Uncovering the Entrepreneurial Spirit in Remote Aboriginal Australia
This post was brought to Care2 by StartSomeGood.
Between two deserts, hundreds of miles from the nearest major capital city, the 200-strong community of Papulankutja are leaping into the digital era, while maintaining one of the oldest living cultures on earth.
As part of Enterprise Learning Projects, remote Aboriginal communities dotted around the vast expanse of Australia’s outback are using the tools of enterprise to create a self-sustaining future that respects traditional lifestyles, knowledge and skills.
The entrepreneurial spirit was already there, but the tools and access to markets have not been, making the bitter legacies of colonialism hard to shift, says ELP’s Laura Egan.
Laura was working in India when she was first exposed to the idea of enterprise as a tool for community development. But she questioned the appropriateness of working in an international context when there was so much disparity and inequality at home.
“I realized that I had limited understanding of why that was. It was a bit contradictory to be doing this when at home there were a lot of social issues as well.”
Aiming to learn more about remote Aboriginal communities, Laura got a job in Mantamaru community in Western Australia, where she found a gross lack of opportunities for young people particularly, and wondered how enterprise could be used to create more.
People loved the idea. First came popup milkshake stands, next came catering for discos, then a soap-making enterprise using local bush medicine ingredients.
Maybe there’s something in this, Laura thought, and was astonished to learn that amongst a myriad of government and NGO programs, none were dedicated to providing early stage capacity building to enable Aboriginal people to create economic opportunities in their communities.
Enterprise Learning Projects has been squeezing that gap for two and a half years now, and are about to take a huge leap in scaling the project and bringing incredible Aboriginal products to the world.
On crowdfunding website StartSomeGood, ELP are running a campaign to launch an online store that will open access to worldwide markets for some of the most remote enterprises in the world.
“People living in remote Australia are passionate about sharing their culture and using their traditional knowledge to produce contemporary goods,” says Laura. “The online store will provide an way for people around the globe to share in the oldest continuous living culture in the world.”
Aboriginal Australians have embraced the entrepreneurial approach to creating a livelihood in part because it allows their work to be aligned with family and community goals and aspirations.
“Too often the message that’s pushed in remote Australia is simply – get off welfare and get a job. But these people don’t want to leave their communities and they have a lot of family obligations. Working five days a week is often not compatible with a the culture in their communities.”
Involvement in flexible enterprise allows the traditional way of life to become an asset to a sustainable livelihood, not a hindrance.
“As a hunter and gatherer society, being enterprising is a really natural quality,” says Laura. “Knowledge of country and land is so deep and extensive, so this is one way to harness that to create livelihoods. It’s just a matter of tapping into the social capital and strength that’s already there.
“I do a lot of reading about successful entrepreneurs, and it’s a universal story, of people finding what they want to do, believing they can do it, and accessing the help and resources to make it happen.
“We see it happening here too… There’s just so much magic!”