Accelerating Indigenous Entrepreneurship: First Nations Leadership For Positive Social Impact
On February 4th, Impact Boom hosted the First Nations Impact Entrepreneurship Experience, bringing together Indigenous Australians for a workshop, networking and informative discussion on Indigenous business in Queensland and more broadly in Australia.
The panel conversation and audience Q&A focussed on ‘Accelerating Indigenous Entrepreneurship - First Nations Leadership For Positive Social Impact’, with the aim of advancing the conversation forward.
Troy Casey, Kaylene Langford, Terri Waller and Leesa Watego shared key insights and experience during a lively panel discussion moderated by Tom Allen whilst the audience participated with some strong comments and questions. Listen to the podcast or find the article below!
Impact Boom would like to thank Brisbane City Council for their support, the Yunus Social Business Centre (Griffith University) for providing a great venue, the speakers, participants and guests who travelled from as far as Bundaberg. We’d also like to thank Alejandra Carrau, Impact Boom’s Marketing and Communications Manager for her support.
Troy is the Co-Founder of Blaklash Projects - a creative agency specialising in the curation of events, exhibition and bespoke creative projects that showcase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices and perspectives.
He has extensive community engagement experience spanning the government, not-for-profit and higher education sectors, and is passionate about harnessing economic development opportunities to create positive social change for First Nations Australians.
Troy was the first Aboriginal man to be accepted into the MIT Global Entrepreneurship Bootcamp receiving a scholarship to attend in 2017, was the Co-Founder of the Indigenous Startup Weekend initiative and currently sits on the CSIRO Indigenous Innovation Alliance as a steering committee member.
Founder, Startup Creative
Waving the flag at the peak of the StartUp Creative mountain is Kaylene Langford — entrepreneur, passionate coach, sunshine-seeker and all-round go-getter. Kaylene is committed to drawing together young, motivated individuals and throwing them in the mix with industry experts, funding opportunities, development programs, mentors, inspiring events and keynote presentations. Filling in the space between opportunities and out-of-this-world outcomes, Kaylene supports and champions a new generation of Australian entrepreneurs and business owners who are ready to grab their dreams by the horns and ride them off into the sunset.
Working with people to help them realise their potential and exceed their own expectations is what drives Kaylene to get up every morning. With over eight years’ experience developing and delivering youth programs, driving initiatives to support youth development, mentoring, and building a thriving community for entrepreneurs to find their groove, Kaylene offers empowerment, encouragement and support to those with the same hunger to do something new, different, and significant.
Managing Director, SevGen
Terri Waller is a visionary developing an innovative initiative commended by the Anti Discrimination Commission, and also spoken of by Canberra academics as a model for the world. Terri is the Managing Director of SevGen Indigenous Corporation, an integrated loving, living, laughing, listening and learning place within a location and relationship based 3E model (Enterprise, Education, Entrepreneurship) crafted to bring us back to a more fulfilling daily existence in an itty bitty piece of paradise while playing autonomously in passion and purpose always. Terri also manages Deadly Espresso, a social enterprise cafe based on the Sunshine Coast.
Managing Director, Iscariot Media
Leesa Watego is the Managing Director of Iscariot Media, an Indigenous owned Brisbane-based agency that focuses on creative and digital solutions for small business. Delivering training to Indigenous businesses across Queensland, Leesa has also played a significant role in Indigenous business sector development for almost a decade. Leesa is the President of the South East Queensland Indigenous Chamber of Commerce, on the working group for Indigenous Business Queensland, is a member of the Queensland government's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Business and innovation Reference Group, is the Queensland Government's Indigenous Champion on the Procurement Industry Advisory Group. She is one of the founders of Black Coffee, a community-based networking initiative running across Australia, and Indigenous Business Month. Leesa is also a volunteer Deadly Runners coach with Brisbane Deadly Runners.
Tom Allen (Moderator)
Founder & CEO, Impact Boom.
Tom Allen is Founder and CEO of Impact Boom and is passionate about working with purpose-driven organisations, entrepreneurs, individuals and regions to deliver strong, lasting social and environmental impact. Tom works to help social entrepreneurs and their regions to thrive, building critical skills and design-led mindsets capable of tackling complex challenges.
He also works with leading universities, governments and clients locally & internationally to develop and deliver world-class programs across social entrepreneurship and innovation, human centred design and marketing. Tom is highly active in building the social enterprise ecosystem and is a Board Member of the Queensland Social Enterprise Council and Social Enterprise Network Logan, Social Entrepreneur in Residence at Yunus Social Business Centre (Griffith University) and an Advisory Panel Member of ImpaQt (QUT Bluebox) and Brisbane Tool Library.
Highlights from the Event
[Tom Allen] - Leesa, how might Indigenous businesses best collaborate and support the growth of the sector?
[Leesa Watego] - I think sector growth involves a few different things. On the one hand, it involves commitment from above. You need to be resourced to do that. We've had discussions in the past about how initiatives start, but if there's no support, they fall over. And we've seen a lot of initiatives over the years that have done that.
A great idea is a great idea, but a great idea isn't necessarily a great business if you can't sustain it.
I think that that's really important. So there has to be some kind of support from the top.
But from individuals, I think what we're really looking for is, (and we had a bit of a chat about this in the break), finding people that you can collaborate with and work with. I think that that's really important. Recognising that we all have a role to play. So for instance, the work that I do around growing Black Coffee, which is about activating Indigenous business communities across Australia, particularly in regional areas, so that they can then have representation to government saying, “Hey, these are the services that we need in our area.” I can't run Black Coffees myself all around the country, but we have regional coordinators in all those areas.
So for me, in establishing that initiative (I have a co-founder, in Townsville) what we're doing is we're really trying to enrol people into that vision. What I've found over the last 24 months in that respect, is that you have to build the infrastructure for it. Like I said, good ideas don't necessarily make good business.
A good idea is okay, but if you don't actually have infrastructure and processes and systems, the whole thing's going to fall over.
It's like you've got to build the skeleton from which to put the body. You want this thing, but you've got to build that framework and that skeleton. So I think that that's really important.
[Tom] - Thanks Leesa. Would someone like to add to this?
[Troy Casey] - I think it's really important because there's a few government policies and initiatives that have sparked a lot of interest in the Indigenous business sector lately, and I think working collaboratively provides opportunities for smaller businesses to team up to win larger-scale contracts and projects.
I think if we work collectively with businesses that we know and trust, then we can join forces together to look at doing bigger and larger-scale projects which we wouldn't have the opportunity to do individually, but as a collective, we can then access that wealth, those contracts.
[Leesa Watego] - One of the things that over the last six months we've done as the South East Queensland Indigenous Chamber of Commerce is actually create the space for that. We had the Queensland Government put out a call for creative services, businesses to have a standard offer of agreement with them to provide creative services. There's only a couple of businesses in Queensland that could actually fulfil that, but one of the things as the Chamber that we did, was we actually put out to all of our businesses and all of our members, if you're a creative services business, let's have a workshop ... let's talk together. We had a workshop. Everybody talked about what being a part of an SOA is actually about and how we might actually do that.
So I think that, again, it's also about having those organisations that can be those aggregators of everybody's interest. Then that also came as a result of program in government, Deadly Innovation, that flagged that this opportunity was coming up. So we actually had a week or so more than everybody else before that offer went public. So I think that if we're going to grow this sector, we actually really need to have lots of different things happening at the same time.
[Tom] - Fantastic. Kaylene, Terri, would you like to add to that? Maybe outline some of the key challenges that you think indigenous businesses face.
[Terri Waller] - I think one of the challenges is numbers. To do just what our other panellists, Troy and Leesa, just said was to all work together.
As you know we're 3% of the population, so I would say, ‘let's all do it together.’
[Kaylene Langford] - I think examples of where it's been done before in business is such a powerful way, and I think Troy's story is an example. He's not getting any handouts. He's putting his hand up and saying, “I'll do the work and I'll do it well.” He's set himself up with a business model that says "I can ... " and how he's done the markets is generating income and showing people that they can make money doing what they love and being proud of being Indigenous and bringing that as a niche, saying, ‘we're an Indigenous service provider that understands and knows.’
Luke is in the crowd who has created that in the environmental services space. It should be something that you can add as a point of difference in your business. If we can get more people out there using that... We show examples of leading the way and get more people to stand up and go, “I'm going to use this as a business opportunity, too."
[Terri] - To take on the bigger projects, you need a variety of skills and things to get that going. You can't do it all. There's other businesses out there that you can buy in yourself to fulfil those roles. Again, it's knowing what's out there. If it's not there, we bring somebody up to do that, and do it all together.
[Troy] - I think also in collaboration, it's knowing your place. Not trying to do everything in a project that you don't specialise in, and then leveraging partners and other Indigenous businesses that you know that's their niche market. They're great at doing marketing, or they're great at video production. I could dabble in that space, but that's not me. I think identifying where you sit in the market and knowing who else in the market that you can collaborate with who does it well is really important, too.
Because you still want to deliver great outcomes. It's not about ... For us, the collaboration aspect is about delivering a great outcome. It's helping other Indigenous businesses out, but in the end, I know where I sit in the market and what my business is great at, and I try not to cross lanes into someone else's area.
[Leesa] - So, for instance, if you're going to start a business in a community space, you don't have to do everything. You might be hiring a piece of equipment out in a tourism industry sector, for instance. You might be hiring out a kayak, and you might have a tour coming in, but you don't necessarily have to do the food as well. You might want to offer food to people, but you don't want to also start now being a catering business. What you want to do is you want to partner with the catering business.
It's about understanding the supply chain, understanding what all of those people in that product or in that service actually need, and working out what you want to be good at. Knowing what you want to do and then knowing what you're not going to do are both are just as equally important.
[Tom] - Fantastic. In some of the conversations today, one of the parts that came up was persistence, and that ability to get out there and do, and do again, and fail, and learn; someone described as "Flearning." Were there any other really key fundamental traits that you believe Indigenous business leaders, entrepreneurs, really require if they want to make a success of what they're doing?
[Kaylene] - Yeah, I think definitely being willing to completely mess it up and not know what you're doing. I think asking for help... mentorship, a coach, colleagues, peers, whoever it is...
Go find someone who's gone before you, and ask them how they did it.
But I think being willing to pivot in a business, as well. So, you might start out a certain way, like with Startup Creative I started out with running a six-week course, and I delivered that to councils. So, my day-to-day business was pitching to whoever was in charge of the funding body to educate young people. Whoever in charge of that bucket.
My day would be, find out who that person was, do my research, figure out the document that I needed to read through to see what their deliverables were, weigh up how I was going to pitch to those deliverables, get a meeting, do a followup email, send an invoice, get a deposit, set dates… And then I would do it all again. And when I pivoted my business was when I realised that I actually want to go straight to the people with the ideas. I don't want to have to convince a third party that what I have to offer for creative entrepreneurs is of value, because I know it's of value, just put me in front of them and I'll get results. So, that's when I changed my business model, and it was a big call, 'cause I went from getting a juicy $10,000 paycheck to a couple of hundred dollars paycheck.
So I had to change how that was going to work, which meant putting effort into building up our community so we had larger reach, and rather than having six meetings in six months, you were trying to access or build a community of 60,000 to get the conversions for your income. And that came from staying true to what I was really passionate about, and I think that's really important.
If you run a business from a place of passion and desire, ‘this is who I am and it's ingrained in me, and I love this, and I'm good at it,’ then it's a superpower.
And there's so much that you will achieve and do, and you'll get up to work towards every single day, because you're coming from somewhere deep in the heart.
I think that's really what Indigenous people have, very strongly, is connection to spirit, and self, and land, and intuition. If you can harness that, and use that, then you will do wonders.
[Leesa] - Understanding your purpose and your why is fundamental, but I think also understanding how much stuff costs, and knowing how to do the books... If you've got a family, and you've got kids, and you've got rent, and you've got mortgage, having [a source of income] while you're building the business, that doesn't take your head away from the business, but you can do it and bring an income in. I've been in business way before there was an Indigenous procurement policy, back in the 1990s. I would do tutoring during the semester, saving up enough money so that I could do the business in some semesters, and do the business in other semesters.
I often played with the idea of being a Brisbane City Council bus driver. "I reckon I could do that, and on weekends, kids would be home, I could do bus driving, I could earn a bit of money. Over time, do long shifts ... I don't know if I'd be very good, my driving record's not that great." The city's probably grateful I never pursued that, but do stuff like that. Work as a security guard at night. Pack shelves.
What are those things that are practically going to support you, while you're trying to grow your business?
We've seen a lot of people come out too early, leave their jobs too early, before they were ready. Have you made the kind of adjustments you need to make in your lifestyle to make sure that you can weather the peaks and troughs of being in business? In my business, no one pays between December and January and February, so there is no income. So how do you live those three months without any income, what do you do?
So, it's being practical, knowing your purpose and your passion, not being moved from that, but also actually being a little bit practical, and going "Okay. So if I don't get any income, if I don't have any customers, how am I going to live?"
[Terri] - I was going to comment on the wellness side of business too, because the attribute was persistence, Leesa talked about your why, why you're doing it. You wake up every morning, you've got your three legs that your business stands up on, the finances, know how much things cost, your product, and your marketing. Without marketing, you won't get very far. It's a lot that comes along, and quite often you think, in the beginning, you're up until midnight, and then you're up again at 5:00 because you get woken up by a thought and then you can't get back to bed because your head starts reeling.
People would say to me "Oh, you're doing the workload of 10 people, you're going to collapse."
My passion drove me for a long time, but also I quickly realised, I started this mantra "Stay relaxed, stay resourceful." So, I think you've also got to be thinking about staying well while you're starting up a business as well.
I've got a little diary idea, if anybody would like to help me get it up. It's got a little wellness column on the right-hand side…
[Troy] - One thing is being able to take advice. I think being able to take advice is super important, because, you know, Leesa's touched on it ... A good idea is a good idea, but is it a good business? So, you're stuck on, ‘this is my idea, this is the business,’ and eight out of ten people say "It's a great idea, but I don't know how you're going to be able to monetise that idea into a sustainable business model," then you need to listen to people as well.
So having good mentors, but also being able to take advice from people. Because sometimes we're very pig-headed, and get stuck in that "My idea's the best idea, there's no other way to go," but there's obviously a whole range of stuff that you do, talking to customers... I think just being able to take strong, good advice.
[Tom] - Thanks Troy. So, what role does government play in supporting Indigenous business?
[Leesa] - There's a lot of people who will do business who never have anything to do with government. Until a few years ago, I had pretty much nothing to do with government. I had a small little business, they were occasionally my clients, but essentially I just pottered around and I had a business. I didn't need it. I didn't worry about it, I wasn't interested in government policies, I never really had to worry about it. But over time, as I've taken on the role of the Chamber and trying to help other businesses, I can begin to understand the role that government can play, and particularly in that policy-making role.
One of the things I often say to people that are in our workshops, "There are no grants for starting your business." There's a couple of communities that it might be different for, but more or less there are no grants. There's no $10,000 grant to start your business. There may have been in previous decades, but there are certainly none anymore. You have to finance it yourself, [so] how are you going to do that? So, really understanding that sort of stuff, and understanding what government can't do. It's not going to give you money to start. What it can do is, (and we talked about this earlier in the discussion), in particular, there are some policies that impact on our ability to run businesses in certain communities.
For instance, housing policy. If you're in a community, and you want to sell stuff, is there a space for you to actually sell it? Does the local Aboriginal Council have policies that allow you to set up a store, a roadside store, or whatever? Is there internet?
The government could provide internet for our communities across Australia. Our communities don't all have running water. They don't all have electricity. They are the kinds of things that governments can do, to make sure that we can have a business ecosystem, an Indigenous business ecosystem.
So, they're not going to give you money, they're not going to give you $10,000, but they might give you internet that will enable you to Google stuff, and learn, and build customers, and build markets, and an audience from across the world.
I think we need to really be a little bit realistic about what governments can and can't do, so thinking about those policy things, thinking about the infrastructure stuff, is really, really important. In my business we're delivering so much more training these days, so yay! Training programs. I speak every single day with business owners about "I've got this idea, how do I do this." So our particular area now, in terms of training, is micro business. I'm interested in the folks who maybe need $300 to start one thing. I'm interested in the micro business space, and we're interested in the digital space. We're doing a lot on digital security, how to set up your infrastructure, and that kind of stuff.
So, I think that governments being able to provide that kind of training... And they do that for all businesses, they don't just do it for Indigenous businesses.
Small business is one of the biggest employers of Australians, so we need to make sure that we have a piece of that, as well.
From a social enterprise stance, I think government can actually validate what we do.
Because I have this little picture in my mind of the tri-thing; government, corporate, and charity. In the middle is the little philanthropy circle as well. I think what government can do is get out there, really know what's out there, so the job they should be doing is listening and knowing, and then finding ways to validate and showcase what it is we're doing. That would be good.
[Kaylene] - I think with social enterprise, when I was working this space a few years back, I don't know whether it's evolved, Tom might know, but being able to put a dollar figure on the impact that you're having. Whether they're researching how much are we saving through giving back and having impact through people accessing services or whatever. I think that would be a really vital thing. Do you know, Tom, if that's happening?
[Tom] - Certainly from an impact measurement perspective, that's a really important piece that I believe all good and effective social enterprises should be doing. So, very clearly understanding what impact you are making, how do you measure that, and how do you tell a narrative and a story through that? How do you communicate that to all your different stakeholders, whether it be an employee, whether it be a government buyer, or someone else that you're providing the service to? It might even be to philanthropy, or an investor. So I think that's certainly a very important piece.
[Terri] - I just had a thought, what Troy said before... know what they do, and leave the rest alone, as well. And partner. So, partner with us, rather than to start another government initiative that really takes the place of something that's already happening out there.
[Troy] - Yeah, the impact outcome's an interesting one, because we work in the creative industries, so public artwork, how do you actually measure what kind of return on investment that is? Or a cultural festival that we run in the middle of the city, that brings community, Indigenous and non-Indigenous together to share stories, you know? There's a monetisation of the store holders, how much they sell, but what's the social impact for people that participate in those kind of initiatives?
Government can also start to understand that we have capacity to deliver now, and not have a deficit approach towards the way in which they engage in Indigenous businesses.
There's kind of a negative connotation around, Indigenous businesses needing to have a joint venture to be able to deliver on these large-scale projects, but I think, everyone gets a crack at the start, with non-Indigenous businesses, how did they get to that point? So, I think that's definitely a thing. We still have to prove ourselves, you know?
Don't get me wrong, any business that gets a contract has to deliver it and deliver it well, and then you get another contract, but being able to get that shot at it in the first instance is sometimes really challenging.
Again, the policies and stuff are now in place, and I think we actually need to be smarter on how to access some of those contracts as well.
We talk about collaboration and coming together to get those larger-scale projects that can be delivered, so it's not just about what the government can do for us. It's not a hand-out. It's how do we utilise that as a hand up? Because the deficit approach hasn't worked for our communities for a long time.
[Tom] - Absolutely. Thanks for those insights. I'd love to hear a few really interesting examples of First Nations entrepreneurs, or Indigenous-led businesses, beyond your organisations, that are creating some fantastic outcomes. Can you provide some examples?
[Leslie Yulang Lowe] - Good afternoon, my name's Leslie Lowe, I'm the Managing Director of Technology Indigenous Corporation. Tecknology's an anagram which stands for Traditional, Ecological, and Cultural Knowledge. So, we look at here, we can take out ecological and cultural knowledge bases, and turn them into modern businesses.
[Troy] - I might be a little bit biassed, because I used to work for them. But Carbon Creative are an advertising creative agency that have shifted from just being an advertising agency and graphic design company that worked on any projects, and now have a really big focus on creating advertising campaigns that in turn create positive social change, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. I think they've found a really good niche in the way in which to create campaigns for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. You can just create a good campaign that speaks to everyone. It doesn't necessarily have to have dot art, and say ‘deadly’... All of the things that are very specific to aboriginal communities, but you can talk about families, you can talk about community more broadly as a collective of people, that resonates with us, but also with others. And I think they are in a really good space that they can kind of communicate those to all audiences. That saves the government money, because they don't have to do two campaigns. Wayne Denning is the Managing Director of that company, and he's been kind of kicking goals for the last 10 or 15 years. I think they're a really great organisation.
[Leesa] - There's so many. There's really small businesses, like around here we've got Crampton Social, who are I guess probably a micro business, they're a café in the northern suburbs. We have Toretto's Café, up at Lawnton. You know The Fast and the Furious, the movie? So, you know, Toretto, the character from that? They're [Toretto’s Cafe] car people. Like, hardcore car people.
It’s a café, but it's also about creating a meeting place for people who are hardcore into these cars. So, I think everybody thinks, assumes that Indigenous businesses are culturally based, and that kind of thing, but there are so many businesses. They're Aboriginal businesses... There’s Cryogenics Group, who do cryogenic stuff across a number of states. So there's a lot of different businesses that are transcending what we imagine Indigenous businesses to be.
[Kaylene] - I used to do some work for AIME, which is Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience, and they work in schools, high schools, and universities, and it's about closing the gap between the number of Indigenous young people who are graduating from high school and transitioning to university. Jack, a young guy, started AIME a few years back now. I was a presenter for them, so I would go in and run programmes at the universities, and then university students would come in and mentor. What I love about them is they did really well with getting corporate partnerships on board, so Virgin Australia is one of their major partnerships, as well as, I think, Bond helped them do hoodies and things like that.
But creating opportunities for the kids to creatively express themselves, so it was very much about doing well at school and showing up, but as a result they got to [participate in] AIME's Got Game, and it was every year. I think it was grade 9 and 10 kids got to submit a video of their rapping, and singing, and whatever they're good at, and they submitted a video, and it was a nationwide competition, across all the schools, and the winners got a Virgin flight. I think they flew them from Sydney to Melbourne or Brisbane or something like that, but they packed the flight with Aboriginal artists and musicians and mentors, and gave them opportunities to creatively do that.
He's done so well with it, and it's Australia-wide. He's actually in New York right now, and teaching how to set it up for their African-American students.
[Leesa] - There's Young Guns, who are based at Murrarie. They've got about 400 employees, across a couple of countries. They're in Canada as well. The two young fellows, (well, they're not young anymore, Trent and Scott) were football players. They went to university and did engineering degrees, but while they were doing their engineering degrees, they'd unpack shipping containers on the weekends, and then they built a business, and now they have hundreds of employees, off premises in Canada and all around Australia.
I remember sitting in a workshop with Trent, and, you know you're having a yarn [about government and grants], and he's just sitting there, really quiet, and he goes "I don't know any of the Minister's names. I don't know any grants... " Because his business was built completely on just no grants, nothing. Had nothing to do with government agencies, no corporates, they just built their business. So, there's business like that as well.
[Tom] - There's some great examples there. So, were there any questions from the audience?
[Leslie] - So, a lot of the businesses we're talking from a metropolitan outlook, so that's scaling up. How do we look at that from a regional perspective where we have most of the major issues of high unemployment, youth suicide, closing the gap, as far as their education goes? So how do we take the things that we're doing in the metropolitan and take them to regions and scale up from there?
[Terri] - Well I'd advocate a franchise model, and there are franchises out there. We're trying to grow ours into a franchise model. And I think there's a bit coming in about that, now, too. It's a bit of a big conversation on the table at the moment. So, they could look at some kind of franchise, I'd love them to do a Deadly Espresso franchise out there.
[Leesa] - I'll admit, my experience isn't massively regional. We've done a few things in different regions. But we've gone in, it's like "Okay, so what do we have? What do we have? What is it that makes our community amazing? What assets do we have?" And your asset might be a rainforest, or your asset might be a waterfall, or it might be people are speaking language, or some amazing dances. Whatever it is, what asset do you have? Sometimes you can't see what you've got as an asset, because you've just got it, and "Oh, I'm not very special. This is just what we do." But if we can come in from that place of "What do we have? Okay. So who might want to come to that place?"
You know how in New Zealand they have their language, so their news, their NITV is actually in their [Maori] language, so I actually couldn't understand and they didn't have subtitles. But what they had was kind of like an Airbnb, but in mob’s house. You would go to the community and just stay with families, so it was like Airbnb, but in communities. You can either try to make the community palatable for a specific audience, or you can find the audience that wants to have what you've got. So, when I saw that New Zealand example, it was a case of "There are people out there who want to experience life as it is."
So, it's about understanding that what we have, aspects of what we have, are assets. Aspects of what we have are beautiful and wonderful, and people want to know us for who we are. So that's probably where I would approach it from. I don't do toxic positivity, I'm not positive, all the time. I like to be quite realistic, but if we can come from that place of "This is deadly," (and we will deal with the stuff that's not so good, we can deal with that stuff), let's value ourself for what we have. It's finding value in what we've got.
[Kaylene] - Yeah, it's like finding the gap in the marketplace. What's the gap that we can fill? Where's an opportunity to make money here? I was with my family yesterday, and my nephew was trying to understand the difference between a one dollar and tens [of dollars]. He's just started school, he's five. And he was trying to understand how I gave him four dollars, but he already had 60 dollars, and why wasn't it 60 plus 4. So, my dad gave him a 10 dollar note, and his eyes lit up, and he just wanted to keep the 10 dollar note, and the maths went out the window. And then I said "Give it back to grandad," and he's like "I want it!" And I was like "Well here's what you do, you go over to him and give it to him and say 'What would it take for me to earn this from you? What do you need that I can serve for you?'" You know?
It's about finding the opportunities to trade, to do business. I think another thing that we can do for that is to show, especially young people, that it can be done.
Our brains are actually wired that if we see something done, and we can see somebody successfully achieve something, then we're more likely to give it a solid crack, because we see it's achievable.
So, the four-minute mile. No one could ever run a four-minute mile. The moment one person cracked the four-minute mile, then a number of people were running the four-minute mile.
So, bringing them, maybe, out of rural situations, and putting them in and amongst successful people who have made it, and say "This is the path that I did, you can do it. It might not be easy, but have a crack." And then they can take that back and go "Alright, I've got some business skills here, I've got some language I can use, and where's the gap in the market?" So, using their environment. Because the reality is, that's business 101, right? You can't go "Oh, I want to open a coffee shop, sweet, I'm going to open my doors," and then go "Oh, there's already 50 coffee shops on this block." You know? Or "No one in this town drinks coffee." So teaching the business smarts, and then applying it to your land.
There's another question from the audience.
[Udan] - Hi, my name is Udan, I'm an Indigenous filmmaker, I have been an entrepreneur for many years, and one of the areas that interests me at the moment is around social impact bonds, and how that can be integrated. Especially as filmmakers, because we do a lot of projects that are there to give voice to our mob. And so one of the areas that I'm interested in is, how do you incorporate social impact bonds into business?
[Terri] - I actually applied for a social benefit bond, when they were trying to get three Queensland social benefit bond examples. We got progressed a good deal of the way, and then we missed out at the last minute, and the three social benefit bonds were awarded around Queensland. So, can you tell me your question again?
[Udan] - I'm just interested in how do you apply it to your business? So, for example, for you, what made you feel that your business was eligible for that, and how did you quantify the social impact? Because obviously, with those bonds, they're saying "We don't want money, but we want to see how that translates into the world." Could you explain a little bit of that.
[Terri] - I guess we'd done it on a prototype kind of version. We'd already been doing some of the work, already, and so we'd done a little bit of monetising what we were doing. Then we just looked multiplying that by 10, and then put an application in to the government. And that's what we're working towards. One of our customers, that we say is our income stream, is government, and for them to develop up a very tiny little social benefit bond, so that we can make some money that way. So, I think it's very appropriate for social enterprises. I'd love to talk to you a bit more about that so that we could put our heads together, and if you've got an idea too, and try and put together another approach there.
[Tom] - So, in a nutshell, does the question come back to receiving investment for the work that you are doing, but based on a social benefit, a social outcome?
[Udan] - I guess, in a way. It's about how do you create film projects, taking them out of the hands of the producers, putting them into the hands of the community, and the community actually being able to make money out of that. Because a lot of the time, we have a lot of non-Indigenous documentary companies going in, and the communities don't get anything out of it. And even as Indigenous filmmakers, we don't get a lot out of it, but if there could be some way that the communities benefit, that's kind of what I'm interested in.
[Tom] - Certainly from that social enterprise perspective, and setting yourself up and an Indigenous-led social enterprise that is a filmmaker. There's some debate around the definition of social enterprise, but the one that's most widely accepted in Australia, is based on the FASES report, which was written by Professor Jo Barraket. That's Finding Australia's Social Enterprise Sector report, originally written in 2010.
The key elements that define social enterprise, for them, is that the business is:
- led by a mission that is consistent with a positive social and environmental benefit
- that the social enterprise is trading and the majority of revenue comes from trade (that's doing business, not waiting for grants, for government funds,)
- and thirdly, that the majority of profit gets returned into fulfilling the mission of that business, that is to deliver a social-environmental outcome.
So, in building a business that does that, you could then be classified as being a social enterprise in the eyes of some. Not that that opens up any opportunities for you. Primarily, it's around how you deliver an amazing product or service that is just as good as, (or ideally better than), anyone else in the market, but at the same time you're able to measure and deliver impact in the community, and tell a story through that as well, and benefit many people through that model.
There's another question from Jason.
[Jason Murphy] - I was just trying to help with, [Udan’s question], where's community value when you're making film, or something like that. The way we're looking at it, for our community, is that the ownership of the information that you're giving out belongs to the community, so the community makes the decisions on what they're going to release. And then that way, if there is something that can become a business proposition for them, they've already decided on the way it's going to be shared publicly, and what's going to be shared publicly. So then it's easier for them, those business decisions come down to who's the marketing person that's going to deal with it. And the way you can swap that between different propositions for the community.
So, whether or not the jobs will be serviced from outside of the community, and while you're using services outside, you're also building infrastructure within the community, because the community is seeing the value in those services you can pull from outside, until you become established.
The key is making sure that, as a creative, that information that you're sharing, it's got to be the community's ownership. You've got to be totally upfront and honest, and it can't be just butchered everywhere, and without [the community] having a say.
[Udan] - The problem is not so much Indigenous film companies, because we have that understanding of the cultural protocols. I think in my mind's eye it's about how do we make the community also an active business partner in filmmaking? So, you can say "Yes, we want this here, or that there," but actually, at the moment, with the whole changes in the film industry, everything is going out on export. There are companies that go "Well, we'll make this, we'll take a part ownership, and then it'll get put out as a global format." And then you don't realise that you've signed it away, because they're very tricky.
It'd be great to empower communities to actually be an active business partner.
[Jason] - So last year there was a thing about research, (a Griffith University talk), and a lot of the researchers were going into the communities, and doing their research, and leaving. So they weren't empowering the community to actually do their own research, and then give those statistics back to the government. So, as a filmmaker, you’re training up that generation, or the next generations of filmmakers, for that community. Each community, there's going to be a creative in there that will be like "Oh, wow, this is what I want to do." And as soon as that passion steps up, and it's going to be easier for you to grab and go. We're all older, and we can see those things within the younger group, so we should definitely be nurturing those situations, and ... This is a perfect example, you're nurturing myself too [by sharing your story].
[Udan] - Thank you, thank you very much for that.
[Tom] - Yeah, it's a fantastic point, Jason, and certainly from the design perspective, over the years, we've seen a lot more work and interest now in co-design or co-production. It's no longer designing for, but it's designing with. Recognising that the power comes from the community, that the power comes from the room, that we're all experts in our own right, we all have our own backgrounds that we can contribute to. I think that's certainly a really powerful way to be starting business as well, in the co-production of that.
[Kaylene] - I'll just add from some really practical point of views, I think Jason makes a good point, is in business, start out with what your intention is. What are you out to create, what are you out to do? Take ownership of that, and get really clear on your boundaries of exactly what are you doing and what you’re not doing. And that means that when you're providing a business or a service, and Troy was saying this before as well, is you're really clear about "We do this, and we don't do that. We're going to produce this, but we're also going to have the rights around where this is going." And then where businesses have great success is they know their worth. You know what you have to offer.
So, if you are taking that to get government funding, or bonds, or whatever, what's in it for them? You're in a pitching position, so your job is to go to the person that you want to pitch to, or who your target market is, and say "What do they need? What are their needs? Okay, their needs are to have more powerful representations of Aboriginal people in drama series." You know? Let's do more drama series that really showcase this, or whatever. And if there's more of that, then more young people are going to have role models, and then they're going to have something to aspire to, so therefore they're going to stay engaged in schooling, and that's going to save them money in detention, and then you can go and figure out how much it costs to put a young person in detention, and go "Well, for every kid that we get idolising this young guy in this TV series, you have the potential to save on detention fees."
That's where you can really understand your return on investment, and then you go in to meetings and have really powerful conversations that say "This is not just a TV series. This is a TV series that's going to change the next generation, and it's going to have serious impact, and this is how we're going to do it." I'm so passionate about the creative industries doing that, because especially young people, they don't want to hear it from the head, but if you can spark it in their hearts, then... Go into those empowered conversations with a business mindset.
[Leslie] - Speaking of which, we've got great series that have been produced in the last five years, like Cleverman, that have gone viral overseas. When's Australia going to have its “Apocalypto”, its “Braveheart”, its true representation of our first people, our First Nations, and post-colonisation, and the effect on our people, told from a inner-truth perspective from our standpoint?