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The MaraWay

Cairns, Queensland

When not-for-profit community organisation The MaraWay participated in a CommBank Design Jam, they found the answers that helped them completely re-design their website and grow their business. Here’s how it happened.

The MaraWay is a not-for-profit community organisation which delivers a vast range of services to anyone experiencing hardship in the Cairns community. Under the steerage of a five member board, the staff of 15 bring what they call a tough love approach to people who need a hand to get on track or stay on track.

Unlike many organisations in this sector, The MaraWay is not reliant on government funding. In fact, its goal is to radically change the standard model of funding.

Charting their own course

The MaraWay used to be known as Indigenous Job Connections, but CEO Andrea Jackson says this was far too limiting. 

“We’re one community. Issues affect us all and as a community our future is bound together,” she says.

So the organisation reshaped itself to be able to support anyone in the community, and more importantly, it freed itself from the narrow program definitions that often come with government funding. The new name is based on the Djabugay language word ‘mara’, meaning hand.

“We were a typical service provider, scrambling for the same diminishing government funding as others, while the same community issues persisted, decade after decade,” Andrea says. “Something had to change.”

Financial freedom

The MaraWay has developed a diverse business portfolio which includes income generating ventures like its vocational training and labour hire businesses. It is also a shareholder in other operations and runs a farm at nearby Mareeba which host school camps and retreats and offers agistments. It’s also working with a number of corporate and community partners.

The profits and partnerships support the services The MaraWay delivers, primarily from its community hub.

“We want to meet people where they are at, and help them take responsibility for their next steps. Our clients know we are here for the long haul.”

By moving away from a government funding model, The MaraWay is able to help more people in ways that work for them.

“Under government programs you have to meet a lot of criteria. Some programs are only for Indigenous people, some are for certain age brackets. Sometimes people’s issues are too severe or not severe enough,” Andrea says. “We want to make sure people are not falling through the gaps; that we can still help people even if they don’t fit the criteria set by government programs.”

She offers an example of a woman who came to her team for help.

“She had experienced domestic violence and had fled with her children. She had no documentation and she wasn’t in immediate danger, so she was told she’d have a two year wait for housing. She came into our community centre looking for food. We called a local real estate agency we work with and had her housed in 24 hours.”

A new way needs a new brand

In 2018, The MaraWay was developing its new brand position, preparing to relaunch itself and start building a strong proposition to attract corporate partners. The name was already decided but a CommBank Design Jam helped the team get the messaging right.

“The Design Jam was perfect timing for us. It really helped us test our ‘we’re different’ messaging and take a rigorous look at our brand,” Andrea says. “We did some further testing of our website, which was nearly finished, and ended up with a complete re-design. We ended up spending six months reiterating (part of the design thinking process) the new brand. We knew it was so important that we go out with the right message.”

The results have spoken for themselves.

“It’s been phenomenal! We have a program to get kids in crisis to school – our partner upped their support by 40 per cent. A business has come on board to help us find a way to tackle itinerancy. It’s been a huge success,” Andrea says.

“Design thinking is part of our project development process now. All new ideas go through the design thinking approach."

Bank an important partner

The transition from government funding recipient to self funding organisation happened quickly – and Andrea said it would have been very difficult without support from CommBank.

“We did a big, hard funding cut, and everything went wrong, we had mortgages due and it was really difficult. We talked to our banker and he helped restructure our finance and get us through.

“Your bank is really important to your organisation. CommBank understands what we do, champions us and is really engaged in our success. The bank has never, ever let us down.”