December 12, 2014

Blog: The Future of Indigenous Business

Indigenous businesses need to start looking towards the next generation. That was the biggest message from speakers at the Indigenous Business, Enterprise and Corporations Conference (IBECC), held last month at The University of Western Australia Business School. By Winthrop Professor Paul Flatau, Director, UWA Business School Centre for Social Impact

Summarising conference proceedings at the closing plenary, Managing Director of G Cole Consulting Gordon Cole said Indigenous business leaders had a responsibility to assist future generations.

"How do we build the capacity of businesses and support the next lot that might want to come through? When we climb a ladder we need to put more ladders down," Mr Cole said.

Economic reform needed

Indigenous academic Professor Marcia Langton, from The University of Melbourne, called on Australian governments to learn from Western Australian mining companies in implementing Indigenous procurement policies.

With an Indigenous Business Australia report showing just 0.001 per cent of government purchases are sourced from Indigenous suppliers, Professor Langton said government department and agency heads should be held responsible for meeting Indigenous targets in tenders and procurement targets.

Meanwhile, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda maintained a human rights-based approach to business is needed to address power imbalances between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Where are the jobs?

Chairman of the Australian Indigenous Advisory Council, Warren Mundine, argued education, employment and economic development will be crucial to lifting Indigenous people out of poverty.

"To me, the only way to move people out of poverty is education and employment," Mr Mundine said, citing the mining and energy industries as a strong source of employment.

Mr Mundine told Conference delegates that China's extreme poverty rate had decreased from 84 per cent to 10 per cent in just 30 years due to the growing nation's economic development, and said economic development in Australia's rural areas would be essential to Indigenous livelihoods.

"I don't accept the mantra that there are no jobs in remote Indigenous communities. Low participation in the workforce is a social problem, not a geographic one," Mr Mundine said.

Building a strong future

A common theme among delegates was the importance of health and education in preparing Indigenous youth to take on future leadership roles. Profiled work included projects addressing Indigenous suicide rates – against a backdrop of Western Australia’s Kimberley region having the second highest suicide rate in the world, encouraging school engagement, and engaging students through technology.

Other speakers included WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Peter Collier MLC, Shadow Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt MLA, outgoing Reconciliation Australia CEO Leah Armstrong, Chairperson of the NSW Indigenous Chamber of Commerce Debbie Barwick, and Muway Constructions Director Joe Ross.

IBECC drew around 400 speakers and delegates from Indigenous businesses, social enterprises, government departments, the corporate sector and academia. A further 200 attendees joined delegates at breakfast and dinner events associated with the IBEC Conference.

The Indigenous Business, Enterprise and Corporations Conference was convened by the UWA Business School, UWA Centre for Social Impact, and UWA’s School of Indigenous Studies and took place on 1-2 December 2014.

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