During a business trip to Cape York, Sydney graduate, Peter Cadwallader, visited a remote Aboriginal community where he found unlikely inspiration for a new venture. He was deeply saddened by the stories of a local social worker who was resigning from the job after being surrounded by too many community suicides.
He returned home from his trip determined to provide hope for people struggling in Aboriginal communities. Peter, an economics graduate and Board Member for Opportunities International at the time, identified a gap in the market for a microfinancing company that could deliver loans and business advice to people in need.
After consulting with his wife, Sandra, they created, Many Rivers – a not-for-profit organisation providing development support to aspiring Indigenous business owners.
Established in 2007, Many Rivers has now assisted over 2400 people across 38 regions in Australia including remote areas of Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.
Over the years while operating Many Rivers, the Cadwallader’s knew they wanted to do more.
In 2018, they made their first philanthropic donation to the University of Sydney, establishing the Sandra Cadwallader Indigenous Economics Scholarships covering the costs of an economics student for each year of their degree.
The impetus for the donation came after the Cadwalladers re-engaged with the School of Economics and found out that there were no scholarships available for Indigenous students pursuing studies in economics.
Our vision is for students to be able to come out of their degree with zero debt, unencumbered and ready to pursue the economics career of their dreams. There is very low visibility of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in economics or the finance industry so it would be wonderful to be part of changing that landscape.
After another trip, this time to the Northern Territory, Peter met a young girl whose brother had passed away as a result of suicide. Being witness to so many family tragedies, the Cadwalladers felt this insidious health concern had to be addressed.
“We know how to solve medical health problems,” said Mr Cadwallader, “but we have no idea how to solve mental health problems in Aboriginal communities.”
“It’s all about suicide, particularly in the young.”
Upon identifying that the University offered a Graduate Diploma in Indigenous Health Promotion to equip young Indigenous students with vital health skills, the Cadwalladers decided to make another sizeable donation.
This time they would fund the re-development of the course to include a major mental health component, with the core aim of reducing youth suicide in Indigenous communities.
Demonstrating just how serious the issue is, the initiative was co-funded by the University of Sydney and the Federal Government.
Indigenous Australians are nearly three times more likely to be psychologically distressed than non-Indigenous Australians. Early intervention, prevention and the right treatment can save lives. Recognising the social and cultural factors that contribute to health and wellbeing are essential to their success.
“For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, health services are fragmented with access often a major barrier," said Dr Dickson.
"There is also a massive shortage of university skilled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health professionals. This initiative will contribute to building that workforce across Australia.”
The Cadwallader gift will enable the additional employment of three new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academic and professional staff to develop and run the program and will also fund scholarships to be offered to 120 students over a four-year period.
“I’m over the moon that we had so much interest in the new Indigenous mental health program and that we had 50 enrolled students in semester one this year,” said Mr Cadwallader.
There is still much to be done to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. By supporting education and social enterprise, we can change outcomes for communities Australia-wide.
A generous donation to the University of Sydney will enable research that could result in drug discovery, digital interventions and support for people with chronic pain - Australia's third most costly health condition.