Josephine Cashman Wins Alumni Award for Excellence
A descendant of the Warrimay people, Josephine Cashman was the instructing solicitor for Lani Brennan, an Aboriginal woman whose historic legal battle is detailed in the book Lani’s Story. “We won the highest sentence for a living victim of domestic violence at the time – 28 years,” she says. “The case highlighted the plight of Aboriginal women, which is what I wanted to achieve when I went to uni. It was taboo to talk about violence in Aboriginal communities, but we really opened up the conversation.”
While working in Narooma, she’d been shocked by the violence and lack of services for Aboriginal people. When a medical provider ignored a mother’s phone call, resulting in the death of her newborn, it was the final straw. “I immediately thought, ‘I'm going to university and I'm going to make changes,’” says Cashman. “One week later, I packed the car and drove to Sydney.”
In 2006, Cashman graduated with a double degree in journalism and law. A decade later, while serving on the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, she was invited to speak at the United Nations Human Rights Council about the role of the justice system in Indigenous communities. “When a victim feels heard in a public forum – and the evidence is judged by a jury, that’s when cultural reform can happen,” she says. “It’s about making sure institutions, such as the police and prosecutors, do not excuse bad behaviour or maintain lower standards for Aboriginal people. It’s not okay to say, ‘Well, that's part of the culture because this is not true.’”
Cashman now dedicates her time to Big River, the social impact investment group she founded in 2013 to ensure money spent in Indigenous communities delivers results. The organisation’s three arms include: Big River Consulting, which advises governments and corporations on Indigenous policy and economic development; Big River Impact Investments, which uses the group’s own revenue, as well as private and public support, to fund social projects that deliver returns to investors; and the Big River Impact Foundation, which measures the social benefits of investment projects.
“It has been reported that there are over 1000 programs in the Indigenous sector funded by state and territory governments, as well as philanthropic groups, and we don't know how successful they are because less than 10 have been evaluated,” says Cashman. “Social impact investing brings together the best of the private sector to manage and monitor investments.” The model, which is well established in the US and Europe, is still in its infancy in Australia and Cashman is currently undertaking a PhD at UTS to investigate hurdles in the local market.