Gidgee Healing

Community control is a 48 year old model that was forged at Redfern in 1971 and is now exercised in 144 Aboriginal and Torres communities across the country. It supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in making decisions that address their own social, cultural and economic needs. 

Gidgee Healing delivers comprehensive primary health care services to local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples across Mount Isa, North West, Lower and Upper Gulf regions of Queensland. Gidgee supports communities in developing solutions to living long healthy lives, strengthening culture and regaining spirit. 

Reaching out

Canvas3 has worked with Gidgee Healing since 2012, providing the organisation with workforce enablement and support through significant service and regional expansion. In 2019, Gidgee’s CEO reached out to Canvas3 seeking assistance with its People and Culture Project. This was an initiative designed to align internal systems, people and processes following a change in leadership. This provided an opportunity for Canvas3 to develop a new generation of Indigenous leaders who could grow their own business knowledge, networks, assets and wealth. This would help to remove barriers to employment for future generations, while creating a positive cycle of social and economic empowerment.



Identifying the challenges

We began by outlining some of the challenges faced by Indigenous organisations in both start-up and scaling phases. They include:

Business skills
A need to increase familiarity with business concepts, processes and general business ‘know-how’.  This may be due to limited training and support opportunities.

Uncertainty when projecting and anticipating future requirement and accurately collecting relevant information with which to inform decision-making from a governance perspective.

Leadership & Management
A limited talent pool, either with existing leadership and management skills, or a pipeline of people who are future leaders and managers.

Support networks
A lack of strong support networks, driven by low numbers of Indigenous business peers, with less familiarity or opportunity to access broader business networks.

Limited access to the wider market and fewer opportunities to collaborate. All of which restricts both demand and access to networks for Indigenous businesses.

A need for upskilling in technical literacy, for the purpose of managing communications, marketing, promotion and community messaging.



Our approach

We see ourselves as partners to the ACCHO sector nationally, and through our deep sector knowledge and strong relationships, we are able to leverage the richness of inherent knowledge in Indigenous communities and create culturally appropriate ways of integrating corporate business culture and systems.



In partnership with Gidgee’s board and CEO, we co-created a six-point strategic plan that included the following activities:

Business Systems & Processes  

Canvas3 undertook an analysis of Gidgee’s business systems and processes to identify areas for improvement. With the support of the Executive Leadership Team (ELT), we applied business consultancy and management accountancy techniques that addressed organisational challenges in a culturally safe and competent manner. We also provided guidance and coaching to ensure that ownership of the improvement process remained with those accountable.  

Organisational Development & Change

Gidgee’s growth has required its organisational structure to co-evolve with a need to scale the delivery of its services and to address challenges associated with multi-site regional and remote operations. Canvas3 applied a best-fit methodology to redesign systems and processes, leveraging the connected nature of Indigenous communities and designing the implementation of changes through a culturally sensitive lens.

Financial Management & Governance

Canvas3 developed strategies to help Gidgee bridge the gap in skills, processes and practices between regional/remote and urban area environments.  Analytical support services were provided to help Gidgee navigate SAP software, improve accounting practices and embed robust financial reporting routines. We also provided support to the Gidgee ELT and Board of Directors in order to enhance and align governance practices.

Workforce Induction & Succession

In partnership with the Gidgee ELT, Canvas3 created a workforce development strategy to manage the pipeline of future talent. This would identify the necessary skills required to address the future of demands across functional service lines. On-boarding and induction, succession planning and training/development plans were implemented, in addition to recruitment and retention strategies, accounting for the challenges with regional staffing, in both clinical and corporate roles.

Leadership Development

Canvas3 designed and delivered an on-going leadership program to upskill and enhance human potential for the ELT and senior leaders at Gidgee.  The program is a combination of face-to-face and on-line delivery, leadership styles profiling and one-on-one and group coaching.  Over the long term, this will feed the pipeline of Indigenous business leaders who can act as mentors and role models for the next generations.

Marketing & Communications

Canvas3 worked with the Gidgee Marketing Team to create an effective and manageable communications plan that included metrics, messaging, channel development and a detailed schedule of activity. We then overhauled key digital platforms to provide greater reach and community engagement, and introduced a private members portal to ensure staff remained connected and heard. The Marketing Team receives ongoing training to further develop digital skills and activate creative campaign ideas.


Benefits and outcomes


Future Directions 

Canvas3 would like to see more streamlined support and advisory services provided to all the Queensland AMS’s and ACCHO’s, creating hubs of best practice and excellence. Our work with Gidgee highlights the phenomenal frontline and strategic efforts of the sector, its leaders and the community, and the ongoing challenges associated with improving health equity for Indigenous Australia.

Studies have shown that Aboriginal controlled health services are 23% better at attracting and retaining Aboriginal clients than mainstream providers.* This speaks to the importance of viewing health on a continuum of wellbeing, bound within community, kinship, family, culture, and connection to the land. Digitisation of service delivery (particularly in remote regions), talent pooling, and greater mainstream profiling of the sector will invariably showcase the pioneering daily work, delivered by Organisations such as Gidgee Healing.

*Donella Mills, NACCHO Keynote address at the CATSINaM National Professional Development Conference Sydney, 26 Sept 2019