Melbourne Business School News #IndigBizMonth: Why Pat Torres wants to share her success

#IndigBizMonth: Why Pat Torres wants to share her success

"I work as if I'm a collaborator rather than a competitor. I always try to buy from Indigenous producers, and sell to them, where I can."

Pat Torres standing in front of indigenous art

This month marks the eighth annual Indigenous Business Month, an initiative created by alumni of the MURRA Indigenous Business Program to promote business as a vehicle towards self-determination, a way of providing positive role models for Indigenous Australians and of improving quality of life in Indigenous communities. 

For Pat Torres, it's an opportunity to call on Indigenous businesses to support each other in creating a circular economy, as well as pushing for remote communities to get access to the funding and facilities they need to thrive.

A graduate of the MURRA program, Pat now runs a string of successful businesses based on her knowledge of native plants and mentors other Indigenous Australians in setting up their own endeavours. 

"I have a native food business, Mayi Harvests, selling a range of plant foods from my online shop and also attending markets and gatherings around the Kimberley's to sell my product – things like bush tomato, pepper berry and Kakadu plums," she says. 

"I also provide a lot of cultural immersion education programs and I run a range of tours, under my Jarndu Ngaank Tours business, sharing my knowledge on the native flora and also my local cultural knowledge.

"Lastly, I provide business mentorship to women in the community, through the Kimberley Jiyagas network teaching them how to make products utilising their knowledge of their own language and lands, products which can be sold in the tourism market – things like oils, lip balms, candles and eco dying using the dyes in the region."

Pat has been a sole trader for 15 years, and two and a half years ago incorporated her various activities into a company structure so she could take the next step. 

"MURRA and the subsequent programs I completed really opened up my eyes to the possibilities available," she says. 

"I created a company so that I could go forward and get funding for infrastructure, and help raise my business profile.

"Previously, I had just been surviving, but now I've been able to expand and begin making a profit. Doing the programs taught me there was a great big world out there which I just hadn't had access to."

Pat is part of the First Nations Bushfood & Botanical Alliance Australia and the Northern Australia Kakadu Plum Alliance and is keen to ensure other Indigenous businesses also have access to these opportunities. 

Creating a circular economy 

One of the key actions Pat believes Indigenous businesses should focus on is collaborating, supporting and ensuring that they are giving back to each other.

"I work as if I'm a collaborator rather than a competitor. I always try to buy from Indigenous producers, and sell to them, where I can," she says.

Pat believes creating a circular economy between Indigenous businesses is an area where there is room for improvement, and one that is vital for successful Indigenous development. 

"There needs to be a deliberate conscious effort by Indigenous people to go buy off other Indigenous businesses. Let's build each other’s business up," she says.

"Every emerging Indigenous business in my area I intentionally go to them and buy their products so they can begin putting money aside to buy the stocks they need.

"It might be cheaper to go to your big supermarket, but you're not putting back into the Indigenous or local community," she says.

"Therefore, it's not contributing to the Indigenous circular economy we need to build wealth in our communities."

Access to community facilities

Another of Pat's passions is ensuring that people in remote communities have access to the facilities and funding they need to upskill.

"People in remote regions are dealing with a lot more barriers," she says. 

"For instance, there is no certified kitchen in my area that we can easily access. All the kitchens with commercial standards are already being operated by other businesses. 

"There are lots of people trained in the hospitality industry, but they don't have jobs because they can’t get access to kitchens.

"You can't have equity when you can't get access. How are we ever going to get ahead? We need funding to build purpose-built facilities that could be used by the community."< />
Too often though, the existing channels for funding are limited or difficult to access.

"Often funding is provided through government or philanthropic groups who are trying to build capacity, and there exist barriers or gaps that don't allow access and equity due to the eligibility conditions," Pat says.

"Government red tape is often a barrier for many Indigenous people too. A lot of them don’t know where to start.

"Or they're not providing money for the right things – for instance, there are no government grants to go out and buy stock or essential equipment. 

"We need to look further afield. Industry, for instance, could be doing a lot more to support other Indigenous businesses, and established Indigenous businesses need to think about how they can contribute towards building the capacities of those just emerging."

Lasting impact of the MURRA community

Participating in the MURRA Indigenous Business Program was a pivotal movement for Pat in her career – and not just because it gave her new professional skills.

"MURRA taught me how to bring balance into my life," she says.

"I used to work constantly for the community and my family and my businesses, and often my family and community would suffer.

"MURRA taught me that I can say no, that taking on the wrong things and overcommitting could lead me to miss out on the right opportunities."

Pat says it's incredible to see other Indigenous people who have gone through the MURRA program now striving for the whole community they work in with successful businesses. 

"These people are bringing everyone along with them. There's an old saying – if you give a woman funding, she'll give two thirds of that back to the community."

For more information and a full list of events, visit the Indigenous Business Month website.

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