Knowledge is powerful
Who owns a public company? Do the directors own the company? Can they do what they like with the company’s money? Is the Chairman the supreme boss of the company?
For most of us, the answers to these questions may seem obvious. While we may not know the detail of corporations law, we have a reasonable idea of the situation. Or, it’s possible, that for many of us, the law relating to companies never affects our lives.
Companies are critically important for Martu. Their communities, their schools, their health service, their major employer, their native title body – all of these are not-for-profit companies run by Martu boards. If these companies aren’t well run, the consequences for communities can be severe. But knowledge about companies is ‘whitefella knowledge’ – unless it’s learned, it’s not part of Martu life.
Unfortunately Martu have seen directors of some companies conduct their responsibilities with little regard for the public good. These directors did not know, understand or comply with, the answer to the fundamental question of company ownership. People assumed that the directors of a company were the owners. In some cases, money has been squandered or power abused.
Good governance is fundamental to achieving good outcomes in remote communities. Because so many resources are controlled by companies, corporate governance is critical to social and economic development. Yet some basic misunderstandings can entrench poor governance and bad management.
Participants in the Martu Leadership Program now know that it is the people that own the company and the directors run the company for the good of the people. They know that directors look after the company’s money for the people, and should be honest, transparent and conscientious. They know that they are allowed to vote for the directors who they want.
This may seem obvious, yet for many Martu people, this is a revelation. It is empowering. It changes their expectations and their relationship to the people who run companies on their behalf. It affirms their role and power as a member of a company.
Having this knowledge has led to a keenness among participants to share this information with others back in community. It has transformed people from being reluctant to talk up in front of other Martu, to becoming excited, engaged and eager to share this important information with their communities. It’s information that they feel everyone should know.
Knowledge used in the right way is powerful in the changes it can bring about. It gives people power. It builds communities. It is fundamental to achieving positive change. There is no question that the MLP is helping orchestrate that change.