“Australia is witnessing a surge in support for Indigenous businesses, and corporate responsibility for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, according to Reconciliation Australia”
Corporate Australia ups support for Indigenous businesses, communities: Reconciliation Australia
Australia is witnessing a surge in support for Indigenous businesses, and corporate responsibility for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, according to Reconciliation Australia.
Corporate heavyweights are increasing their use of Indigenous suppliers and making connections with communities, as a matter of conscience as well as finance.
Reconciliation Australia CEO Karen Mundine said she had seen a changing attitude in the business sector over the past decade.
“These are hard-nosed business people who need to see value, and there is value in better recruitment policies, and new business opportunities,” she said.
“Organisations are asking, ‘How do I turn my good intentions into actions?’ and, ‘How do I make an impact for Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders?'”
Reconciliation Australia is working with 1,000 Australian organisations to form Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs), which focus on the organisation’s internal culture as well as their partnerships, and community responsibility.
More than half of these organisations are in the private and not-for-profit sectors.
Arrilla Indigenous Consulting provides cultural training across all sectors and its CEO Shelley Reys has worked in government, not-for-profit and corporate sectors.
She said that the government sector was limited by internal bureaucracy.
“The corporate sector have greater flexibility and so their impact can be — and is — completely different.”
Art on a carpet
An example of one such partnership is between the National Aboriginal Design Agency and the carpet company Ontera.
Together, they’ve created an artwork on carpet called Water Yuludarla, which tells the story of artist Brentyn Lugnan’s connection to Urunga in Gumbaynggirr country.
“It’s saying that even though you might travel away from Urunga, you take a little bit of the spirit with you,” Mr Lugnan said.
The National Aboriginal Design Agency’s general manager Chris Spencer believes the future is all about building relationships between corporate Australia and Indigenous organisations.
Ontera-Milliken’s general manager in Australia, Matt Cooper, said the business sector had a responsibility to take part in reconciliation.
“We all have a role to play — organisations need to develop an understanding and awareness, and enliven cultural diversity.”
Ms Reys agreed that all organisations had a duty to foster reconciliation.
From an ethical standpoint, I see their work in the reconciliation space as being their licence to operate.”
While she said some corporations wanted to do tokenistic work, she believed many were committed to making a difference.
“They’re driving courageous conversations with their staff base and delivering innovative solutions to closing the gap well beyond their core business.”
It takes time
Mr Cooper said Ontera worked hard to make sure they were true to Mr Lugnan’s work by maintaining communication throughout the two-year process.
“I must admit it is a slow process, but we are making progress,” he said.
Ms Mundine agreed that cultural change could be slow, but said the benefits were clear.
“There are always going to be challenges [when] you’re talking about organisations and institutions,” Ms Mundine said.
She said people brought their biases and discrimination to the workplace.
“But many of these workplaces are resetting what these standards are and starting to change attitudes and perceptions.”
Ms Reys said that much of the caution about working with Indigenous companies and communities came down to a fear of saying the wrong thing.
She said people needed to learn that they did not have to step on eggshells.PHOTO: Supply Nation CEO Laura Berry helps Indigenous companies partner with the corporate sector. (Supplied: Supply Nation)
“People want the skills and confidence to have informed discussions and make informed decisions and until entire workplaces are able to do that, we’ll always struggle with a token approach.”
Laura Berry, the CEO of Supply Nation, which connects Indigenous business with other corporations and government, said the work was worth it for the outcomes.
“For every dollar of revenue, Indigenous businesses produce on average $4.41 of social return, and Indigenous businesses are up to 100 times more likely to employ Indigenous people.”
Not all corporate RAP outcomes are based on employment and partnering. Ms Mundine said organisations were also creating programs to support community needs.
The NRMA saw a need for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to get learner driver training, so they have set up free training opportunities for young people in some parts of NSW.
“Some of those young people have now become teacher-trainers themselves and are servicing parts of NSW,” Ms Mundine said.
Jennifer Cameron coordinates that driver mentor program with the NRMA and Red Cross in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales.
She said the program was having clear outcomes for a community where 80 per cent of jobs require a driver’s licence.
We’ve helped 30 participants to get a licence, and 27 of them are employed. Without the partnership it wouldn’t have happened.”
She took part in cultural training before working in this area, and said she leant on that training regularly.