While the First Nations business sector is growing, there’s still plenty of work to be done in creating a more sustainable future for its entrepreneurs who often face complex generational challenges, adversities and hardships. It’s crucial that we think bigger when it comes to supporting and advocating for the next generation of First Nations entrepreneurs. Scott Allen, CEO of Mandura shares his thoughts.
First Nations enterprises operate within an environment of complex social and cultural obligations so defining ‘success’ for First Nations businesses, particularly community-based enterprises, can be difficult.1
As a descendent from the Awabakal Worimi Nations, Scott understands the complexity of these issues. He believes that to see change, we must address these challenges head-on.
Smaller growth opportunities
“First Nations businesses are held to a very different standard,” says Scott.
“On one end, we need to be price competitive, at the other end we are passionate about donating back to our community. This can make it challenging to achieve a positive trajectory for First Nations businesses, which are often quite small,” he explains.
“We’re also challenged by balance sheet versus risk versus panel access issues. The government gives First Nations businesses access to smaller opportunities valued at around $200,000 so we don’t have to be put on a panel. While this is a great move in the right direction, there is a caveat. Securing multiple smaller contracts is more difficult and time consuming than securing one large contract. This can impact the ability to maintain growth and stability,” explains Scott.
First Nations people experience a set of unique generational challenges that have been holding them back, particularly in the entrepreneurial space.
“We have so many young First Nations people (some without a formal education) with incredible ideas, but they can often be too afraid to start because they think they’ll fail, or people won’t take them seriously. In addition, there’s also people with amazing ideas that are being taken advantage of – and many scenarios in between,” says Scott.
“We have a generational problem and it’s one of the biggest challenges we face. We shouldn’t be settling for complacency. We need to challenge ourselves and take responsibility to make that change happen. We need to aspire to be leaders of this nation and captains of industry,” says Scott.
“Opportunities offered to First Nations business can differ so greatly to other commercial businesses and it’s key that we continue to raise awareness and bridge that gap. It’s really important that people understand the true value First Nations businesses deliver, rather than just ticking a corporate and social responsibility box,” says Scott.
“To change perceptions long-term, I think it’s important for First Nations entrepreneurs to engage with businesses that don’t have a preconceived view of what kind of jobs we’re capable of doing. We need to partner with businesses who have a genuine interest in our core values and who we are,” says Scott.
Motivating future generations
“There are many programs available that provide support for First Nations businesses. While they can be a great supporting tool, it is our responsibility to strive for success. We must be commercial businesses first and First Nations businesses second – that’s the attitude we need to adopt to move forward,” says Scott.
“How we motivate the younger generation, how we incentivise people and help them achieve success, how we create that next generation of entrepreneurs – those are the questions we need to address to create meaningful and ongoing change.
“So how do you motivate 68,000 First Nations Peoples to become entrepreneurs and create new businesses? By the way, 68,000 is the number of First Nations entrepreneurs we need to close the gap that exists right now. That is huge! And the only way to do it is by thinking bigger. We have to shift the dial dramatically,” says Scott.
A changing world
Things have slowly started to change over recent years. With a marked improvement in people’s attitudes and beliefs, businesses are becoming more interested in unpacking and understanding First Nations businesses.
“As organisations and the First Nations business sector mature, people are starting to expect more from them. They’re starting to see the importance of prioritising their spend based on impact. People are starting to really consider their social impact.
“A big reason for this is consumer behaviour. As consumers become more aware of social issues, their purchasing habits change. 90% of the world is driven by consumer behaviour. I’m glad topics like climate change and social impact are beginning to bubble to the surface,” says Scott.
A brighter future for First Nations entrepreneurs
“I’d like to see mutual respect from people around Australia about the unique products and services First Nations entrepreneurs can bring to market. I want to earn my place at the table for the work, effort and success I’ve achieved, not just because of my background.
“I want to see young people getting job offers not because they’re First Nations, but because they’re good at what they do. I’d love to see the 3.3% representation we hold in Australia’s population represented across boards, CEOs and leaders,” says Scott.
“We’re on a journey that’s been going on for 80,000 years. On a world stage, I’d like to see one day that First Nations people are considered true equals,” concludes Scott.
Scott Allen, Chief Executive Officer
Mandura is different from other workplace supplies providers. We are a completely separate self-determining organisation, offer a transparent process to report measurable social impacts and are enabled by Australia’s largest distribution network.
Mandura caters to every workplace need across office products, technology, furniture, cleaning and hygiene, health and safety as well as kitchen. Mandura also offers products sourced from a range of diverse suppliers including social enterprises as well as nine First Nations brands, helping you meet a range of corporate social responsibility targets.
By partnering with Mandura you can effortlessly meet targets with a Tier 1 First Nations spend with 20% of all Mandura profits delivered to the Pauline E. McLeod Foundation to support the next generation.
1Australian Government, 2014, ‘Success factors for Indigenous entrepreneurs and community-based enterprises’, https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/2804f99f-1995-473a-939e-0fb02a1152f3/16693.pdf.aspx?inline=true