How We Are Warriors & R/GA Are Changing Australia From Within

How We Are Warriors & R/GA Are Changing Australia From Within

It has been a challenging year for Indigenous communities within Australia. But, against a challenging backdrop, First Nations social enterprise We Are Warriors (WAW) has been able to enact incredible positive change.

WAW was co-founded by Nooky — rapper, radio DJ, creative and proud Yuin & Thunghutti man alongside co-founder Ben Miles, VP, ECD at creative innovation studio R/GA Australia. It serves as a platform and a beacon for Indigenous youth in Australia to look towards for inspiration. When First Nations people make up three per cent of the population and four-fifths of 10-year-olds behind bars are Indigenous, telling positive and inspirational stories can seem challenging.

IPG-owned R/GA has worked very closely with WAW and Miles has been instrumental in getting the organisation off the ground. For its work with WAW and its Blak Powerhouse event on 26 January, R/GA won the Award for Diversity at this year’s B&T Awards.

Some of the R/GA team (sans Nooky and Miles) collecting the B&T Award for Diversity. L-R: Victoria Curro, managing director; Siona Singletary, associate strategy director – brand design & consulting; Lara Hewitt, national talent & operations director; Seamus Higgins, chief creative officer.

Miles and Nooky first met in mid-2020, during the COVID pandemic and amidst the Black Lives Matter movement in the US – a time of conversations around systemic racism, biases, inequality and soul-searching.

“I was sitting in my living room, going through the same process, looking at Black Lives Matter on the TV and seeing it happening right here in Australia, and starting to check our own biases. I reached out to Nooky. And asked if we could have a conversation. We sat down, and we talked about all the uncomfortable truths that indigenous people face in Australia, and how long that’s been going on and it so often is brushed under the carpet,” Miles told B&T.

“I wanted to just listen to Nooky, I didn’t go with any preconceived ideas. I just knew the world was going through a period in time where we’re all trying to better understand ourselves and look at how we can help if there anything I can do with the privilege that I have, I come from a privileged background, I have privilege, can I use that privilege in any way to help somebody?”

The ball started rolling and ideas started to transform into action. A year after WAW launched, on 26 January 2023, WAW took over the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney for an afternoon and evening celebrating Blak excellence.

WAW puts a spotlight on Indigenous role models, helping to inspire Blak youth and show that there are no limits to what they can achieve. The group also offers training, internships and community to Indigenous youth around Australia none of which would be possible if it weren’t for the support of brands.

Read more: See It To Be It: The Trailblazing Story Of We Are Warriors

It has been a challenging year for corporate activism in Australia. The No campaign during the Voice to Parliament referendum, went to great lengths to paint companies that actively supported the voice as out of touch with regular consumers.

This included the big four banks as well as mining and energy firms such as BHP, Rio Tinto, Woodside Energy, and Origin Energy. Qantas and Telstra also supported the voice and donated. Coles and Woolies, meanwhile, supported the Voice though Coles did not donate. Woolies has chosen not to comment on donations.

“I want to know if NAB is all-in behind Mayo or is their support just crass corporate virtue-signalling? Polling shows the CEO is out of touch with his customers. Things are going to get a lot tougher for mortgage holders, he should be focusing on helping his customers through these challenges,” said Liberal National Party MP Garth Hamilton, challenging a pro-Voice video found on the bank’s website in parliament.

But the point of WAW is not to achieve quick-fix solutions to the challenges that Indigenous youth face in Australia by raking in dollars from corporate Australia in “crass corporate virtue signalling” efforts. Instead, it is about enacting long-term change.

“When Ben and I first had a conversation about doing something together, I said to him ‘Don’t come and have a conversation with me if you are not about it and not in it for the long run’. We say the same to brands,” said Nooky.

This long-term relationship between Nooky and Miles has led to significant, tangible action taken by WAW to help improve the lives of Australia’s Indigenous youth.

“A grant from the City of Sydney has enabled us to establish a physical space. The commercial lease is valued at $780,000, allowing us to launch community projects,” explained Nooky.

“A TikTok partnership enabled us to launch a WAW handle; they have committed a further $20,000 in sponsorship for 2023 content production.

“Adobe has committed to developing a WAW academy, facilitating pathways into creative internships and work placements”.

JD Sports, in consultation and collaboration, with WAW has introduced Welcome to Countries on its point-of-sale software across its 50 stores around the country and added it to its build process for new stores.

“Working with WAW, we saw an opportunity to create change. WAW’s mission of “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” underscores Adobe’s belief that creativity can change the world and, through creativity for all, can be the conduit for greater connection and impact,” said Clare Cahill, senior manager, event experience at Adobe.

“Our partnership with WAW and the team at R/GA is symbiotic, and collectively, our goal is to support grassroots change and ongoing impact in the First Nations youth community. It’s only the beginning of our journey, and we will continue exploring opportunities to leverage Adobe’s platform to support WAW”.

JD Sport’s ANZ head of marketing Michael Weatherston added that the brand was “proud to partner with WAW and support the indigenous community”.

“Although we are early on in this journey there has been a substantial impact on the business through internal conversation and RAP planning, and externally to customers within each store through visual POS updates. We are also engaging with local community members at events and store openings, which has also been introduced across New Zealand”.

However, none of these initiatives and partnerships are flash-in-the-pan opportunities for better optics.

“If companies and organisations turn Indigenous issues into a notion of some sort of box-ticking initiative or stunt, it won’t help what we’re doing with WAW and brands, and it won’t help move anything forward. There has to be a deeper level of engagement with WAW and Indigenous communities inside of their organisations,” added Nooky.

“So, we’ve only partnered with brands who genuinely have a long-term, sustained and tangible intention to understand and engage and to create pathways for Indigenous talent. This includes having clarity about the purpose and the relevant scale for engagement, which may call for multi-layered processes. And we work closely with them throughout this process from the earliest stage to help them define the problem that needs to be solved and where WAW can help”.

It hasn’t, however, been easy. Budgets are stretched and brands have been unwilling to commit to an issue that, for some unknown reason, can be seen as controversial.

“In the early days, we had a wonderful conversation with an amazing brand who was really excited about what WAW represented and what it stood for, where it was going to go and was very much behind it. It was also talking about putting a significant amount of funding in,” said Miles.

“Unfortunately, a few months into the conversation, the funding was going to be pooled and then reallocated to something equally as powerful but just different. It was a very hard conversation to have with Nooky. It was probably the hardest work conversation I’ve ever had.

“He turned around to me and said, ‘Ben, we can’t stop now, if we let something like this hold us back, we can’t call ourselves Warriors’”.




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