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Indigenous perspectives vital to CQUni Changemaker credentials

Published:07 April 2020

CQUni 2020 Alumnus of the Year - Social Impact award recipient Leslie Lowe, who has co-presented Social Innovation through an Indigenous Lens.

CQUniversity has been re-accredited as Australia’s only Changemaker university, and the role is driving new ways of celebrating the nation’s Indigenous history of innovation.

Earlier this year, CQUniversity’s title was reaffirmed by Ashoka U, an exclusive international network of universities committed to social innovation, enterprise and impact.

One of just 45 members world-wide, CQUni first joined the global network in 2016, opening doors to a range of global opportunities for staff and students.

Last year, the membership saw the CQUni secure an international grant to bridge gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people across its communities – and now, it’s sharing the impacts globally.

Supported by $US10,000 funding from the American Fetzer Institute, CQUni’s Office of Social Innovation partnered with Indigenous alumnus Leslie Lowe, to create a national workshop series “Social Innovation through an Indigenous Lens”.

The Bundjalung man and social enterprise founder, who is also CQUniversity’s 2020 Alumnus of the Year for Social Impact, co-designed the workshop with Social Innovation program manager Ashley Clarke, to explore and celebrate innovative ways of being and doing demonstrated in pre-colonial Indigenous Australia.

The workshop explores Indigenous navigation, agriculture and aquaculture, trade and medicine, from both storytelling and academic perspectives.

February sessions in Brisbane and Townsville were booked out by staff, students and community members, and more scheduled events across Mackay, Rockhampton and Melbourne postponed due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Mr Lowe, who brings experience and learnings from decades of exploring Indigenous history and tradition, and research during his Bachelor of Environment studies with CQUniversity, said understanding Indigenous Australians as innovative peoples was vital to recognition and reconciliation.

“From my first learning about the framework of social innovation, it was always obvious to me, this is the way our mob thinks and works, and how we hold our people together,” he explained.

“I’ve built that understanding over a lifetime of living and learning in Indigenous communities, and then for the past decade being involved at CQUniversity and bringing in the academic perspective, too.”

“This workshop is the first time I’ve been able to bring all of it together, and had the platform to help the wider community realise the potential of Indigenous mindsets.”

Since 2015, Mr Lowe has been managing director of Bundaberg's innovative TECKnology Indigenous Corporation, a not-for-profit sustainability management organisation.

Mr Lowe is also a co-presenter of iChange, CQUni’s social innovation orientation program launched in 2018.

The free online course is Australia’s first whole-of-institution changemaker initiative, and has been completed by thousands of CQUni students and staff.

Ms Clarke, who developed the Social Innovation through an Indigenous Lens workshops with Mr Lowe, said appreciating Indigenous knowledge was increasingly important to people working towards social change.

“The workshops brought together diverse participants, working across a range of sectors  and encouraged meaningful dialogue, fostered empathy and deepened understanding” Ms Clarke explained.

“Indigenous Australians are the longest living continuous culture on the planet for a reason. This workshop celebrates Indigenous social innovations and gives participants an opportunity to appreciate and learn from an Indigenous mindset.”

“Participants got to propose their own ideas about how Indigenous ways of being and thinking could be applied to tackling issues in their communities, and they were really excited about those opportunities.”

CQUniversity was one of just six Changemaker Campus institutions globally to receive the Fetzer Institute funding.

On April 17, Mr Lowe and Ms Clarke will remotely present to the Ashoka U Exchange conference about the workshop series delivery and impacts. The annual conference is being hosted virtually due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Director of Social Innovation Lara Carton said partnerships with First Nations’ Peoples were a vital part of social innovation strategy at CQUniversity.

“CQUni has one of Australia’s highest proportions of Indigenous students across our campuses, and our Reconciliation Action Plan is driving new and innovative partnerships with our Indigenous communities nationally,” Ms Carton said.

“The demand for our Social Innovation through an Indigenous Lens workshop shows the appetite across CQUniversity to really embrace innovative Indigenous culture.”