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Opinion article

Learning from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and cultures to lead our recovery

Following his appearance at CEDA's State of the Nation digital forum, Indigenous Business Australia Chief Executive Officer, Rajiv Viswanathan, argues that COVID-19 is an opportunity for Australian business to re-evaluate its relationship with Indigenous Australian communities and build more genuine and meaningful partnerships.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the safekeepers of the oldest living cultures in the world and a source of shared pride for all Australians.

The COVID-19 crisis has transformed the economic landscape in Australia in ways that were unimaginable. It has had devastating impacts on many industries, regions and people.

As Australia looks to recover from the COVID-19 crisis, and other catastrophic events such as the recent bushfires, it is important that we look to the experiences and knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Their resilience and success in managing the landscapes and ecosystems of Australia over thousands of years has an important role to play in recovery. 

Supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge, innovation and enterprise offers a unique opportunity to mitigate and manage future crises. Governments, corporates and the community sector have an important role to play in supporting Indigenous-led discussions about a future of economic, financial and social benefits that support and integrate Indigenous knowledge, innovation and enterprises.

The catastrophic bushfires last year and earlier this year highlighted the role that Indigenous-led innovation and knowledge can play in minimising the enormous social and economic costs of inadequate mitigation practices.
Science, corporate and government partners can support Indigenous innovation and ingenuity across sectors for mutual benefit. IBA is working with a range of partners to explore such opportunities, like the commercial satellite ground station in Alice Springs that will bring high resolution earth observation imagery down from hours or days to just minutes.

Corporate Australia and the business community has a huge opportunity to better engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. That opportunity revolves mainly around partnerships – meaningful, genuine, and ethical partnerships - with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Three specific areas of partnership can be explored by corporate Australia in a more meaningful way:

Harnessing the vast assets that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have around the country

Close to 40 per cent of Australia's landmass is held or controlled or requires participation of Indigenous Australians. Many groups around the country want to unlock the economic potential of that land, but they want to do it in an ethical and sustainable way. To do that they need genuine collaboration, engagement, investment and building of relationships with corporate Australia. It is also time to reimagine what's possible in terms of industries – we can look beyond mining and agribusiness to new economies.
 

Truly valuing and recognising Indigenous knowledge

Before COVID-19 we had the catastrophic bushfires and there was a conversation gaining momentum about Indigenous knowledge in fire and land management and how that could be better valued and recognised.
 

Social procurement and supply chains

The Indigenous business sector has grown significantly over the past decade and a lot of that has been through the resilience and ingenuity of Indigenous business people themselves, but has also been supported by government policy like the Indigenous Procurement Policy at a Federal level. We want to make sure those gains aren't lost and we can continue that momentum as we come out of COVID-19. This will require a different model from corporate Australia; it requires engaging with businesses early and seeing it not as a transaction but as a relationship.

We want Indigenous Australians to more than just make it through COVID-19. We want them to thrive and be around to continue intergenerational change for their families and communities. That’s how we’ll make real change in Australia.


Watch: Rajiv Viswanathan speak on a panel at CEDA's State of the Nation digital forum on supporting vulnerable and at risk communities.
About the authors
RV

Rajiv Viswanathan

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Rajiv Viswanathan is the Chief Executive Officer of Indigenous Business Australia (IBA), a Commonwealth agency that works with Indigenous Australians to create wealth, employment and other opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. IBA makes strategic commercial investments alongside Indigenous organisations, provides finance, advice and support to Indigenous entrepreneurs for business development and assists Indigenous families into home ownership.

Rajiv previously worked with the Macquarie Group in both Sydney and New York, where he held various roles in business development and risk management. Before joining Macquarie Group, he worked as a corporate lawyer in London and Sydney.

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