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The world would be quite a different place if every good idea were acted upon.

Like many Indigenous Australians, Jack Manning Bancroft had grown up hearing about and seeing Aboriginal disadvantage. The difference was, at just 19 years old; he set his sights on doing something about it.

“I’d personally experienced a very different storyline – I’ve got a really successful Aboriginal mother, who’s been successful as an artist, and I’ve seen really strong Aboriginal people around me in my life, but I’ve obviously also seen plenty of the stories that we hear about more commonly, about the challenges and the disadvantages,” Manning Bancroft tells Dynamic Business.

After winning a scholarship to the prestigious Paul’s College at Sydney University, Manning Bancroft conceived the idea for what is now the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME) – a program founded in 2005, which pairs university students with Indigenous high school kids for their mutual benefit.

“I thought that there had to be a way that we could inspire younger people and this generation, at a time when most Australians want Aboriginal people to succeed. It all started with the basic intent to do something practical. I got frustrated with all the complaining about the problem, and I think talk’s pretty cheap – so I didn’t want to just be another person adding to the narrative without actually trying to do something,” Manning Bancroft says.

The key was to find a way to give Indigenous kids the opportunity to see that there was another future, and that there was a path they could follow to challenge themselves to build more with their lives.

The model is quite simple – AIME comprises an intensive educational development program that’s run from year 7 all the way to year 12. “So it’s kind of like what the AIS is to athletes, we are for Indigenous high school kids,” Manning Bancroft says.

Throughout their high school years, the kids go through intensive development programs and workshops, and the university students are there to act as mentors and an added peer-support mechanism. A lot of the program content is focused on reframing the way children look at their Aboriginality.

“I think in the past for a lot of these kids they look at being Indigenous is as a negative thing, and as something that has destined them to be disadvantaged in some way. We’re really trying to flip that mentality so it becomes ‘being Indigenous means I’m going to be successful’, Manning Bancroft says. “We set those high expectations and those really positive psychological associations with their Aboriginality so they can use it as a strength rather than a weakness.”

AIME has attracted high-level support from Government and corporate sponsors alike, and Manning Bancroft has been the recipient of the Young Australian of the Year accolade. Keeping AIME running however, as been no easy task.

“To be honest, the only time that we’ve really started to nail down the concept with clear-cut strategic planning and goals has been in the last 5 years. The main drivers have always been consistent, and that’s been to try and give as many kids as possible that extra support. That mission has defined all of the other structures that had to be put in place to make it work.”

Incorporated in 2008 to become a charity, since then AIME has scaled nationwide.

“This year we’ll be working with 3,500 kids, and that makes us the biggest support-provider to Indigenous kids in the whole country, so that’s what we’ve built in the last decade from the ground up. It’s been a pretty crazy growth trajectory, to now be up in that arena. Last year we were also voted by BRW as in the top 50 places to work, we’ve got around 100 staff around the country and a lot of volunteers all lining up to be a part of it.”

All of these achievements have been satisfying for Manning Bancroft, but he doesn’t believe any of it would have been possible if AIME hadn’t maintained focus on its core intentions and values.

“It can be easy to get lost in the headlights, but I think one thing that we’ve done really well is to maintain our integrity, and not drift away from out mission.”

Scaling and growing AIME has been a key challenge, and Manning Bancroft says transitioning from 10-20 staff, up  to 40, and now to 100 has been difficult.

“It’s really hard because you’re still a friend to a lot of the people, and in my mind I was still trying to grow the structure so that we could be an organisation like we are today which provides services to around 5,000 people – from out staff to our mentors and to our kids.”

Trying to keep staff motivated and on board with growing the organisation is one of the more emotionally draining elements. But Manning Bancroft doesn’t take it personally and likens it to what he calls the AIME train – where people get on board and can get off when they’re reached what they feel is their stop. With any fast growing business, sometimes staff can think of it as an organisation of 20 people, but then the following year it’s 40, and in some ways a completely different place, Manning Bancroft explains.

“It’s something that we haven’t shied away from, and if you don’t have the right staffing processes in place, right through from your position descriptions to the performance management and providing the right tools to all of your staff – it’s going to be borderline impossible to scale successfully into new regions with new franchises, without actually building those tools.”

“It might not feel like the best use of your time while you’re building all those processes, like manuals and toolkits, but it might actually buy you 5, 10, 20 years in the future, and we’re starting to reap the rewards of that now,” Manning Bancroft.

And what a reward that will be. If AIME achieves its goal of reaching 10,000 kids by 2018 – it will be one of the biggest acts of closing the gap in Australian history.

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Stephanie Zillman

Stephanie Zillman

Stephanie is the editor-at-large of Dynamic Business. Stephanie brings with her a passion for journalism, business, and new ideas. On her days off, you might find her reading a book on the beach.

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