The rise of the remote social enterprise
9 November 2020 at 10:01 pm
Following the inaugural Social Enterprise Summit for Northern Australia, we speak to leaders of two Indigenous-led enterprises about the challenges of operating a remote organisation
For the owner of Liandra Swim, Liandra Gaykamangu, packing and sending orders from the remote Northern Territory town of Milingimbi has always been challenging.
“All my orders go to the post office in Milingimbi and then they go out on a plane,” Gaykamangu told Pro Bono News.
“But there’s been times where the plane hasn’t showed up or hasn’t run for that day, and it might not then come for another two or three days.”
And during the peak of COVID-19, getting any orders out of the town or the NT was particularly tricky.
“Flights were scarce, and the biosecurity laws in place meant people couldn’t even come into Arnhem Land, let alone the NT,” Gaykamangu said.
The social enterprise is fusing Aboriginal Australian culture with on-trend premium designer swimwear, and is leaving as little footprint as possible. All fabrics used are made from regenerated plastic bottles, and the packaging is made from plant-based cassava or tapioca which is 100 per cent biodegradable in water.
Despite the challenges it faces running from a remote locale, it is part of a growing community of North Australian social enterprises who were virtually brought together for the first time last week for the Social Enterprise Summit for Northern Australia (SESNA).
The event, hosted in partnership by the Social Enterprise Network for the Tropics, Queensland Social Enterprise Council and Impact North, included workshops, networking opportunities and discussions between the region’s leading social and Indigenous entrepreneurs.
Speaking in a session on operating a remote social enterprise, alongside Kantesha Takai from Lola Digital and Fred Pascoe from Aboriginal Development Benefits Trust (ADBT), Gaykamangu said that access to technology was also a common obstacle among remote enterprises.
“In the 21st century, it’s so important to be able to connect with the rest of the world, especially when you’re running a business,” she said.
“And so often, at least here in Milingimbi, where I’m based, there have been times where we’ve had 48 hours of no internet and no phone coverage.”
More investment needed
She said with limited job opportunities available for residents of remote communities such as Milingimbi, growing social enterprise opportunities had to be a priority for government and private investors.
“There’s only so much to do here, but, one way that that could really change is if more people were looking at enterprises as a career path,” she said.
“We are able to access the world, which is a great thing, and so if the government made it a priority to install the NBN and provide support we would be able to do that.”
Gaykamangu also said it was important to recognise that for many people living in remote locations, English was more often than not a second, and sometimes third or fourth, language.
“If and when programs are being delivered, it needs to be accessible for people and it needs to be set up to work for people instead of just making it harder,” she said.
“That means making sure there’s mentors and people on the ground that are able to navigate those two worlds, [the] English speaking world, and the world of someone’s first language, which in my case is Yolŋu Matha.”
It’s not growing, it’s grown
Brian Arnold, the general manager of ADBT, told Pro Bono News that a lot of people didn’t realise that many Indigenous-led social enterprises were already thriving.
“There are so many Indigenous organisations that are well and truly immersed in business. If you look at ADBT, we turn over $15 million per annum in activities with the businesses that we help run,” Arnold said.
“I really feel that Indigenous-led enterprises are more advanced than non-Indigenous enterprises.”
Gaykamangu added that despite the challenges, events such as the SESNA marked a turning point in how social enterprises, and particularly Aboriginal-led businesses from the north were recognised nationally.
“I feel really lucky that I’m able to run my business from my home and am now able to share my experiences and how I’ve done things so I can see more people in my community, and across Arnhem Land, flourish,” she said.
“And by running businesses that work for the community it’s creating generational wealth, independence and financial freedom.