Meet the woman flipping the script on what it means to be an Australian social enterprise
16 August 2021 at 5:53 pm
As the co-CEO of Enterprise Learning Projects, Liandra Gaykamangu is using her expertise and passion for social enterprise and First Nations business to share and celebrate the stories of the NT social enterprise community. She’s this week’s Changemaker.
While many tout major cities such as Melbourne or Sydney as the social enterprise capitals of the country, Liandra Gaykamangu holds a different opinion.
As a Yolngu woman from North-East Arnhem Land in the NT and the owner of her own social enterprise swimwear label, Liandra Swim, she knows that just because the Territory social enterprise community isn’t as vocal as those in other places, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
Gaykamangu says that the social enterprise model is an inherent part of how Indigenous businesses are set-up rather than just a talking point within a business plan.
In July, she was appointed the co-CEO of Enterprise Learning Projects (ELP), a NFP that partners with and supports businesses to grow in remote communities across the NT, and is now on a mission to share and celebrate the stories of these businesses, and ultimately see them flourish.
In this week’s Changemaker, she discusses how her past career led her to where she is today, the opportunities for the NT social enterprise sector, and why it’s important to follow your instincts.
Your appointment as the co-CEO of ELP is pretty recent, how did you come to be in the role?
I came on the board of Enterprise Projects last year, and have been very integral in what’s been happening in the organisation since then. I wasn’t looking for a new job, it was a very organic transition to go into a co-CEO partnership with Alexie.
Earlier this year, we were looking to fill a position for someone to oversee the incubator program… I expressed that I’d love to do that job. I’m very passionate around business and what business can do and create in remote communities beyond employment and making money…[So] Alexie came back to me and said that if I was serious, we should have a chat. And it kind of went from there.
What does it mean to you to be the first Aboriginal person to be CEO of this organisation?
Of course, I’m incredibly honoured and excited. It allows me to do everything for the people that I really care about, for my family, essentially. I’m a Yolngu woman and I have lived the past 12 months in my remote community in Milingimbi and had to move only because I took this job. I love Milingimbi so much, and I see so much potential for the community, particularly when it’s a community-led enterprise and the community can really make those decisions. Business is one way to pass on culture, and create a relationship between older and younger community members. So yeah, it’s incredibly important to me, and I’m incredibly honoured that I get to do the work that I do with ELP, particularly because I can see both the positives and the negatives of when a community has those opportunities to thrive.
I was reading that you’re a trained teacher, and you also run your own social enterprise. How have those other career experiences played into what you’re doing now?
I still run my business, so I am quite busy. But, you know, it’s one of those cliché moments that if you’re doing what you love, it doesn’t really feel like work. My business and my role of being co-CEO of a NFP are very different jobs, but they allow me to be in and do the things that I really love and care about in different ways. As for teaching, my mum’s a teacher, and so is my dad and my step-dad, but none of them are still in the classroom. I saw education and being a teacher as giving me a lot of the skills and a foundation that I would then use to go on and do other things in life, which I was more interested in.
Being a teacher also allowed me to move home within five weeks of finishing University and get a job and a house and be with my family when I really needed to do that. It also taught me so much around managing time and so much more.
Larger cities like Melbourne and Sydney are often touted as the social enterprise hubs of the country, but what do you hope to see from the growing NT sector?
That’s an interesting question because I guess to flip that around a little bit, in the non-Indigenous social enterprise scene, yes, Melbourne is probably the heart of that, but, you know, social enterprise is so true to what Indigenous business is. I can’t think of any businesses that we are involved with at ELP that aren’t inherently social enterprises because they’re driven by community and driven by that need and want to impact in a positive way, however that may be.
I think for the Northern Territory, it’s about showcasing that and highlighting the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been running social enterprises forever. And so I think I would flip that around and say I challenge that statement and I look forward to the Northern Territory and places like the Northern Territory, you know, through the Kimberley, through Cape York, getting the opportunity to really showcase all the social enterprises that are running and operating outside of the construct of what “mainstream” Australia sees and understands as a social enterprise.
What are some of the things that you’re most proud of across your career?
I guess I’m most proud of the fact that I started my business to begin with, because at the time I had a lot of people not really understanding why a high school teacher was going into fashion. And I mean, to me, it just made a lot of sense. I grew up surfing and I grew up near the ocean. It was a huge part of who I am, both on my Mum’s side and my Dad’s side. And if I had listened to people who questioned what I was doing, and I had shied away from just listening to myself, then I wouldn’t have all these amazing opportunities to work with ELP as the co-CEO, or be working on a program for remote entrepreneurs. I wouldn’t have gone to Australian Fashion Week with my swimwear label. I wouldn’t have gone to Canada to go to the World Indigenous Business Forum. I wouldn’t have had all of these amazing moments. So I think that the thing that I’m most proud of is just having the guts if you will, or having the strength, to just do it when I had a lot of people saying that it wasn’t a great idea.
And when you’re not running ELP or Liandra Swim, what do you like to do to unwind?
I’m a mum of three, so I don’t know if it’s unwind time, but I’ll leave my phone in the car and be in the moment and present with my family. We love going to the beach so the kids can run around on the sand or in a park. So yeah, I think it’s those moments where I’m present with my family that I’m really able to let my guard down and relax.