This October is Indigenous Business Month – the perfect time to stop and reflect on the importance of supporting First Nations entrepreneurs and enterprises. We look at why this is crucial, what’s currently being done – and of course, what we can all do to help.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re well aware of the statistics on the disadvantage faced by our First Australians.
The problem is, it can be really difficult to know where to focus our efforts if we want to make a difference. It’s encouraging that there are so many options: non-profit organisations, volunteering opportunities, petitions. But sometimes this can just add to the confusion. Which one do we choose?
Fortunately, there are plenty of simple, everyday things we can do to help close the gap. We can speak up on everyday injustices. We can read and talk about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. We can support Indigenous artists by making a well-researched purchase of genuine First Nations art. And then, there’s Indigenous businesses – a group of some 12,000-16,000 different organisations all deserving of our support.
Why support businesses? Why not just donate?
In a word? Self-determination.
Supporting Indigenous enterprises isn’t just about remunerating Indigenous people, but allowing for control and decision-making to remain with the communities where they belong.
This is not to say that any business that employs Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people – but is not Indigenous-owned – doesn’t deserve support. It’s more about having a simple way of deciding where to focus your attention.
The problem of First Nations disadvantage is very complex – too much so to unpack here. But it can be helpful to remember that money is useful, but without the control to go with it, the implications can be problematic.
How are we currently supporting Indigenous businesses?
It’s always good to see positive change being role-modelled by policy, especially during times like these.
The federal government’s recent budget announcement saw $46.5m allocated over four years towards Closing the Gap, with a focus on helping “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisations build their capacity and business models”.
As part of the announcement came this revelation: four new Indigenous River Ranger groups will be funded as part of the Murray-Darling Basin Package. Considering the fact that the Basin encompasses 40 different Aboriginal nations, this should be a given – but it’s a good step nonetheless.
But could the government be doing more? And how?
The IPP – First Nations businesses fulfilling government tenders
The Indigenous Procurement Policy is a set of guidelines using quotas to encourage government departments to look to Indigenous businesses for their tenders. Since its inception in 2015, over $3.14 billion worth of contracts have been won by First Nations organisations – again, an encouraging start.
But when we look further, it’s clear that there is still a long way to go – and the target hidden in the original policy announcement is proof.
“…the Commonwealth Government has committed to a procurement target for goods and services from Indigenous businesses. The target – three per cent of Commonwealth contracts awarded to Indigenous businesses by 2020 – is ambitious and will be achieved.”
– Hon Nigel Scullion, Minister for Indigenous Affairs, and Hon Mathias Cormann, Minister for Finance (2015)
In all of its glory, that $3+ billion sum actually sits closer to 1% than 3% of total contracts since the policy was introduced (source: AusTender). A closer look by the Australian National Audit Office has revealed a lack of support around compliance, proving that policy (and even good intentions) can only get us so far.
I’m not in government – what can I do to help?
“If you’re buying anything, anything at all –” says Evolve co-Director Carla Rogers, “check to see if an Indigenous business is supplying that first.”
“It can come as a surprise, but for most products and services, there will be an Indigenous business somewhere supplying them. These businesses aren’t just limited to Aboriginal culture like ours – think IT solutions, lawyers, office supplies … even kombucha!”
Carla cites reusable face masks – mandatory during COVID-19 lockdown – as a recent example.
And if your organisation is looking to bring a contractor on board, “why not invite an Indigenous Business to provide a quote?”
But how do you know if a business is Indigenous-owned?
Fortunately, there’s a simple solution: “You can check Supply Nation,” explains Carla.
Australia’s biggest database of certified Indigenous businesses, Supply Nation is also the host of its annual Connect trade show. It’s a calendar highlight for both Carla and co-Director Aunty Munya Andrews, thanks to its sheer diversity of exhibitors and incredible, buzzing atmosphere.
Support is key
If there’s one conclusion to draw from this, it’s that support is crucial.
This means supporting First Nations suppliers where possible. Supporting contractors by inviting them in to your RFQ process. And for our government, supporting its own departments with the information they need to be compliant with their IPP regulations. It all counts, and it will all help.
After all, to quote Mother Teresa, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean.”
“But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.
For more information about Indigenous Businesses, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Supply Nation Connect 2021 will take place from 25-26th May. Tickets are available on the event website.