MPower is Cape York Partnerships’ (CYP) individual and family development centre-piece. Like other CYP innovations MPower is an opportunity product – available to all community members at the local Opportunity Hubs (O-Hubs) – but it is the one product that links with all of the other opportunity products. Because the budgeting and management of money is indispensible to aspirational planning and the pursuit of opportunity, MPower is pre-requisite to community members being able to take advantage of other CYP programs.
At its most basic level MPower is a money management program – derived from CYP’s original money management innovation Family Income Management (FIM) – that seeks to support individuals and families to meet their basic needs and build wealth through greater financial inclusion.
Beyond that MPower is the portal through which community members can gain access to opportunity products and services. These products are designed to support personal responsibility and increase participation in education, employment, financial management, housing and other endeavours.
But the full scope of MPower is that it provides a framework for individuals and families to take stock of their situation and make plans for themselves, their children, their households and their families – and then to start putting their plans into practice. So MPower goes beyond merely providing greater access to financial services and developing financial literacy: rather MPower seeks to support people to embark on the journey to realise their work and life aspirations.
The MPower journey brings families together to remove the stresses associated with money management, so it targets individuals and family groups. MPower Coaches hold an MPower Conversation1with clients to map out where they are in their lives, where they want to be and what they need to do to get there. This includes developing an MPower Plan comprising a family budget, goal setting and coaching sessions.
Families receive training with specially designed money management tools to improve their money management capacity. MPower operates an iBank kiosk, a customised facility that offers independent or assisted access to telephone and internet banking and online shopping facilities.
MPower is open to all families in the Welfare Reform communities and operates out of the local O-Hubs. O-Hubs are purpose built community centres staffed by a team of professionals that include local people.
MPower provides a Third Way for government and non-government agencies to transfer support investments directly to families, and enables mutual obligation principles to be embedded into these transfers to ensure such investments are utilised for the best benefit of individuals and families.
MPower is the evolution of Family Income Management and moves beyond passive income management to individual and family financial, social and economic empowerment.
• Enable families to manage money so that basic material needs (food, clothing, shelter etc) are covered.
• Engage families to manage money as a means of tackling addictions to alcohol, drugs and gambling and to develop alternative ways for people to express cultural reciprocity.
• Rebuild social norms and capabilities through financial literacy.
• Enable families to build assets and realise aspirations through saving and disciplined money management.
• Take the stress out of money management and family well-being.
• Mechanisms are established for government and philanthropic agencies to make direct investments into opportunity products.
Funding and partnerships
MPower is a component of the Social Responsibility Stream of the Cape York Welfare Reform Agenda – a tripartite partnership between the Australian and Queensland Governments, and Cape York Partnerships. Welfare Reform currently operates in Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge.
MPower is funded by the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) under the Cape York Welfare Reform Agenda.
Through partnership with Jawun Indigenous Corporate Partnerships, CYP has an annual intake of Westpac employees who provide professional financial management support in building MPower and its customised products and services.
CYP seeks partnerships with other institutions that have products and services which meet the welfare reform criteria of empowering individuals and families and could be incorporated into the MPower offer.
Alignment with the Cape York Agenda
CYP’s role is to implement the social, economic and cultural development goals of the Cape York Agenda, developed by indigenous leaders from Cape York. CYP has developed a Third Way to enable Aboriginal families to move from passive welfare dependency to real economic participation. This Third Way shifts from passive service delivery to an approach that combines personal and family responsibility, capabilities development and tangible opportunity products to enable individual and family pathways to a better life.
MPower builds good money management which is at the heart of any family as it reduces family stress around money and precipitates financial, economic and social inclusion.
The case for reform
Basic social norms that are the glue to any society (such as sending children to school, respecting others, and taking care of one’s family and one’s house) have significantly deteriorated in Cape York communities. Passive welfare has resulted in welfare payments being a poorly used and a problematic resource for families. Welfare Reform seeks to remove welfare dependency and encourage families to participate in the real economy. This requires foundations of strong cultural norms, enabling structures, and rational incentives that ‘nudge’ people towards capability and responsibility building opportunities. CYP uses a ‘scaffold’ approach to family development that includes education, coaching and incentives, to support people along the transition path and reduce the support as people begin to take more responsibility.
Families currently face specific barriers to good money management including low education levels, poor computer and financial skills, lifestyle issues and physical remoteness from financial institutions. Financial literacy and money management tools are not sufficient in isolation to drive sustained behaviour change. Wealth creation initiatives, when properly aligned, have shown success in stimulating savings, but need to be highly context specific to be effective. CYP has developed MPower to build capabilities, facilitate access, and support individuals and families to envision a better future where they can take responsibility.
1. An MPower Conversation is CYP’s unique conversation that enables the hard topics to be openly addressed and for individuals to envision a financially secure future. This is an ongoing strategic conversation that continues throughout the MPower journey.
2. An MPower Plan is a comprehensive tool that enables individuals and families to build a budget and action plan to achieve their vision of the future. Mainstream financial products and services previously not easily accessible by individuals are available through MPower.
3. In 2001 Cape York Partnerships launched Family Income Management as a money management service aiming to support individuals and families to meet financial obligation and to direct money from negative behaviours. Income management was soon replicated and for ten years has formed the centre of the Australian Governments Indigenous policy.