Giving Aboriginal Australians a hand up

Australia needs to offer Aboriginal Australians a different kind of support to encourage entrepreneurship in Aboriginal communities, says a leading business academic.

As Prime Minister Rudd this morning offered an apology to all Aborigines and the Stolen Generations in Parliament, Professor Michael Schaper, dean of the Murdoch University Business School, has called for more encouragement for the growth of an economically self-reliant indigenous business community.

“This is form of practical reconciliation,” he says.

The level of entrepreneurship among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is only about a third the rate of the wider Australian population. And it also compares poorly to New Zealand and Canada, where indigenous peoples have been able to produce quite a number of successful business ventures.

“It’s hard to name any indigenous entrepreneurs with a profile,” he says. “There are some successful indigenous businesses, and more each year. But a community that doesn’t generate its own wealth, create its own jobs and have its own economic independence is always going to be on the back foot. Aboriginal Australians deserve better.

“Practical reconciliation in a business sense means reaching out to the indigenous communities, and encouraging and helping Aboriginal Australians who genuinely want to give entrepreneurship a go.”

Schaper, who previously worked as a small business adviser for the now disbanded ATSIC, says that some of ATSIC’s programs funded businesses that did not have a sustainable business model.

He says it can’t just be another form of welfare. “We have to move away from the idea of business welfare-ism where we only support Aboriginal businesses to meet corporate social responsibility goals or government funding targets.

“We need to provide training in business management and formation. But if a business doesn’t stack up on the fundamentals of cash flow demand etc, then we shouldn’t be encouraging or propping them up just because they are Aboriginal,” Schaper says.

“But at same time we need to provide them with the skills they need to survive in the commercial world. Anything else is doing a disservice to the indigenous communities.”



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