Clan based business development

Finances raised by Why Warrior's workshops and courses go toward the development and support of Indigenous clan based business.

The situation on community

The lack of participation in any real market economy by people in Indigenous communities and remote areas of the Northern Territory has extensive ramifications for the social and cultural security of the people. Low employment, poor income, dependency on welfare and other external assistance, are all attributed to a lack of economic engagement, leading to low self worth, depression and ill health. This is not due to a lack of cultural knowledge about trade. All Indigenous peoples in the Northern Territory prior to colonisation participated in an extensive economic system of trade that extended across most of Australia and internationally into China via Macassan traders who regularly visited the north coast and via Paupa New Guineans on the cape. The debilitating factor is that in contrast with the vibrancy of their heritage, today people perceive a lack of real and future opportunity. This sense of failure is perpetuated by the assumptions that economic growth is something that can be done to a community rather than come from within a community. The sense that economic growth, given the right infrastructure, should just happen, makes people wonder why they cannot achieve a degree of independence. Not realising that public funding and communal approaches to economic enterprise are not normal practice in mainstream Australia many Indigenous people on remote communities are struggling to believe that Australia is anything but a welfare state. Despite this we are seeing more and more Yolngu people asking for help to start private business as a way to support themselves and their families.

Small business

It is well documented that small businesses are central to the social and economic wellbeing of local economies, with 2 million small businesses in Australia employing more than 4 million people and responsible for one third of Australia's GDP. In fact, 95% of all business in Australia is small business. Small business must succeed in Aboriginal communities in order for economic sustainability to be achieved

Yet small business is noticeably absent from Indigenous communities, with the exception of sole traders in traditional art, music and dance. Indigenous people are 3 times less likely that non-Indigenous people to work in their own business, and this figure that is further affected by remoteness. The success rate of small business is low, with the ABS suggesting as few as 56% survive beyond the start up period of 5 years. A much smaller amount of Indigenous self-directed businesses succeed due to the barriers of language, cultural knowledge gaps and lack of historical experience in relating to western business processes and laws. These limits to success, combined with the lack of effective education and training in economics and commerce available today for Aboriginal Australian people such as the Yolngu, make the prospects for them changing their lives through private enterprise very poor indeed.

Why Warrior's Vision

By contributing our skills, resources, and knowledge of the challenges faced not only by Indigenous people in small business, but in small business operation generally, we aim to begin to reverse these figures in North East Arnhem Land and enact a trend toward the sustainable growth of enterprises owned and operated by Indigenous people in remote communities. We see the growth of sustainable Indigenous businesses that are locally owned and controlled as fundamental to Indigenous peoples’ ability to escape the welfare trap, achieve greater autonomy, control, and a sense of life purpose. We develop training and support pathways for families or clan based enterprises, using local language (Yolngu Matha) and traditional Indigenous knowledge.

By empowering families and clans to maintain control of their own enterprises in a sustainable, successful and rewarding way we help them to fulfill dreams of providing for their families, attaining self-employment, independence and purpose. Ultimately Yolngu clan businesses will allow the people to effectively achieve financial autonomy and socio-political mastery, improving key social determinants to benefit health and social function.

How we do it

In order to ensure we are contributing to developing local capacity, empowerment and ensuring ethical sustainability, we are developing our approach around these key requirements:

  • Local ownership
  • Local control
  • Ownership & control is consistent with local Indigenous systems of clans and family relationships Indigenous business education on Arnhem Land
  • Businesses ideas arising from the passions and motivations of the local Indigenous people.
  • Financial transparency
  • Using Indigenous language and cross-cultural methods to maximise the utility of local skills and knowledge
  • Educational support to fill knowledge gaps about the western economic system
  • Learning on the job, start small and grow as people learn
  • Financial independence, minimal external financial support

It is crucial that control remains with the people who have the desire to create businesses, so that they can reap the rewards of running their own business successfully and learn from the process. A solid foundation is the key to a successful, sustainable, and rewarding business and in Arnhem Land we are convinced that this is best achieved through structures that honour traditional systems but also provide extensive support in negotiating the ‘Western’ knowledge and systems. This is best achieved through cross-cultural communication and education methods including, ideally, the use of local languages. Without education to fill cultural knowledge gaps for the accurate acquisition of new knowledge, locally owned business cannot grow beyond sole trader enterprises that operate below the $75,000 income threshold when GST compliance is required. In fact our initial trials have demonstrated that GST compliance and management of the businesses tax burden is the single most limiting factor to Yolngu growing and sustaining a business.

So far... And the future 'AHED'

We have been involved in training and consultancy for Yolngu self-directed, clan based business since 2002. Following a 6 year self funded pilot program we have been approached by a number of clan groups to work with them in fulfilling their desire to develop enterprise in the fields of sustainable wildlife use, forestry management/milling and cultural consultancy and advisory services. From our learning’s so far we have a clear process for developing small businesses to grow beyond the $75,000 income mark when GST compliance is required. We are now in the process of developing the human and organisation structures necessary to provide sustained development of enterprise across whole communities. The first stage of this system of support for new and struggling businesses in North East Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory is the AHED pilot project due to start delivering services is August 2009.

For more information or to discuss potential projects contact us or visit the AHED project pages.

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Why Warriors Lie Down and Die

Why Warriors Lie Down and Die - Book CoverThe result of over 30 years of working face to face with Aboriginal people, this book identifies many of the causes of the crisis faced by Aboriginal Australians and provides examples of ways people working with Aboriginal people effectively empower Indigenous Communities.

“Many books have been about the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land (NT Australia). This one is very different. It speaks of about the real situation that we face every day, a reality that is hard for people of another culture to imagine.”

Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra