A new national program's been launched to encourage senior students to mentor Indigenous children and it's getting set to go further.
13 May 2013 - 12:12 PM  UPDATED 26 Aug 2013 - 2:01 PM

Australian Indigenous Mentoring Excellence - or AIME - has unveiled its "Mentors 4 Life" program in Adelaide.


Karen Ashford has the story.


A traditional welcome for academics, business leaders and more than 500 students set the scene for AIME's chief executive, Jack Manning-Bancroft, to explain the motivation driving his mentorship program.


"You have these uni students there for the right reasons, not because they wanted to go and help Aboriginal people because they felt sorry for them - they wanted to go learn from people like you guys, they wanted to learn how to be better people and then the students who are there actually want to step up. So we cut the bullshit, we weren't going to pander to the students and we aren't going to pander to you guys - if you guys want to step up a have a good life we'll walk every step of the way with you."


The initiative has had a meteoric rise.


It started out nine years ago with 25 students; today it's mentoring for more than 2,000 - and now it's going global.


"So today we're launching our mentors for life program around Australia which is sharing our mentoring model with individuals, the general public and businesses around the world, and that's going to help us fund the program back here in Australia with the kids as well so nine years on we're now standing there, a hundred staff and now we can see if we can try and grow this thing around the world and have some fun in the process."


It's this aspiration to go international that's caught the eye of one of the world's best-known entrepreneurs - Sir Richard Branson.


"And it seems, from the little I know about it, it seems like a great idea. I think we all benefit from mentors and I think this is a tremendous program."


The head of the Virgin group of companies explained how hard work, vision and persistence saw him build a global empire despite being a high school drop-out.


"I think the people who are going to achieve their dreams and their goals are the people who take the knocks, get knocked down, pick themselves up, try again, get knocked down, pick themselves up, try again, learn from every knock and then ultimately they'll break through. Lack of financial resources is definitely a big issue. I didn't have any money when I started, and I had to kind of conjure resources out of thin air and we came very, very close to failure on a number of occasions."


It's inspired 15 year old indigenous students Kevin Benbolt and Damon Wanganeen.


"I thought he was a pretty intelligent guy, I didn't think that, since he was a billionaire, I didn't think he was not good in school - I thought he would like finish year 12 or something, because he's that rich. Yeah. So what has this inspired you to consider? To not give in - follow your dreams - and go as high as you want like him, yeah."


University of South Australia Vice Chancellor David Lloyd hopes the AIME initiative can foster a sense of social responsibility in senior students as they mentor younger students to achieve their life goals.


"It helps connect directly with Indigenous Australians to break down the cultural divides that do exist still today in 21st century Australia. This for us is a leap forward in terms of our commitment to reconciliation and I believe it has the ability to make a profound difference in terms of both the Indigenous and non-Indigenous participants in the scheme."


For students Kevin Benbolt and Damon Wanganeen, those life goals might now be a little bit bigger.


"I hope to play AFL but if I don't make it I'll do like an engineer, because I'm good with that. Yeah, same."