Australia

Indigenous business owners 'the original entrepreneurs'

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In celebration of NAIDOC Week (8-15 July), SBS News meets five Indigenous women making a difference through the businesses they run. 

Sharon Kinchela and Chris Figg, owners of Ngiyani

Organising an event for 700 people in Sydney to celebrate the contributions Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is no easy feat.

But that's the business of Sharon Kinchela and Chris Figg. They own cultural advisory company Ngiyani.

Sharon Kinchela and Chris Figg
Sharon Kinchela and Chris Figg.
Ricardo Goncalves / SBS News

"We, as a people, have been practicing business in our cultural ways for 70,000 years,” she told SBS News. “We are the original entrepreneurs and business owners - there is a way that we do business.” 

That way, she said, is to make sure everyone can be seen, heard and treated fairly. “There's a reason why we sit in a circle, because there's no corners to hide in a circle.”

The event on Thursday was held as part off NAIDOC Week – which celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander people. This year’s theme, 'Because of her, we can!' is all about women. 

Ms Figg was previously a legal professional and Ms Kinchela a public servant. The pair set up their business a year ago.

"It's about finding that balance, not loosing your cultural integrity, not [being] prepared to sell out your cultural ways,” Ms Kinchela said. 

Terri Janke, lawyer and founder of Terri Janke and Company

Speaking at the event was lawyer Terri Janke.

"Going through school, the teachers thought that you wouldn't amount to much, I was in remedial classes,” she said.  

“The expectation of a young Indigenous kid was not that you'd end up doing law and certainly not that you'd end up being a business owner." 

Terri Janke with some staff
Terri Janke, left,with some of her staff.
SBS News

But Ms Janke went on to establish one of Australia's largest Indigenous-owned legal service providers 18 years ago. The practice, Terri Janke and Company, now employs 12 staff.

"I wanted to do something in social justice to empower Aboriginal people,” she said. 

“Working in commercial law was out of the box; people would expect you to work in native title or criminal law but I said ‘no, we are empowering Indigenous people to be creators, innovators and entrepreneurs’."

Laura Thompson, co-founder of Spark Health

While Ms Janke encourages and protects the rights of Indigenous people, Melbourne-based Laura Thompson helps to protect their health.

Laura Thompson
Laura Thompson.
SBS News

She has used her background in public health, to build a social enterprise, Spark Health, which she set up this year, creating preventative health programs with groups including prisoners.

"It's been fascinating chatting to some of the prisoners about some of the small shifts they've been able to make in that environment, for example deciding not to take food back to their cells or reducing the amount of sugars they have in their cuppas," she said. 

Laura also owns a separate earring company where she makes and sells her own jewellery. 

Eve Langford, owner of Amber's Food Wraps

While many businesses help change the lives of communities, others have a positive impact on their owners.

Eve Langford makes environmentally friendly cotton food wraps made out of organic beeswax in tiny space in a Sydney garage. The idea for her small business came from a dream.

Eve Langford
Eve Langford makes her food wraps.
Ricardo Goncalves / SBS News

"It's my connection with my niece who had passed over, feeling that connection with her on the land and having her beside me."

Her niece, Amber, now bears the name of her business Amber's Food Wraps.

Amber's Food Wraps
SBS

"I had lost several loved ones and I feel as though it was her helping me to get out of the darkness that I was going through … It gave me something to be passionate about again," she said. 

More than 18 months on from starting her small venture, Ms Langford has sold more than 3,000 wraps, through wholesalers, markets and online.

She also spreads the story of her community through the patterned fabrics she sources from Indigenous artists.

For more Naidoc Week stories visit NITV's special Naidoc Week hub

See more small business stories at Small Business Secrets

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