Corporate social responsibility, not just a box to be ticked
In more ways than one, Weipa, in the Cape York Peninsula in far north Queensland, is a world away from Melbourne’s central business district. Early last month, graduate students from the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Business and Economics sought to bridge this geographical and cultural divide when they made a presentation to a group of seven Rio Tinto Melbourne-based staff about their findings from a recent business practicum undertaken in the top-end Indigenous community.
Rio Tinto has a longstanding partnership with the University of Melbourne, sponsoring a raft of Indigenous programs, of which this business practicum is just one.
“The presentation went really well,” says Karin Lorenzon, Principal Advisor, Corporate Relations based at Rio Tinto’s Collins Street offices. “The students expressed their findings clearly and powerfully. We were all impressed with the depth of research and their enthusiasm.
“It was clear that the project has had a huge impact on them. In fact, one remarked it was the most interesting and worthwhile thing he had done in all his time at University.”
Every summer and winter, groups of students from the Graduate School of Business and Economics undertake practical, hands-on subjects which provide them with the opportunity to experience the culture and business practices of other communities first-hand. In the process, they donate their time and expertise to applying their business and management skills to compelling, but problematic real-life, real-time projects.
The eight graduate students who visited Weipa broke up into two groups under the guidance of academic mentors Dr Danielle Chmielewski-Raimondo, a lecturer in Marketing in the Department of Management, and Dr Albie Brooks, Senior Teaching Fellow in Management Accounting. After receiving cultural awareness training with Elders and members of the Weipa community and participating in NAIDOC Week celebrations, the group led by Dr Chmielewski-Raimondo developed a marketing strategy for the promotion of the Ely Bursary and, under the tutelage of Dr Brooks, conducted an in-depth assessment of the current processes for management of the Bursary.
“The complete range of activities provided the students with invaluable insights into Indigenous communities,” says Dr Chmielewski-Raimondo. “This was one of the most memorable, enjoyable and interesting experiences any of us have had.”
The two projects entailed devising a new brochure, application form, set of guidelines, and communications plan for the Ely Educational Assistance Bursary, an essential element of the Ely Bauxite Mining Agreement. This agreement, which covers six traditional owner groups, includes commitments for Rio Tinto Alcan Weipa such as the protection of culturally important areas, cultural awareness training for employees, and education and training opportunities for Indigenous people.
“The Weipa business practicum was a unique cultural experience that gave our students significant learning experiences,” says Dr Brooks.
“Not only did the students get to be involved in a real project with the potential to have a significant impact on the Indigenous communities in Cape York and develop a better understanding of the issues and difficulties Indigenous communities face, they also got to work with a company that takes its corporate social responsibilities seriously.”