Indigenous peoples are becoming more active in matters of investment, trade, and commerce. According to founding director of Dilin Duwa Centre for Indigenous Business Leadership, Michelle Evans, Australia's First Nations business sector grew at a pace of around 4% per year between 2006 and 2018. However, many budding First Nations entrepreneurs still face substantial barriers to establishing a successful business. This has been attributed to lack of trust, and this view was echoed at the recent Responsible Investment Association Australasia by Benson Saulo, the first Indigenous person to be appointed an Australian Consul-General.
Trust is an important ingredient in a thriving business environment and the lack of it can disadvantage First Nations entrepreneurs in many ways, including difficulty in attracting low-cost finance, building a customer base, winning contracts or establishing links with reliable suppliers. Government policy and programs play a vital role in providing opportunities to helping these businesses develop a track record and build trust. As a result, businesses have a stronger likelihood of scaling-up their production and being more competitive over time.
One of the largest Indigenous partnerships that has transpired was between Enbridge (a multinational pipeline and energy company) and 23 First Nation and Metis communities in North America. The group of communities were provided a loan guarantee by the provincial Crown corporation to secure an 11.57% equity stake in Enbridge. This provides an opportunity for the group of communities to generate wealth and work with Enbridge on water, land and environmental stewardship as well as being a part of the energy transition, which is generally not accessible. Indigenous people usually contribute the least to climate change, but often most impacted.
There is a growing body of evidence that Indigenous knowledge and practices, developed through centuries of interaction with their surrounding environments, can be hugely beneficial when it comes to climate change mitigation and adaptation. Examples of this include forest management practices to help mitigate fires, water collection and storage as well as agriculture practices. For example, using native plants for food, in medicines and cosmetics are more sustainable, need less insecticide and less irrigation. Unfortunately, First Nations representation in the native agricultural supply chain is estimated to be less than 2%. To unlock that potential, there needs to be a push for a supplier diversity and programs to attract Indigenous Australians into the economy and corporate environment.
Recently, Colgate-Palmolive announced its commitment to buying native river mint from First Nations growers for its newest hand wash, Palmolive Skin Food Native River Mint Foaming Hand Wash. The herb is grown using traditional methods in aquaponics systems that encourages biodiversity and water conservation. It is hoped that this will inspire others to do the same. There are also groups like Supply Nation, which houses Australia’s largest database of verified Indigenous businesses and was established to facilitate Indigenous business owners and promote opportunities with government and corporate Australia.
The benefits of thriving First Nations business activity also spills over into the wider community as most of these businesses often operate in remote locations. It can yield sustainable economic independence while providing a more culturally supportive working environment. This is exactly what United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #11 is about – making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.