Like the long march towards reconciliation in Australia, progress will never be linear. It is also never-ending, so while I believe wholeheartedly in the extraordinary potential for positive change in this space, the daily challenge, especially for non-Indigenous peoples, will remain the same; do better, think better, be better.
This year's theme for National Reconciliation Week (27 May – 3 June) – Be a Voice for Generations – is a timely reminder for all Australians to reflect not only our continuing progress towards a reconciled Australia, but also to look towards the ways in which each of us can actively be a voice for change in our everyday lives. Each of us is accountable to ourselves and others and today's actions, no matter how small, will have a lasting impact on future generations.
Speaking at the 15th International Conference on Tax Administration at the University of New South Wales recently, First Nations entrepreneur and academic Wayne Bergmann highlighted that Indigenous businesses have been "locked out of capitalism" in Australia for 200 years and so prevented from building their own economy because "[non-Indigenous] institutional structures don't work." Further, that most Native Title Corporations are charities that necessarily "promote a culture of giving and dependence," rather than one of economic independence.
A fundamental shift towards economic independence for First Nations peoples is therefore vital, and self-determination is critical to this process. One of the building blocks towards this is helping to enhance the growth mindsets of a more diverse range of people, nourishing their inherent entrepreneurial and innovative skills and thinking to empower them to affect change from within.
Skills building in partnership with communities
Since 2016, the Sydney School of Entrepreneurship (SSE) has been delivering impact across New South Wales and beyond, working in collaboration with industry, government, councils, community, and education providers to help build Australia's skills economy and remove barriers to employment for more Australians, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, by delivering topical, practical work-relevant training and learning pathways.
We're invested in learning and evolving our program offering in consultation with people 'on the ground' in the communities in which we're working, and the agile nature of our organisation means we're equipped to do that.
Our programs are place-based, community-led and collaborative. We engage with local community members and subject matter experts to co-design and co-deliver community-relevant programs. This is a vital part of SSE's process that not only enables us to provide a genuine professional development opportunity for mentors, it also ensures programs are properly aligned with (and culturally tailored to) a community's needs.
Our future leaders
We recently delivered our Invest in Yourself: Exploring Money & Self Employment program to a group of Aboriginal students aged 14-17 from the Tamworth region. Delivered in partnership with the Department of Regional NSW New England North West (DRNSW), Invest in Yourself is designed to increase self-agency, independence, and economic prosperity by teaching participants about financial literacy, entrepreneurship, budgeting, and self-employment.
SSE designed and delivered this program in partnership with the Gomeroi Culture Academy and local Gomeroi entrepreneur Kayleb Waters-Sampson. As a local artist and performer who has founded and operates his own business in the New England region, Kayleb brought a wealth of personal experience and professional expertise to his role as program mentor.
Marc Sutherland, Director of the Gomeroi Culture Academy, had similar reflections on the program content. "Identity is the foundation for self-growth," he said, adding that "if we can build that strong sense of identity then it's going to lay the platform for young people to move into spaces they're going to choose."
"[The program] was an amazing opportunity especially because quality information on these topics is normally harder to access [in regional Australia]."
Tellingly, even though it's an entrepreneurial program, every business created by these young people had a focus on community, cultural, or social outcomes. Purpose before (though not at the expense of) profit.
We're now looking forward to delivering the program to a fresh cohort of 12–24-year-olds in Gunnedah next month, and in eight regional locations across NSW later this year.
Australia's First Nations communities possess enormous talent and many centuries of entrepreneurship, scholarship, sustainability, and wellbeing. So we acknowledge and strive to learn from the leadership and voices of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partners, mentors, and learners.
This is not a time to remain silent. It's a time for all Australians to have – and be – a voice, to be a positive force for change through the language we use, how we treat each other, how we work together and how we respect and support each other. The future of our nation depends on it!
By Dr Sarah Jones. Article originally published in National Indigenous Times.