failure at Jawun is somewhat of a folk legend. I was a few weeks into the job in a mid-level role and we took a group of professionals out camping as part of an induction experience. On the morning of the fourth day, we packed up camp and headed off like we’d done all the previous mornings. It wasn’t until we reached our destination that we realised there was one person less than when we started. It all ended well but looking back it was a pivotal moment. It would have been easy to blame my training manager but even then, I knew good leadership requires you to take ownership of issues. Our mantra at Jawun is “safety is not a secret”. We share failures – they’re learning opportunities – and encourage a culture of reporting near misses. That was, and remains, a teachable moment.

The first time I knew I was making a difference was when I was working with the Ngarrindjeri Nation in SA through the Jawun partnership. There was a small team of rangers that were about to lose their jobs due to some grant funding cessation. Together we called in every favour, we applied every tactic and we approached every major business or agency that we could to keep these guys employed. We ended up building the most profitable Indigenous fishery business in the country. That business broke the mould of what good partnering should look like. There was opportunity in chaos and we built something that was better than what we found.

Defining moment

“It was 2013 and I was playing an important part in the amendment of the South Australian Constitution Act [of 1934] to recognise Aboriginal custodianship of lands and waters – so effectively to change [the wording of] the constitution. If you had walked past Parliament House that day you would’ve heard thunderous applause from the public gallery, with members of the Aboriginal community standing alongside parliamentarians from all sides of politics. I realised then that to move forward as a nation we have to connect both the head and the heart in matters of reconciliation.”

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SEE ALSO: 5 Minutes With OzHarvest Founder Ronni Kahn

Image credit: Samantha Webster

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