How to support Indigenous business during Reconciliation Week 2020
Twenty years after the first Reconciliation Walk, Associate Professor Michelle Evans reflects on what organisations can do to support Indigenous business.
It is hard to believe that it is 20 years since the first steps were taken on Australia’s Reconciliation Walk. Bringing together people from all walks of life, the march symbolised the desire for understanding and a genuine wish for a just and richer future for all Australians.
At the time, I was immersed in the performing arts scene. Indigenous stories were yearning to be told – blending knowledge, culture and identity and shedding a light on why this country matters so much to First Nations people.
Over the years, the path of academia has taken me into the world of business. To my surprise, the stories of Indigenous entrepreneurship mirror the diversity and creativity of those age-old creation stories.
Through the MURRA Indigenous Business Program, 175 Indigenous entrepreneurs have come through the doors of Melbourne Business School with ventures in every aspect of Australian commercial life.
While enterprises in Indigenous art, eco-tourism and bush tucker are well-known, the wider corporate community is often surprised to hear of Indigenous entrepreneurs operating in open market firms where their cultural identity is unrelated to the services and products offered. These include construction, office supplies, digital services, media and communications to name just a few.
For organisations looking to engage with Indigenous suppliers but uncertain where to start, the process is simple. Supply Nation has an extensive list of Indigenous businesses across Australia. State and territory Indigenous Chambers of Commerce are also a great source of information.
After identifying the company, product or service that you are interested in, the next step is simply to pick up the phone. Ask questions about their capacity to deliver (whether it’s large or small amounts), their supply chain and whether they have other clients who they do business with of a comparable size or industry to your company.
Another option is to contact procurement officers at one of the many Australian companies that have followed the government's lead in implementing a 3 per cent Indigenous procurement target.
Ask officers at those companies if they can recommend Indigenous firms. You'll be surprised to find the depth of engagement – from design to office maintenance and public relations.
As Australia emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no better time to seek a meaningful engagement with Indigenous partners. Research shows that Indigenous firms are more likely to hire Indigenous employees and support the wider community.
COVID-19 will pass, but the decisions we take today will determine the impact for Indigenous communities tomorrow. This step might just be one of the most important steps that corporate Australia takes in our Reconciliation Walk.
Michelle Evans is Associate Professor In Leadership at the University of Melbourne and director of the MURRA Indigenous Business Program at Melbourne Business School. Visit her faculty profile for more information.
National Reconciliation Week occurs from 27 May to 3 June each year. This year marks two decades since the reconciliation walks of 2000 and the formation of Reconciliation Australia.