Why we need 1,000 Indigenous business leaders

By Victoria George

Reflecting on his first trip to the Garma Festival, Deputy Dean (Faculty) Paul Jensen explains the Faculty of Business and Economics’ 1,000 Indigenous Business Leaders Program, and why it is crucial to the future of the University and the wider community. Professor Jensen was one of 10 senior University staff members to attend the 2017 Garma Festival, including the Provost and the Deputy Vice Chancellor. The University of Melbourne is a Gold Sponsor of the event.

What can you tell us about the 1,000 Indigenous Business Leaders Program?

Earlier this year we announced the launch of the 1,000 Indigenous Business Leaders Program - the aim is to nurture and develop 1,000 Indigenous business leaders in the next 10 years across Australia.

It’s a big number – but part of the reason we must be bold, and not constrain ourselves to a more modest target, is because we do want to think outside the box here. We want to work with other universities and organisations to make this happen.

This is about taking leadership in the space of promoting, nurturing and developing Indigenous entrepreneurship, Indigenous innovation and Indigenous business.

How was your experience at Garma and what did you learn there?

It was my first time at Garma Festival and it was amazing in several ways. First and foremost, for me it was an opportunity to hear more about the University’s strategic objectives in the Indigenous space and how we might be able to contribute at FBE.

Aligned with that, two outstanding Indigenous academic faculty members were there – Marcia Langton (Associate Provost, and Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor, Foundation Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies) and Shaun Ewen [Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous) and Foundation Director of the Melbourne Poche Centre for Indigenous Health].

Just to be able to chat with them at close quarters in a non-formal setting and get a bit of feedback, was vital in terms of assuring me that we are heading in the right direction, especially with our 1,000 Indigenous Business Leaders Program. There was a palpable sense of support for FBEs involvement.

One of the most important aspects of the event is the connection to land - it’s a very sacred site for the Yolngu people. It’s their ceremonial grounds, on the escarpment overlooking the coast on North East Arnhem Land. Just being at close quarters to hear how much the country means to the Indigenous community was very powerful.

You cannot help but be profoundly moved by your experience at Garma – it’s the connection to the people, the connection to country, understanding more about the plight and suffering that Indigenous people have endured for so many decades.

Deputy Dean Paul Jensen

What sort of support did you get for the 1,000 Indigenous Business Leaders Program at Garma?

Garma provided a unique opportunity to road-test some of our ideas for the Indigenous Business Leaders Program and get a sense of what’s going to get some traction with the key stakeholders, by which I mean both with Indigenous communities, and with corporations we could potentially partner with. We want to leverage off the experience of corporates and the job opportunities they’re going to make available to Indigenous communities.

There were other universities at Garma who we could potentially work with on this as well, and it’s important to note the Australian Business Dean’s Council is working on a piece which will be complementary to the 1,000 Indigenous Business Leaders Program, which could potentially involve collaboration amongst all 39 Australian universities – regional and metropolitan.

Where to from here for the Indigenous Business Leaders Program?

Garma Festival 2017. Image: Yothu Yindi Foundation

We are in the process of fine tuning and developing some of the elements of the Program. The idea is to leverage our existing skills. We are a business and economics faculty - we have lots of understanding around how wealth gets created and how economic growth happens. What we want to do is take those lessons and apply them to an Indigenous space.

This sort of cooperative model is achievable and sustainable. We’re not just focusing on tertiary education, we’re thinking a lot about secondary schools, we’re thinking a lot about business opportunities outside of our formal suite of programs. We’re not thinking of things purely in terms of our undergraduate or postgraduate degrees or diplomas - we’re thinking about training and development we can do outside those formal programs.

The other foundational piece around the 1,000 Indigenous Business Leaders is we want something that’s scalable. We are open to building partnerships with others to get the scale required to generate 1,000 Indigenous business leaders.

The response to the program at Garma was very positive, but we certainly have a long way to go. We’re aware of the fact it won’t just be taking the simple lessons we’ve learnt from existing programs and super-imposing them on Indigenous communities. Our programs will need to be customised, tailored and adapted to the needs and the cultural sensitivities of Indigenous people.

Banner image: Yothu Yindi Foundation

Find out about Marrup Barak, Melbourne Institute for Indigenous Development.