Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Migrants and big bank theory

  • 07 February 2013

There is often a natural antipathy between the financial sector and the community sector. If you give the dog a bone, say the money men, he will only rub it in dirt and bury it. If you give the bank a bone, say the community workers, it will charge you interest on the transaction.

But sometimes we are nudged to reconsider our reflexive prejudices. A joint venture between a bank and a community organisation, which offers opportunities to African immigrants in Australia, provokes more constructive reflection on the relationship between banks and the community sector. Whereas the engines of a capitalist economy tend to commodify human values, this venture appears to humanise commodities like money.

The project is designed to help African Australians find work in the business sector. It arose out a conversation between a staff member from each organisation about the difficulty experienced by many Africans in finding employment commensurate with their qualifications. The bank culture supports community involvement generously; the community organisation works within the African community. So the project could begin.

In the project successful applicants are placed for six months in an intensive program of paid work in an area for which they are qualified. Staff members of the bank assist them by directing, mentoring and supporting them. By the end of the program they will be able to apply for positions, participate in interviews and enter employment knowing that they understand the Australian business culture. Of the over 90 people involved in the program over four years virtually all have subsequently found work, many at the bank.

A review of the project, commissioned by the bank, embodies the perceptions and expertise of the financial sector, and is challenging precisely for that reason. It describes the project in commercial terms, asking how the stakeholders benefited from it. The stakeholders are broadly defined, including the participants, both successful and unsuccessful, the sponsoring organisations, the participants' relatives, the African Australian community as a whole and the bank staff who supported the applicants.

The benefits to stakeholders were also broadly defined to include income, personal satisfaction, sense of self- worth, achievement of personal goals and connection. In the evaluation, which adopts a widely used methodology that included structured interviews with the stakeholders, these benefits are given a monetary value. By these calculations, the program returned over six dollars of value for every one dollar invested.

Needless to say, the judgment of the project by the