'You don't need to be an ASX100 to support reconciliation'
All Australian organisations can support reconciliation no matter how big they are, says MURRA Program Director Mitchell Hibbens.
Reconciliation Week (27 May to 3 June) invites the wider community to “be a voice for generations” and walk with Indigenous communities in creating change. It’s also an opportunity for organisations to reflect how they can become involved in reconciliation.
"Major organisations have Reconciliation Action Plans where they set down targets for Indigenous procurement and employment which are fantastic," says MURRA Indigenous Business Program Director and Wiradjuri person Mitchell Hibbens.
"But you don't need to be an ASX100 company to start on that journey."
To support reconciliation, Mr Hibbens suggests that organisations start by taking meaningful steps that contribute to the Indigenous business sector and then build on them each year.
"For example, start procuring from Indigenous suppliers. You'd be amazed at the diversity, from cleaning products to coffee, office fit-outs to bespoke uniform designers – Kinaway and Supply Nation have lists of Indigenous businesses," he says.
"Work alongside Indigenous businesses to grow capability and scale. Rather than seeing them as competitors, see it as an opportunity to collaborate and grow together."
Mr Hibbens also suggests considering an Indigenous employment strategy, getting involved in philanthropy or promoting connection to country.
"There are a number of incredibly successful recruitment agencies owned by First Nations business leaders who can guide you on where to start," he says.
"Offer scholarships for First Nations students to study business at high school and university. Provide opportunities for your employees to learn about the Indigenous history of where they live and work. The list is endless and only limited by your imagination."
While concrete action towards reconciliation is becoming a barometer and determinant of brand, particularly for younger consumers, the benefits aren't just limited to brand value, Mr Hibbens says. In particular, supporting reconciliation is also a way for organisations to begin reflecting the communities they serve.
Indigenous self-determination through business
The Indigenous Preferential Procurement Policy, which sets Commonwealth targets for the contracts to be awarded to Indigenous enterprises, has played a big role in supercharging the Indigenous business sector.
But equally important, and perhaps less noticed, is the increasing social acceptability within First Nations communities to see business as a viable path towards self-determined economic freedom.
"I think back to my own journey. When I first came to MURRA from the education and health sectors, I had to work out for myself what business meant and what business could offer," Mr Hibbens says.
"We still have a lot of sole traders enrolling in the MURRA program, but we've also noticed more and more medium enterprises – and even some very large corporations employing hundreds of people."
Indigenous society at large is also beginning to see Indigenous entrepreneurship as a viable alternative to working for others as an employee, says Mr Hibbens.
"There is now visibility around Indigenous businesses that may not have been there seven years ago," he says.
"This change speaks to the values that exist in First Nations communities, around collectivism and the rights and responsibilities of the group.
"For those of us of this current generation who have had access to opportunities that were denied to previous generations, we have an obligation to leverage those opportunities – whether through education, or through our businesses as vehicles for change – and to think about those future generations that are yet to come."
MURRA as a microcosm of change
When Mr Hibbens joined the MURRA team in early 2019, the program had just celebrated reaching 100 graduates since launching in 2012. In the following few years, the alumni body doubled in size.
In many ways, MURRA was a microcosm that reflected the changes in the wider business sector.
"One of the joys of being involved in the MURRA program is seeing the relationships develop, between the students and with faculty," Mr Hibbens says.
"Of course, we teach world-class business education, but the everlasting impacts are about those relationships and the things that we hear in the weeks and years after about people building something together and the collaborations that fall out of it.
"I've been involved in MURRA for four years. Over that time, the thing that stands out is how the sector has become even more dynamic and diverse than it already was."
One recent example was a workshop organised by the Dilin Duwa Centre for Indigenous Business Leadership with the Yarrabah community in the far north of Queensland, featuring Professor of Business Strategy Geoff Martin and Visual Content Producer Adrien Rossignol from Melbourne Business School.
"Geoff had taught Suzanne Andrews, CEO of the local health centre, on MURRA and through that became aware of some of the business goals of the community. He travelled to Yarrabah and gave a workshop to help local businesses with their strategy," Mr Hibbens says.
"Geoff was such a hit that he's coming back for another day later this year. The videographer Adrien came along to get footage for us, but ended up getting content to help local business owners to promote their businesses through social media.
"This story perfectly encapsulates that idea of relationships.
"While Melbourne Business School started out supporting MURRA to contribute to the Indigenous economy, I don't think they ever envisaged sending a French videographer to help with social media content for an art centre and lawn-mowing business in Far North Queensland was going to be part of that journey."
"But it has, and I think Geoff and Adrien, along with Yarrabah, are all the richer for that collaboration."