Indigo a colour of giving

MERCURY SERIES: MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Wollongong's Sally Stevenson is an Australian leader in international community development and humanitarian assistance.

In her paid job as University of Wollongong's offshore programs project manager, Mrs Stevenson was recently asked to assess the viability of a campus in India.

But her support for poor and underprivileged people around the world as the chair of aid organisation the indigo Foundation, which she helped found 12 years ago, has also attracted attention.

She spends 12 hours a week of her own time heading the grassroots-level aid organisation that helps other volunteers enjoy the same experience.

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Mrs Stevenson's social conscience started to emerge while she was studying for a Bachelor of Commerce in Sydney.

Her first venture into community development occurred among Aborigines in central Australia before she moved to Darwin where she worked for the Arnhem Land Progress Association and helped establish the Traditional Credit Union.

During the next two decades she worked in community development and public health in organisations such as the United Nations, World Health Organisation, World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, Stanford University and AusAID.

She was Head of Mission for Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) in Ethiopia and South Sudan and worked in Somalia, Kenya and Indonesia. While working for AusAID in Canberra she met her husband Nicholas Gill.

They moved to the Illawarra when he secured a job at the University of Wollongong.

Mrs Stevenson co-founded indigo around the time she moved to Wollongong 12 years ago.

Indigo grew out of a discussion with four friends who had all worked in the aid industry.

They believed they had a model for a smaller volunteer-based organisation.

There are now about 30 volunteers in Australia and only a few paid positions of no more than one or two days a week.

Other locals involved include Susan Engel, Alice Martin and Theresa Huxtible.

All Australian volunteers are involved in fundraising and many salary sacrifice to help people in poor and marginalised communities in countries such as Afghanistan, Solomon Islands, Indonesia, India, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.

"We have a good relationship with the university," Mrs Stevenson said.

"We are part of their UOW Cares program. We are the library's charity of choice."

The community-based organisations indigo supports try to make real changes in health, education and human rights.

The charity used a community-based approach to develop initiatives including one of the most successful education projects in Afghanistan.

The largest project in Borjegai now provides education to more than 4500 children.

A girls high school has been built in partnership with the community and the number of high school graduates in Borjegai has grown from nil to more than 350. And 200 students have now attended or graduated from a national university.

"Community-based organisations can be a very powerful catalyst for change," Mrs Stevenson said.

"We have four guiding principles. They are community ownership, sustainability, transparency and equity.

"We identify and work with communities on projects that seek to work towards those goals. It allows them to be themselves. And it has had some amazing results."

Mrs Stevenson said indigo was now looking for corporate support so it could do more work in more communities.

Despite her aid commitments, Mrs Stevenson still manages to help in the reading assistance program and the canteen at the school attended by her boys Alex, 8, and Samuel, 5.

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