Sixteen of Australia’s largest corporations have promised to spend an extra $3 billion over the next five years inking deals with Indigenous business owners.
Launched on Monday by Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt in Perth, the initiative aims to support the development of Indigenous businesses in partnership with members of lobby group Business Council of Australia (BCA).
Oil companies BHP and BP Australia, banks Commonwealth Bank and Westpac, consultancy firms KPMG and EY, mining giants Rio Tinto and Fortescue and airline Qantas are participating in the program.
The move has been welcomed by Herb Smith, a Wiradjuri man who runs NSW-based Dreamtime Tuka, a business which sells traditionally inspired foods.
“It’s a great initiative,” Smith tells SmartCompany.
“It’s focused on growing a thriving Indigenous business sector, which in turn will help deliver economic development for Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander communities.”
Smith says his business has more than doubled in size after agreeing to supply Qantas with his range of coconut lemon myrtle slices in 2015, and now fills orders in excess of 400,000 items every six weeks for the airline.
“It’s all a matter of awareness. Large businesses and corporations are suddenly becoming aware that there are very talented and experienced Indigenous business people out there,” Smith says.
Under the initiative, participating BCA members have promised to increase their spending with Indigenous suppliers by 0.5% each year for five years.
The companies have promised to increase spending to at least 0.5% in the first 12 months of the scheme, moving to 3% by 2024.
The BCA said the program will be subject to reporting and monitoring, but did not say how this would be conducted on Monday morning.
Jirra Lulla Harvey, a Melbourne-based Yorta Yorta/Wiradjuri woman and founder of Kalinya Communications, a company established to promote the voices of First Nations people, says the program will accelerate growth in her industry.
“We are seeing a real rise in Aboriginal business creation, and a commitment of this size, from leading Australian businesses, will accelerate the growth of our industry,” Harvey tells SmartCompany.
Participating companies have also promised to engage in “activities to develop Indigenous suppliers” alongside the procurement target, the BCA said.
“Economic advancement at an individual, family and community level is one of the best ways to create the type of opportunities that can deliver real, genuine and lasting change,” BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott said in a statement circulated Monday.
Smith says support for Indigenous-owned businesses was growing, in part thanks to state and federal government procurement programs, although he says it will be important this latest initiative follows through.
“Government needs to make sure these initiatives don’t break down at the middle level,” he says.
“It needs to be processed and driven down to those businesses who need help.”
Smith says he sees the latest $3 billion pledge as a pathway to help his own business grow and encourages other indigenous entrepreneurs to get involved.
“Large companies will certainly offer you these opportunities, and with that opportunity comes a lot of responsibility,” Smith says.