It all started over 10 years ago when Arrernte man Ray Pratt began his 100 per cent Indigenous owned and operated electrical contracting business, DICE Australia.
Following in his father’s footsteps as an electrician, the company originally stood for Domestic, Industrial and Commercial Electrical but as the years have worn on the acronym could now stand for Dedicated to Indigenous Communities and Employment.
Always keen to jump into a difficult project, Ray and his team have branched out into construction work and in 2015, entered into a partnership with CIH Solar to create AllGrid Energy, a company specialising in solar power and storage. The partnership has allowed the two smaller businesses to collaborate on a big project together, and the combined AllGrid team has now expanded to employ over 20 full-time staff including engineers, designers, manufacturers, sales, administration and business development workers.
Ray is just one of the six per cent of Indigenous people working as a self-employed traders and by running his own small business and employing other staff his leadership is helping to close the entrepreneurial gap.
One of AllGrid’s key projects is the 'Oasis strategy' which is designed to help encourage energy self-sufficiency in remote communities. Ray found that while working as an electrician in the remote Northern Territory, he often turned up to houses that had been without power for days and even weeks.
By introducing renewable power and energy efficient technology the strategy allows communities, such as Ngurrara and Kurnturlpara in the Barkley Tablelands, to generate and store their own power rather than relying on diesel generators which can be expensive to run. With enough renewable energy available to power the world for the next 50 years, harnessing the sun’s power is a key method to help people living off-the-grid or who live in remote areas that suffer from frequent black outs.
“Although we are a wealthy first world country, in many remote communities, Indigenous people are living in third world conditions. We know that energy poverty is a significant factor in community well-being and innovative solutions that integrate environmentally friendly technology will foster community regeneration and individual well-being,” Ray explained.
DICE Australia and AllGrid Energy have also taken a holistic approach to engaging with the Indigenous community.
Both companies aim to train and employ Indigenous electricians through their Indigenous Participation Plan, which sees apprentices come out fully qualified. The plan also includes building cultural awareness across their workforce.
Where possible, DICE and AllGrid Energy attempt to engage with and support local Indigenous businesses including housing organisations: Yilli Rreung Aboriginal Housing in the Northern Territory and Emama Nguda Aboriginal Housing in Western Australia, and businesses working in the energy sector such as Watt Now Electrical and Sparks NT.
With research from Supply Nation showing that Indigenous businesses are more likely to employ Indigenous people and and instill pride within the community, Ray is hoping to encourage employment and further growth in Indigenous small businesses sector.
While working on the ground in remote Australia puts both companies in a unique position to give back directly to those communities, communications manager Deborah Oberon explains that “We think that all businesses need to work towards this sort of model.”
“The business world is full of great and inspiring minds and the world will be a more wonderful place if we all put energy to the greater good.”
The team have also focused on giving back to the community on a smaller scale. From using recycled toilet paper that funds health and sanitation products to reusable coffee pods to save on waste, both companies have been trying to put their sustainability mantra into practice. They are always on the lookout for talent they can support including Torres Strait Islander dancer Hans Ahwang and 2016 NAIDOC Youth of the Year recipient, Elijah Douglas.
DICE has also been a longtime sponsor of sports teams across Darwin and the NT including the Brothers Rugby League Club, Southern Districts FC and the Northern Territory under-18s Rugby League representative team.
The latest community project between DICE and All Grid Energy is a Sydney-based fundraising event for mental health services through the Centre for Remote and Rural Mental Health and the Black Arm Band.
As 95% of Aboriginal people in Australia have had their lives impacted in some way by suicide, the team wanted to look at the way that the environment can impact upon mental health after research from David Suzuki’s foundation showed a link between the two issues.
As Ray Pratt recently had the opportunity to address over 600 Indigenous leaders in Vancouver about the work of his companies in alleviating energy poverty in remote communities, both the environment and mental health are close to his heart.
The fundraiser will take the form of a panel discussion “Illuminating the EnviroMENTAL: healing from the inside out” with speakers including renowned environmentalist David Suzuki, SEED leader Amelia Telford, Kirstie Parker, the CEO of the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence and Olga Havnen, the CEO of Danilba Dilba Health Centre. To get behind the fundraiser buy tickets or donate.