There are approximately 20,000 Indigenous businesses across Australia, and they represent a growing segment of the national market in many different sectors – hospitality, tourism, arts and crafts, earthworks, and various trade networks. Now, a new program has been developed to build business acumen skills and knowledge for Indigenous businesses.
A unique Indigenous business development program has been developed by four academics – two of whom are members of the Rotary Club of St Ives, NSW – and they are keen to share the concept with Rotary clubs across Australia.
Professors Tom Smith and Martina Linnenluecke from Macquarie University, Professor John Roberts from the University of New South Wales, and Professor Baljit Sidhu from the University of Sydney have orchestrated the program to build business acumen skills and knowledge for Indigenous businesses in recent years.
They have delivered successful two-day programs in Brisbane, Weipa, Townsville, Cairns and northern Victoria, offering training in marketing, accounting, finance and strategy.
The success of the program goes far beyond the knowledge imparted to support Indigenous businesses. The personal mentoring relationship is crucial to the program’s success, and the professors are invited to go on country – thus beginning important relationships that become friendships, and making valuable contributions to the growth of Indigenous companies.
“The personal mentoring relationship is crucial to the program’s success, and the professors are invited to go on country – thus beginning important relationships that become friendships, and making valuable contributions to the growth of Indigenous companies.”
The Federal Government and a number of states are doing their part to support Indigenous businesses by enacting a procurement policy that requires anyone doing business with the state to offer Indigenous business involvement.
Another important aspect of the two-day programs is networking, and ample time is given for participants to meet and socialise with each other at morning tea and a dinner held on the first night. Partner organisations such as Many Rivers, Indigenous Business Australia, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Queensland Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and relevant Indigenous Chamber of Commerce groups are present throughout
Corporate and government representatives are invited to join with partner organisations for the networking dinner held at the end of day one. This provides an important opportunity for the participating businesses to network informally and have one-on-one question time with instructors and other Indigenous support agencies.
The professors have proved very responsive and helpful in following up requests from participants. Through the good grace of supportive universities, they offer an intern program to help businesses with web design, business plans, tender proposals, marketing, financing and strategic planning.
By way of a participant questionnaire, particular issues and circumstances of each business are identified. This allows for a more tailored delivery and varied solutions for companies.
How can Rotary clubs get involved?
The Indigenous Business Development program is not unlike the former Shell Livewire Vocational Program supported by Rotary clubs some years ago.
Rotary International is a vocationally based service organisation.
Professor Tom Smith points to Rotary’s vast store of business acumen, and an army of members eminently suited to provide expert help to further grow the program – teaching, mentoring and assisting with the training of others.
The next step is for Rotary clubs and Rotarians to record their interest and contact details. The professors will meet, take on board suggestions for further development of the program, and provide personal training, notes and collegial support.
Rotary senior leaders have been campaigning for years, urging clubs to adopt more Indigenous support programs, and this program provides the perfect opportunity. With more than 1000 clubs across Australia, Rotary has the ability and resources to impact many Indigenous businesses.