Supporting financial literacy in remote communities

22 August 2022

In 2019, AustralianSuper started a program to improve financial literacy in some remote communities in the Northern Territory. This work continues in partnership with Schools Plus, an organisation helping to close the education gap caused by disadvantage. To date the program has achieved some positive results.

Good financial literacy is key to understanding your current and future finances. But not everyone in Australia has the same access to support. Statistics show more than half of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples suffer severe financial stress and only 1 in 10 are financially secure1. This is a complex issue with no single solution.


Launching new initiatives to support financial awareness

AustralianSuper believes all Australians have the right to live well in retirement. Skills like understanding financial terms, personal finances and living on a budget are essential to help you manage your money now, and in the future.

By working with Schools Plus we can help build awareness of these topics. The program we are focused on uses a First Nations led approach to establish business ventures inside schools. The project has led to improved student financial literacy and better employment outcomes after graduation.

Sarah Adams, AustralianSuper’s Group Executive Strategy, Reputation & Corporate Affairs, says: ‘Members are at the centre of everything we do. This includes educating Australians about super and retirement – a core focus for the Fund.’ ‘As Australia’s largest super fund, our ambition is that all Australians live well in retirement.’

‘While this is a small project, we want all Australians to be supported to take control of their finances so they can achieve their best financial position in retirement.’


Education in technology leads to student success

The project launched at Shepherdson College in Galiwin’ku, a remote community on Elcho Island, 550km north-east of Darwin. Students learnt about online payment options and electronic banking. As a result, many of the students learnt skills that helped them launch online businesses.

Taking their new knowledge of financial technologies and combining it with their creative thinking, many students created products reflecting their culture to sell online. Using payment platforms such as PayPal, they can connect with people digitally.

Among the business ventures were an award-winning clothing line, as well as jewellery, greeting cards, 3D printing, and a bakery.

Run by Schools Plus, with support from AustralianSuper, the Enterprise Incubator Project aimed to improve the financial literacy in this remote and technologically excluded community.

Improving low levels of financial literacy is one pathway to overcoming financial exclusion.

Empowering students to take financial control 

Shepherdson College describes the incubator program as transformational. Principal Joe Hewitt says the secret to the project’s success was the fact it was led by students. This sparked a genuine interest in financial literacy among students, staff and parents.

‘The key was student choice: they were asked what they wanted to do, what they wanted to make or produce, and they were able to follow their own interests,’ he says.

‘From that followed some real-life learning where they had to understand the costs, the profits, and the value of money,’ says Joe.

‘Financial literacy can be a pretty dry topic, so this approach allowed students to have fun.’


Engagement has led to award-winning success


The project was so successful, the senior boys’ class won the Northern Territory Youth Business Awards for its screen-printing venture, the SYB Dhapirrk Clothing Company.

Dhapirrk translates as ‘cool’ in the local language, Yolŋu Matha. The boys used stencils to print their totems (waŋarr) and other important aspects of Yolŋu culture.

‘This project typifies what we’re trying to do here at the school, in tapping into some of that rich cultural knowledge that students have and using that as a vehicle to learn the skills they need in the modern world,’ Joe says. ‘It’s really important for student identity, so they know their cultural knowledge is valued, has a place in school and that school is a relevant place for them.

‘The students came up with the idea, conducted market research, created the designs, and came up with the business name and logo,’ says Joe. ‘The fact they were able to print things that were important to them created a genuine sense of pride.’

The benefits weren’t only for senior students – the entire school community was part of the program, from the early learning classes through to Year 12.

Sarah says the Fund was pleased to support a program that delivered clear benefits for both students and the broader Galiwin’ku community.

‘The project supported 80% of senior secondary students to achieve a full year of financial literacy growth, and we were also pleased to see learnings across the community,’ says Sarah.

‘This project is a real credit to the staff and students at Shepherdson College for their hard work and dedication during a particularly challenging year, supported so well by Schools Plus and the Galiwin’ku community.’


Coping with genuine business challenges

Like everyone in 2020, students had to be flexible and think outside the box when they encountered business challenges caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

‘We set up an online shop so our wider school community – who were in lockdown in urban areas or different states – were able to see the products and order them,’ says Joe.

‘Students had a natural inclination to be adaptable.

‘The children were really attuned to some of the needs, and they understood almost intuitively the idea of the marketplace,’ he says. ‘When the football finals were on, they were producing jewellery in the football team colours, for example.’


Using modern technology to enhance cultural exchange

The impact of the project flowed on to the broader community.

‘In a lot of cases during the production or selling of the items, parents were watching their kids learn and often they were learning alongside [them],’ says Joe.

‘Modern technology is often seen as a challenge to traditional culture in a community like this, but this project really demonstrated that modern technology like PayPal and online selling can be embraced and can actually enhance traditional culture. They can work hand in hand.

‘It's been great to see the community embracing the idea that you can produce local products and create enterprises that can be successful.’

The project’s wider influence added to its success.

‘We’re incredibly heartened to see the difference this program has made not only to students, but the broader community,’ says Sarah.


Providing a future career path

Six graduates from 2020 are now employed in local traineeships while they complete a Certificate III in Business. The placements are with wildlife rangers, the police force, health clinics, construction and the local airport.

‘It’s so important that our young people have a really strong pathway out of school. So to see these students move into a traineeship is a really good thing for the community,’ says Joe.


AustralianSuper supports all Australians

Joe says the project wouldn’t have been possible without the support of AustralianSuper.

‘It's fantastic to see big organisations support smaller schools and educational facilities like ours that don't have the funding to do projects like this. The fact that it was delivered in a way that put the learning in the hands of the students was really empowering for them.’


Free financial literacy resources

Join a free AustralianSuper webinar

AustralianSuper offers a range of free webinars for members and non-members. Our experienced education team aims to help you learn and digest some of the most common areas of super and retirement. The webinars can help you take control of your super and work towards achieving your best financial position in retirement.

First Nations Foundation

The First Nations Foundation is an Indigenous financial wellbeing foundation which works with Indigenous communities and the finance industry to provide financial education resources.

First Nations Foundation


Government resources 

Money Smart is a website with free online calculators, budget planners, articles and videos to help you find out how to take control of your finances.



1. Money stories: Financial resilience among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, Centre for Social Impact, First Nations Foundation, and NAB, May 2019

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