Business–Indigenous Collaboration: First National Report Released

Many Indigenous leaders are asking business to play a central role in ensuring real jobs in the real economy, according to a report released today by the Business Council of Australia.

The report, Indigenous Communities and Australian Business: From Little Things, Big Things Grow, found a wide variety and intensity of collaborative activity, with the number of companies involved growing but off a small base.

Activities range from large highly developed programs for training and employment, business development and community development to small-scale mentoring and philanthropy.

Rural and remote areas see considerably more activity, with the resources sector most deeply involved in mature programs involving partnerships, joint ventures and other structures that enable a holistic approach to Indigenous communities.

The report, the first of its kind prepared in Australia, also found:

Many collaborative activities with Indigenous communities are costly, but the long-term benefits generally outweigh the costs. For companies, reported benefits included access to new markets, positive impacts on corporate culture and values, access to reliable labour supply and enhancement of reputation.

For Indigenous communities, the benefits include employment and economic development, improved community infrastructure development, new business opportunities and alternatives to a ‘welfare future’.

Early collaboration has highlighted some key success factors not being afraid of making mistakes, building initiatives on negotiation and collaboration and, crucially, embedding activities throughout the business.

For government, there needs to be a greater understanding of the commercial aspects of business development, less centralised control, more support for holistic community development and a move to a position of partner rather than purchaser.

  • Assistance based on welfare provision and state and federal government programs has not reduced the many gaps in opportunity and disadvantage between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, the report says.
  • New approaches to addressing disadvantage encourage greater Indigenous community control over shared community and economic futures, foster enterprise development and self-employment opportunities, broaden Indigenous leadership skills and reduce reliance on government support in communities.
  • A consensus is emerging that approaches based on partnership between communities, governments and other stakeholders in Indigenous community development can deliver self-sufficiency to many disadvantaged Indigenous communities.
  • The role of business is central in this new partnership. Based on business capabilities and commitments to corporate social responsibility, companies are recognising the mutual benefit of collaboration with Indigenous peoples.

The Chair of the BCA Business–Indigenous Collaboration Task Force, Ms Meredith Hellicar, said experience in the US, Canada and New Zealand provided evidence that Indigenous community and business partnerships could play a major role in Indigenous community development.

Ms Hellicar said reductions in national levels of disadvantage between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in these countries indicated the success of partnerships in bringing about major social change.

“Small business development and the encouragement of Indigenous self-employment is consistently lauded overseas as the most culturally and economically appropriate means of generating Indigenous community involvement,” she said.

“In Australia, this only accounts for a very small contribution and hence presents a major opportunity for addressing Indigenous community disadvantage.”

“The creation of a real economy for economy for Indigenous communities is a shared goal for many seeking sustained improvement in the welfare of Indigenous Australians.”

“Business small, medium and large are all qualified to assist in this process, and we hope this report makes a major contribution to lifting the number and quality of outcomes of dealings between business and Indigenous communities.”

Indigenous Communities and Australian Business: From Little Things, Big Things Grow