A love of business, a passion for economic inclusion and a curiosity about Australia’s Aboriginal cultures led me to establish Enterprise Learning Projects (ELP) in late 2010. ELP works in partnership with remote Aboriginal communities to develop inclusive, creative and sustainable enterprise-based initiatives that support family and community goals.
The seed was planted back in 2006 when I began working with people living in communities in the remote Ngaanyatjarra Lands in WA. I was excited to be welcomed into a radically different culture to my own, yet disturbed by the level of economic exclusion that I was seeing. I wanted to understand why remote Aboriginal Australians are one of the most economically marginalised groups in this country.
Through my time living and working in those desert communities, I began to understand that while many people had ideas and aspirations for engagement in the economy, they simply didn’t know how to progress them. After a while it dawned on me: It’s hard to play a game when you don’t know the rules.
A foreign economic system
I came to understand that for many Aboriginal people living in remote Australia, the western market economy is a foreign economic system – one introduced relatively recently, and overlaid on an economic system that was vastly different.
As many people have not had the opportunity to learn how to navigate this new system effectively it has left them shut out, unable to participate in ways they deeply desire. The devastating social issues that arise from economic exclusion are well known.
What I also learnt was that people desperately want to learn how to play. The people I had got to know had so much they wanted to share, so much they wanted to contribute. It’s just that the avenues available to them are, and have been, very limiting.
Demeaning work and endless training programs
Predominately what is on offer in remote communities around Australia is demeaning work for the dole programs or endless training programs for jobs that simply don’t exist in remote communities. What’s been missing is the information and support for remote Aboriginal people to understand and navigate the market economy effectively.
ELP is working to grow capacity from the grassroots, creating opportunities for people to build the skills and knowledge they need to confidently engage in the economy through enterprise.
One exciting business that is emerging from Minyerri Community in the NT with ELP’s capacity building support is Gulbarn Tea. ‘Gulbarn’ (the Alawa name for meleleuca citrolens) is a traditional bush medicine that has been used for centuries by local Alawa people to soothe coughs and unsettled stomachs. With ELP’s support, Gulbarn has recently found its way to the market as a herbal tea and it has been developing a strong following since initial sales of the tea in June 2015. You can watch the ABC news story about Gulbarn Tea here.
I, along with Margaret Duncan (ELP board member), look forward to sharing stories of the businesses that have emerged as a result of ELP’s grassroots enterprise support, and the inspiring entrepreneurs behind them, at the Strengthening Indigenous Economic Development conference in June.