Reconciliation Action Plans: How Investa is innovating to create impact on the road to reconciliation
Last year, Investa launched its ‘Innovate’ Reconciliation Action Plan with a vision for an equitable Australia where the rich cultures and histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are respected and celebrated. Since then, the Investa team has been busy on a range of innovative projects and partnerships.
Reconciliation Action Plans, or RAPs, have helped organisations around Australia to take meaningful action that advances reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Based around the core pillars of relationships, respect and opportunities, RAPs provide tangible and substantive benefits for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, increasing economic equity and supporting First Nations self-determination.
One of Australia’s largest real estate companies, Investa owns or manages buildings where more than 45,000 people work. “Every property company owns physical assets that sit on Aboriginal land. This brings deep responsibility, but also opportunity,” says Amy Wild, Investa’s Group Executive Head of Corporate Operations.
Investa established a RAP Working Group in 2018 and launched its first ‘Reflect’ RAP in July 2019. This looked for opportunities to elevate First Nations voices, showcase First Nations history and culture and to support First Nations businesses.
Investa’s second ‘Innovate’ RAP was unveiled in August 2022. This implements many of the learnings uncovered during the ‘Reflect’ RAP process and begins to embed reconciliation into the way Investa operates.
“We recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners of the lands on which our buildings stand and where our people work. We are committed to a shared future where we listen to, learn from and build genuine partnerships with First Nations peoples.”
Amy Wild, Group Executive, Head of Corporate Operations, Investa
What is reconciliation?
According to Reconciliation Australia, reconciliation strengthens relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous peoples for the benefit of all Australians.
While Australia has made some significant steps, reconciliation is an ongoing journey. As Reconciliation reminds us: “…while generations of Australians have fought hard for meaningful change, future gains are likely to take just as much, if not more, effort”.
In a just, equitable and reconciled Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children will have the same life chances and choices as non-Indigenous children, and the length and quality of a person’s life will not be determined by their racial background.
A platform for strong partnerships
The Reflect RAP process gave Investa time to scope out a strategy, connect with like-minded tenant customers, develop relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stakeholders and lay solid foundations for sustainable, meaningful change.
Investa has introduced a Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country protocol guide to help employees pay their respects to First Nations peoples at all significant events.
Each member of Investa’s team undertakes cultural awareness training, and the executive team and RAP Working Group took part in a series of face-to-face cultural awareness workshops in partnership with Evolve Communities.
Investa has also established partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses, charities and community groups to support reconciliation. In doing so, Investa has strengthened relationships with tenant customers.
Take Investa’s container deposition scheme as an example. “This project started with a challenge: How do we improve the recycling rates in our buildings?” says Melanie Hopgood-Bould, Investa’s Head of Customer Experience. A 10-cent refund on recyclables seemed like a small incentive, until tenant customers understood that all funds raised would be channelled into programs that support Indigenous mentoring and education. The Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience and Deadly Science are two of the programs that Investa and its tenant customers have supported.
“Our container deposit scheme is a great example of how we can achieve social and environmental impacts in one hit. We improved our recycling rates while also giving back and making a positive contribution to First Nations peoples,” Ms Hopgood-Bould says.
Another partnership also points to the power of procurement. Investa’s chemical free cleaning program was prompted by a request from a tenant customer. On the hunt for a sustainable, ethical product without sacrificing quality, Investa discovered Wirrpanda’s cleaning products. These sustainable, chemical free products are created by an Indigenous-owned business and support the Waalitj Foundation and its work to enhance education and employment opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. “This project is exciting because it’s not something that was bolted on. It is part of business-as-usual. That leads to sustainable impact,” Ms Wild adds.
Strengthening relationships for reconciliation
An Innovate RAP is focused on developing and strengthening relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, engaging staff and stakeholders in reconciliation, and developing and piloting innovative strategies to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
“Our Reflect RAP was about learning. We acknowledged this was a space we didn’t know enough about, and we began to explore how we could have a meaningful impact for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees in our business and to improve economic outcomes in our communities,” Ms Wild explains.
“Our Innovate RAP challenges us around scale and significance of impact. This two-year Innovate RAP process will help us form a clear idea of the directions we should take to drive the greatest change – whether that is delivering own programs or contributing the efforts of other amazing organisations.”
Investa’s ambition is broad in scope. There are procurement projects in the pipeline to support Indigenous-owned businesses. Partnerships with foundations and universities aim to further First Nations’ education and employment opportunities through secondments and work experience.
One partnership with the NSW Indigenous Chamber of Commerce (NSWICC), for instance, aims to ignite the entrepreneurial spirit of Aboriginal people, accelerate Aboriginal business and employment growth and facilitate relationships and networks that enable sustained economic and social inclusion.
Collaborations and connections with tenants also celebrate significant events, while Acknowledgement of Country through digital signature and touchpoints drive home Investa’s commitment to reconciliation. A strategy to integrate Indigenous culture and art into Investa's built assets is also laying a foundation for a reconciled future.
“We are working with likeminded building customers, many of whom have their own RAPs, to drive positive change. We aren’t just educating building customers. We are also learning from those more progressed on their journey,” Ms Hopgood-Bould says.
In this together with tenants and Traditional Owners
Insite, Investa’s occupant experience app, provides tenant customers with exclusive access to a range of services, events, news, competitions, offers and content – and is a valuable platform to share information about National Reconciliation Week, NAIDOC Week and other culturally significant events.
For NAIDOC Week in 2022, for example, Investa and interior design and fitout specialist Sheldon partnered to present a series of activations in the foyer of 40 Mount Street, on Cammeraygal Country in North Sydney. This included a traditional smoking ceremony, cultural performances from the Jannawi dancers, an art exhibition and incredible Indigenous food.
“The relationships formed and strengthened at events like these underpin our commitment to reconciliation, and also create a rich and authentic experience for the people who work in our buildings,” Melanie says.
Other activations have included presentations by First Nations ambassadors, competitions to win hampers of Indigenous food and live cooking experiences.
Ms Hopgood-Bould says the learnings from these activations have been embedded into the Innovate RAP process. “We still have so much to learn but can also see the potential we have to make a positive impact.”
The theme of National Reconciliation Week is “be a voice for generations”. To echo this theme, Investa is educating its employees on the Voice to Parliament referendum. As Amy Wild notes: “Investa, as a company, doesn’t vote in the referendum. What we can do is give our staff the tools to make an informed decision about the Voice.”
“Events like National Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC Week are opportunities to build relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, and between Investa and its customers.”
Melanie Hopgood-Bould, Head of Customer Experience, Investa
Authentic leadership accelerates impact
Investa has a big, bold agenda. But as Ms Wild says: “We also have a large working group of passionate advocates that have volunteered their time and talents.” With representation from every part of Investa’s business, “from all walks of life and levels of seniority", Investa has genuine support for reconciliation.
“There is a shared desire to work together to arrive at a different place. We know we are still at the early stages of a very long journey. No one can walk this alone. We want to work collaboratively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and businesses, with our tenant customers and with our industry.”
While reconciliation is a long road, Australia’s property industry has made great strides forward to address other challenges, Ms Wild notes. Australia’s real estate companies have been ranked the world’s most sustainable for 12 consecutive years, according to the world’s most respected ESG benchmark, GRESB. Similarly, the Champions of Change Property, a group of 26 of Australia’s leading property companies which includes Investa, has achieved gender balance in women’s representation, recruitment and promotions in just a few short years.
“Australia’s property industry knows how to drive large-scale transformation. Reconciliation is not a competitive space. We don’t see this as a box-ticking exercise or a race to the finish line. It’s an opportunity for everyone to work together – because that’s the only way we will get the change we want to see.”