It was Jack Trust’s funeral. Several hundred people were filling the community hall in the East Kimberley community of Wuggubun. Many had known the Indigenous leader personally, while others had driven out bush to show solidarity and support for the Trust family, which included Ian Trust, the founder of the Wunan Foundation.
Seats were limited, and standing up the back of the crowded room in that small dusty community was a young man. Standing tall and dark skinned yet non-Indigenous, he was a Sri Lankan. He was David Selvendra, employee of the Wunan Foundation and admirer of Ian Trust.
“Ian has been very good to me, he has sat and shared his thoughts with me. Ian has been very inspirational in my journey” said the man who along with his young family, had given the past five years of his life to the Kununurra based Aboriginal development organisation that serviced the East Kimberley.
David, like many other employees of the Wunan Foundation, held a great deal of respect Jack Trust’s son, Ian who was single handedly responsible for shepherding the growth and early success of the Wunan Foundation.
Beginning his journey with Wunan as a Management Accountant several years ago, the young 38 year old Sri Lankan today oversees a crucial arm of the organisation, which helps Wunan respond to its’ core mission. In Ian Trust’s words:
“We set up Wunan Foundation to succeed and counter the widespread perception that Indigenous organisations only ever last for a short while before they eventually fail.”
David Selvendra’s role at the Wunan Foundation is to mentor staff internally, with two of his team being Indigenous, as well as coach and support organisations externally. It’s a role that sees David on occasion traveling across the Kimberley from Halls Creek to Wyndham in order to provide ‘business support’ and ‘development’.
A former Corporate Executive in his home country of Sri Lanka, David not only understands businesses and the steps to their success, but equally importantly to the operating environment in the East Kimberley, he also has an insight into what causes businesses, particularly small businesses, to fail.
“During my time we have watched organisations in the area fall a part. It’s a sad and horrible thing” reflects David who takes a keen interest in crucial financial details that can make all the difference to business success and failure.
“Organisations breaking down, means that not only can they no longer provide essential services, but the employees of the organisation also lose their jobs. It’s particularly sad when you remember that financial mismanagement is avoidable”.
At the front line in the remote East Kimberley, the team that David oversees helps a number of major community service providers keep their finances in order. A key to success, David feels, is education.
“Not education that simply points and talks to facts and figures, that’s not education” asserts David.
“Education that empowers communities that traditionally have had low literacy skills, to understand the financial book keeping process in a way that they can take control themselves”.
Sounding a lot like his mentor, Ian Trust, the central message behind David’s business philosophy also draws from his own personal journey.
Far removed from the home he shares with his wife and two daughters in the East Kimberley, David was raised in the hill country of Sri Lanka, a small city known as Nuwara Eliya. His parents being both teachers, placed a large emphasis on his education. It was with their encouragement, that he would first earn a scholarship to a prestigious school in the Capital of Sri Lanka. From there, it would be only time before he made his way to the promising shores of Australia, and be discovered by Wunan as he wrapped up his MBA as an International Student in Queensland.
“It wasn’t the most exciting role I had ever had, being a Management Accountant for Wunan, but it was a start for me in Australia and I couldn’t have asked for more, working for an organisation like Wunan, and learning from a great visionary like Ian Trust”.
For David, Ian Trust’s vision for the sustainable growth of Indigenous organisations, the emphasis on empowerment through education, spoke to David’s roots in Sri Lanka, as well as his mission in life today as a Business Development specialist.
“There are nights that I can’t sleep, because my work with our clients in the area has become very personal to me” says David.
“The financial foundations of these organisations, is important to their ability to deliver essential services to some of the most vulnerable populations in the region” reflects David.
One of the things that David has learnt from Ian Trust’s style of leadership, is the importance placed on building personal relationships in the business and broader community environment. In his work, David has come to realise that the success of an organisation is tied to genuine personal interest in the environment which includes the individual people who are responsible for the organisation.
“The details on ground zero, is as important as the broader vision, and this includes the personal relationships that underpin a business” says David.
“The education I have received from watching and listening to Ian Trust work, has been in an important sense more valuable to me, than any education I have received from MBAs or other experiences”.
From the sea of diverse faces at Jack Trust’s funeral, it was clear to David Selvendra and others, that the ability of both Jack Trust and his son Ian, to inspire, lead and support people through building personal relationships and empowering from the ground up, is a philosophy that was fast spreading, touching and building lives across the East Kimberley.