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An examination of Indigenous Australian entrepreneurs



There is little published literature available on urban contemporary Indigenous entrepreneurs in Australia. The paper defines the Indigenous Australian entrepreneur and provides an insight into the contemporary environment in which these entrepreneurs operate. Through case study analysis, the Indigenous cultural paradigm of success in entrepreneurial activity is examined. It explores commonalities among the participants, examining their educational and training expertise, their sacrifices and survival techniques in business, and investigates what makes them different from non-indigenous Australian entrepreneurs. The study provides a framework or foundation for future research on Indigenous entrepreneurs.
An examination of Indigenous Australian entrepreneurs
Foley, Dennis
There is little published literature available on urban contemporary Indigenous
entrepreneurs in Australia. The paper defines the Indigenous Australian
entrepreneur and provides an insight into the contemporary environment in
which these entrepreneurs operate. Through case study analysis, the Indigenous
cultural paradigm of success in entrepreneurial activity is examined. It explores
commonalities among the participants, examining their educational and training
expertise, their sacrifices and survival techniques in business, and investigates
what makes them different from non-indigenous Australian entrepreneurs. The
study provides a framework or foundation for future research on Indigenous
Key words: Aboriginality, positivity, Australia, discrimination
This article explores contemporary urban, successful Indigenous Australian
entrepreneurs. The purpose is to highlight the results of a qualitative case study
analysis that examines the extent to which these entrepreneurs differ from non-
indigenous entrepreneurs, and in which ways. Until recently, the academic
literature has produced relatively few qualitative (or quantitative) insights into
indigenous segments of the global entrepreneurial community.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people are the most socially, economically and
culturally disadvantaged group in Australian society (Commonwealth of Australia,
1992). Compared with any other section of Australian society, Indigenous
Australians have a higher welfare-dependency ratio, fewer marketable skills, less
work experience, and a much lower, almost non-existent economic base (Fisk,
1985; Fuller, Dansie, Jones & Holmes, 1999; Hunter, 1999; Spicer, 1997). The
Indigenous population also experiences discrimination and prejudice by
employers, together with levels of unemployment of 38% to 54% (Fisk, 1985;
Spicer, 1997). Economically, Indigenous Australians have been kept on the fringe
and in poverty. Poverty is the result of the combined effects of past government
policies, high unemployment, low levels of education, poor health, and low levels
of home ownership (Fisk, 1985; Pollard, 1988). Economic independence through
entrepreneurial activity in small business has been proposed as one possible
solution to welfare dependency (Fuller, Dansie, Jones & Holmes, 1999; Herron,
1998) and ensuing success in small business has the potential to improve the
economic and social position of Indigenous Australians (ATSIC [Aboriginal &
Torres Strait Islander Commission], 1998; Herron, 1998). Indigenous Leaders
endorse the need for economic development and Indigenous enterprise
(Djerrkura, 1998).
Urban or semi-urban living is the fundamental structure of Indigenous Australian
society (Fisk, 1985) with 72.6% of Indigenous Australian's living in suburban
settings (ABS, 1999; Commonwealth of Australia, 2000). Yet, the only known
study of urban Indigenous entrepreneurs involves a compilation of fifty case
studies (Byrnes, 1988) that examines a broad range of enterprises including
remote rural, rural and urban. The work successfully documents a range of
Indigenous enterprises, but it lacks academic rigor in two key areas. It records
Indigenous enterprises in an ad-hoc process that does not delineate the legal
status of the organization and includes not-for profit, commercial enterprises,
and community-based trading entities. Secondly, it provides no structured
outcomes other than the writers' personal comments. There appears to be no
rigorous research on contemporary urban Indigenous Australian entrepreneurs.
This article aims to correct this void in the literature by presenting the results of
a qualitative case study analysis that provides an insight into the urban
Indigenous Australian entrepreneurs' environment, examining the intrinsic and
extrinsic stimulus to business success. The article is structured to first define an
Indigenous Australian and who is regarded as an entrepreneur within this
population. Secondly, it defines the Indigenous cultural paradigm of success in
entrepreneurial activity. The final section of the article explores the attributes of
the contemporary successful urban Indigenous Australian entrepreneur.
Who is an Indigenous Australian Entrepreneur?
Indigenous Australians are the 'Aboriginal' people of Australia. The usage of the
words "Aboriginal' and 'Aborigine' is seen by some as race-based discourse (Fesl,
1993). For the purpose of the current research, 'Indigenous' will be used as
much as possible in lieu of 'Aboriginal'. An Indigenous Australian is defined as a
person who is of Indigenous Australian descent; they must identify as an
Indigenous Australian and be accepted as such by the Indigenous community in
which they live. This tri-part definition has been upheld by the High Court of
Australia in Commonwealth vs. Tasmania (1983) and Gibbs vs. Capewell (1995).
With a population representation of only 2.2% (ABS, 1999) Indigenous
Australians are statistically a minority within their own country. They are
alienated from mainstream Australian society (Moreton-Robinson, 2000;
Reynolds, 1990) and their commercial business activities are rarely recognised.
The social exclusion from the wider Australian community results in Indigenous
entrepreneurs being ethnic outsiders to the dominant culture (Earth, 1970;
Narroll, 1964).
Entrepreneurship is associated with three desirable economic outcomes: growth,
innovation and flexibility (Tiessen 1997:368). An entrepreneur has been defined
One who creates a new business in the face of risk and uncertainty for the
purpose of achieving profit and growth by identifying opportunities and
assembling the necessary resources to capitalise on them. (Zimmerer &
Scarborough, 1998:3)
Another definition from the Harvard Business School defines entrepreneurship
as: "the pursuit of opportunity beyond the resources one currently controls"
(Smilor, 1997:343).
Both of these definitions are simplistic, lacking applicability to the Indigenous
Australian scenario as they fail to take into consideration environmental variables
or allow for the social positioning of the Indigenous entrepreneur. A more
detailed explanation and definition of an entrepreneurship is:
Entrepreneurship is a subversive activity. It upsets the status quo, disrupts
accepted ways of doing things, and alters traditional patterns of behaviour. It is
at heart, a change process that undermines current market conditions by
introducing something new or different in response to perceived needs. It is
sometimes chaotic, often unpredictable. Because of the dynamic nature of
entrepreneurship and because of the entrepreneur's ability to initiate change and
create value . . . the concept of 'creative destruction' is an apt description of the
process . . . the entrepreneur thus disrupts the economic status quo, and as a
result creates new market opportunities. (Smilor, 1997:341)
This definition incorporates an understanding of the dynamics of the
entrepreneurial environment. It introduces the dynamics of change, the
turbulence experienced in the entrepreneur's daily habitat. The change process
can be chaotic; sometimes it may be predictable and within the daily operation in
business it is the result of external forces. It is the entrepreneur's ability to
harness this change to advantage, or perhaps even to initiate the change in the
first place that is the entrepreneur's distinguishing ability.
The definition of the Indigenous Australian entrepreneur needs to acknowledge
their social and economic conditions. The experience of entering into business is
a dramatic change process for the individual Indigenous person (Knight, 1997).
Entrepreneurial activity for an Indigenous Australian disrupts the stereotype of
welfare dependency by making individuals independent. The success of their
enterprise will depend on the individuals' business ability, their knowledge, skills
and access to resources, that is their 'empowerment' (Thomas & Mueller, 2000).
The low socio-economic position of Indigenous Australians and their position at
the bottom of the social stratification ladder impede the acquisition of economic
opportunity and resources (Tiessen, 1997). The general poverty levels
experienced in their communities reduces the likelihood of access to pooled
family, or community capital, or other resources necessary in enterprise start-ups
(Fuller, Dansie, Jones & Holmes, 1999). This would stifle growth, which can also
be impeded by racism or racial stratification (Waldinger, 1996).
Re-apply the Smilor (1997) definition considering the socio-economic
environment of the Indigenous Australian entrepreneur and the result is:
The Indigenous Australian entrepreneur alters traditional patterns of behavior, by
utilizing resources in the pursuit of self determination and economic sustainability
via entry into self employment, forcing social change in the pursuit of
opportunity beyond the cultural norms of initial economic resources. (Foley,
1999: 25).
By defining what is an Indigenous Australian entrepreneur this study is focused
on case studies which examine the attributes of this defined Indigenous
Australian minority group.
The Research Study
The study is based in grounded theory entailing action research enabling the
relevant attributes of the Indigenous entrepreneurs to emerge from the data in
their own perspective (Eden & Huxman, 1996; Glaser, 1992). To ensure
Indigenous epistemologies were adhered to, a strict rule of introduction was
used, and ethical consent was sought from the participants for oral data
collection. Interviews using a semi-structured interview format were recorded on
tape with the participants' approval. Secondary data and any relevant printed
matter on the participants were also used in the interview and recording process.
Substantive coding, open and constant comparative coding (Glaser, 1992) was
used in the data collation and analysis.
The study was confined geographically to the eastern seaboard of Australia. This
covered over half of the Australian Indigenous population (ABS, 1999). Criteria
for the selection of participants to the study were:
1. Management control and majority ownership of the enterprises had to be by
Indigenous Australians as defined.
2. The enterprises had to be commercial undertakings without recurrent
government funding. Aboriginal Corporations (incorporated under the Aboriginal
Councils and Associations Act 7976.) were excluded as they obtain taxation
benefits and status as non-profit (not-for-profit) organizations.
3. The participants met the requirements of the Indigenous Australian
entrepreneur definition.
The initial study reviewed 118 'Aboriginal' enterprises. This was reduced to 18
business enterprises when 'Aboriginality' and commercial status parameters were
applied. The eighteen business enterprises were reviewed and studied over a
period of several months, which included several interviews and active
participation in facets of several of the enterprises. The businesses studied
covered a broad range that included a licensed motel/restaurant, metal
fabricator, various retail entities (art/crafts/motor vehicle spare parts/mixed-
corner store/video/book), professional consultant, licensed construction industry
contractors, furniture manufacturer, printer, tour operators, screen/fabric printer,
and an oyster farmer/fisherman.
The case study process used in the data collection involved the following steps:
* personal introduction by an intermediary,
* written introduction by the writer,
* informal contact to explain the interview and establish a suitable time and
venue that was comfortable for the participant,
* research into recorded data on the enterprise or individual (if available),
* the interview, with possible research into the enterprise if the situation
* analysis of the verbal transcript and interview notes onto hard copy format,
subsequent coding, analysis and cross comparison of data.
The definition of an Indigenous Australian entrepreneur implies success in that
the entrepreneurs are forcing social change in the pursuit of self-determination
and economic sustainability. Is this sustainability short term or long term? The
study therefore needed to explore the participant's perspective on success as a
time variable and/or in monetary terms. How do Indigenous Australian
entrepreneurs measure success? The definition of success to the Indigenous
Australian entrepreneur is as follows.
Definition of Success
Success in business is usually described as monetary success, as profit is
universally the underlying bottom line in business. The research findings reveal
that money has little motivation to the Indigenous entrepreneur whereas the
non-Indigenous entrepreneur correlates money as a trigger with achievement
(Volery, Mazzarol, Doss & Thein, 1997). Money is also recognized as a
measurement of status that is a powerful motivator to the mainstream
entrepreneur (Knutson, 2000; Natemeyer, 1978). Yet success to the Indigenous
entrepreneur cannot be measured in tangible assets.
During the interview sessions the participants were reluctant to discuss this
topic. Such reluctance is most certainly a consequence of cultural values that
make it difficult for the respondents to talk openly about their success as to do
so would be to elevate them to a level above their peers. Indigenous Australian
society is traditionally a pluralist society based on the sharing of resources;
western capitalism on the other hand is profit driven. In the Indigenous
paradigm, this is often seen as exploitation of one over another. The interview
process produced a degree of participant embarrassment, or 'shame' in the
language of the participant.
Their collective interpretation of success is that they had established themselves
in business and had not failed. In addition they were prospering and had some
accumulated wealth. On examination, the wealth invariably consisted of
increased stock levels or other tangible business assets necessary for the
expansion of the enterprise. Asset accumulation was not found in the personal
context of jewelry, up-market clothing or other material assets.
The interpretation that the interviewer was given from the respondents was that
although they were very proud of their achievements, they had broken away
from the status quo and there was a level of trepidation about their acceptance
by both black and white societies following their continuance in business. The
respondent's views on success are:
A indicates "Success is only what you do today! I do the best I can at achieving
what I can today" (interview notes January 19, 1998). B believes that success is
"having a sustainable business were I can work 100% on my business rather
than in my business" (interview notes June 30, 1998). C feels that success is "to
build this up to what we picture it, more than a retail store, ... a cultural centre.
A centre where Aboriginal people who have been ripped off for their art and
things can come and be treated right, can be treated with respect as Aboriginal
people, a place were school kids can come and learn of our culture, break down
the barriers of racism. Yes success is a place of respect and no racism"
(interview notes January 21, 1998). D feels that success is "long term viability [in
business]" (interview notes January 24, 1998). Finally E defines success as "a
number of things. I have a vision that I want to help my people through the
struggles of the 20th century. I want to see educational standards improve, our
job participation rates improve. One of the biggest buzzes I get is when I speak
to grass-roots people and I come away knowing that I have made a positive
difference to them in that my programs have worked. This is success" (interview
notes October 21, 1998).
Success is philosophical and tangible, individual and communal. Success is many
things, yet not one put it in dollar terms or used the accumulation of assets as a
measure. Success tended to be measured in importance of what you do and how
you do it, not what you had in assets at the end of the day. Success in the non-
indigenous context is seen within the Indigenous community as a loss of
Aboriginal values. On further questioning 80% concluded that this was the case
in their individual situations. They felt that success in business terms that
appeared to involve increased wealth was in conflict with their cultural value of
sharing wealth. They realized that any income had to be re-invested in the
business; they felt guilt at not sharing it with their family/community.
Success is seen by some (Fan & Karnilowicz, 1997) as dealing with a locus of
control, with the subjective meaning of success being an influence on goal-
striving behaviour. The goal-striving behavior and locus of control for the
Indigenous entrepreneur would appear to be to strive to improve their children's
future (as discussed in the 'results' section) ensuring that they do not remain
within the cultural stereotypes of Indigenous Australia.
Indigenous Australian entrepreneurs display trepidation at their achievements as
they suffer cultural and social alienation as a direct result of their achievements.
E experienced alienation from his immediate family on the purchase of a modest
sedan, a necessity for use in his business (interview notes October 21, 1998).
The vehicle was 95% financed after trade in, yet what made this participant's
situation vulnerable was that he was the first member of his family, (which
included wider cousins) to have ever owned a new vehicle. His family falsely
believed that he had come into money and had not shared it. J had purchased a
small late trading convenience store. On commencing business his extended
family would drop in for a packet of cigarettes, a loaf of bread, a carton of milk:
They tell me, fix you up later cuz, or, I just borrow this. They never pay, I have
been forced to stop credit on my family as they seen it as what is yours is mine.
This has caused big problems. They no longer speak to me or my wife. It seems
as though they see the stock and think I am rich or something, they don't
understand that I have to sell it to pay for it. (interview notes August 28, 1998).
J's family see his stock as his individual wealth not understanding that it has to
be sold at a profit to enable him to restock and maintain business momentum.
Overall success to the Indigenous Australian entrepreneur is continuance in
business. Eighty percent of the businesses interviewed had been in business for
more than five years, which is a milestone in small business survival in Australia
as approximately 49% of mainstream businesses exit within the first five years
(ABS, 2001).
Characteristics of Successful Indigenous Australian Entrepreneurs
The result of substantive coding, open and constant comparative coding (Glaser,
1992) revealed seven elements of commonality among successful Indigenous
Australian entrepreneurs. These are positivity, face, chaos, education and
industry experience, networking, immediate family and discrimination. The
coding process and triangulation of data commonality resulted in the
determination of these shared criteria. The common elements are discussed in
the following seven sections.
The distinguishing attribute was a positive application to their business, and
family life. Words such as 'if did not occur in their vocabulary, rather 'when' was
the operative word. The positivity is shown in respondents A's comments:
We had to do it, we had to work harder, . . . We had to cut costs and do without
luxuries . . . we knew the alternatives and failure was not one of them"
(interview notes, 19 January 1998). Another respondent's words graphically
summarizes this positivity, we have a chance to live like human beings. If we
don't succeed we may never get another chance, this is our time! (interview
notes, E, October 21, 1998).
Their driving force, the 'fire in the belly' (Smilor, 1997) indicates that the trait of
positivity is evident even in the presence of the oppressive yoke of racism and
limited financial reserves. Their desire to 'show the white man that blackfellas
are just as good as them' (joint opinion of A, B, C and E) is a driving force. The
participant entrepreneurs have a vision, a driving force that success would
happen. They are prepared to sacrifice personal luxury to realize their vision.
Wider literature tells us that entrepreneurs in general "refuse to be beaten and
persevere when the going gets tough, . . . entrepreneurs are motivated to
succeed; they possess determination" (Bolton & Thompson, 2000: 24). The
study indicates that a positive outlook is a core characteristic for successful
Indigenous Australian entrepreneurs. The positive attitude of the Indigenous
Australian entrepreneur is an individual characteristic that appears necessary for
The study revealed numerous references by the respondents to the concept of
'face', (or perceived image). Face is defined as the "outward show, to judge by
appearances, the image that is projected" (Concise Oxford Dictionary,
1977:370). The study reveals that in the Indigenous Australian entrepreneurs'
position 'face' involves two projected images. The first of these concerns an
image of business accountability, as illustrated by the Indigenous Australian
entrepreneur's employment of non-indigenous accountants. The non-indigenous
accountant creates a perceived image (or 'face') of legitimacy, or accountability.
This impression is deemed necessary by the Indigenous respondent to
counteract negative 'racial' stereotyping by mainstream Australia:
If I had a black [Aboriginal] accountant, who would take my books of account
seriously. Let's face reality, the stereotypes within Australian society are so
entrenched that we need to prove, to justify that our business is profitable. I
need to use a 'name' accountant, a white accountant then the Bank as an
example do not question me. If a Koori did it, no one would accept it as true and
correct, it would be treated with contempt! (interview notes, D, 21 January
This is an illustration of how important it is for the Indigenous entrepreneur to
appear as a legitimate businessperson.
In addition to looking good and doing it right in business, the second image issue
involves a cultural factor, in that entrepreneurs are role models to their wider
community. This included Indigenous entrepreneur's involvement on the board in
organizations, which traditionally have been bastions of non-indigenous control
such as Rotary, Lions, hospitality organizations, and in one case as the President
of an almost all white golf club. This supports Hallahan, Lee and Herzog's (1997)
findings, that the Indigenous entrepreneur establishes a positive face by their
actions that are orientated to wider social acceptance. Again, the Indigenous
Australian entrepreneur alters traditional patterns of behavior, forcing social
change in the pursuit of opportunity beyond the cultural norms. By their
involvement in non-indigenous community organizations they not only become
role models, they also break down the racial stereotypes, altering traditional
patterns of behavior, seeking opportunity beyond cultural norms. In effect this
became a benchmark of their business success that their involvement in these
organizations was a direct result of their social acceptance in the business world.
It is possibly a superficial acceptance, (joint opinion of C, D, and J), however
there appears a tangible societal acceptance to a point.
A perceived 'face' of accountability, legitimacy and/or social acceptability is
important to the Indigenous entrepreneur. Social acceptance has benefits to the
business in both business networking and for the entrepreneurs immediate
Market conditions, resource mobilization and other societal factors are important
factors in the decision process of going into business. These are seen as
opportunities, it is the overall opportunity of entering a new venture that directly
affects the decision process (Busenitz & Lau, 1996). The recognition of
opportunity combined with creativity and innovation are the characteristics of the
successful entrepreneur (Bolton & Thompson, 2000).
A commonality to all participants is that they had dreamt of and/or planned their
entry into business. The one thing that they did not do in this planning stage was
to create a timetable so that they could work towards their entry into business in
systematic, planned stages. There is a common occurrence in the research
findings of a traumatic, chaotic situation in the entrepreneur's lives, which
became the catalyst before entry into business. This chaos is the trigger or the
'crisis', if critical theory is applied (Fay, 1987) or the opportunity (Hills, 1995).
Education and Industry Experience
Compared with the Indigenous population, successful Indigenous entrepreneurs
are well educated and/or have industry experience. The case studies showed
that all of the participants either have formal educational qualifications and/or
trade qualifications or extensive industry experience. The majority of the
research participants have a year 12 or better education. Three fifths have
tertiary qualifications; two fifths have TAPE (an Australian College equivalent) or
trade qualifications. The remaining one fifth have minimal intermediate school
education, which is compensated for by extensive industry experience. In
comparison 83% of the Indigenous Australian population over 15 years of age
have no formal education qualifications other than attendance at primary and
perhaps junior high. One third of Indigenous Australian High School students
have left school at 15 years of age in contrast to only 15% of the non-indigenous
students (ABS, 1999). When one considers the small number of Indigenous
Australians who achieve a year 12-education level, there is strong relationship
between education and successful participation in business.
The study highlights the respondent' behavioral attitudes 'after' the opportunity
arose from the initial chaos. Entrepreneurial activity is traditionally the result of
self-efficacy, which influences the entrepreneurial career preference, intentionally
and performance. The self-efficacy is the individual's cognitive estimate of their
capacity to motivate themselves and to instigate the courses of action needed to
control the events over their lives (Chen, Greene & Crick, 1998). Education and
industry experience are necessary for the Indigenous entrepreneur to understand
their position. Cognitive ability' and Opportunity recognition' (Baum, 1995) are
linked with the experience base of the entrepreneur (Hills, 1995). The knowledge
base gained from industry experience, education and technological training is
seen as a prerequisite for venture ideas and entrepreneurial activity (Bolton &
Thompson, 2000; Hills, 1995; Knutson, 2000). Taken further, knowledge,
cognitive ability, and opportunity recognition are seen by some as prerequisites
of success. Baum's (1995) research findings produced an 81 per cent response
that 'industry experience' and a 77 per cent response that 'technical skill' are the
supportive variables to entrepreneurial success. This is almost identical with the
findings of this study, which emphasize the relevance and value of education and
training to the successful Indigenous Australian entrepreneur.
The research revealed that networking in the case of the Indigenous Australian
entrepreneur was threefold. First, it was for the direct benefit of the business.
Second, networking was a substitute for previous Indigenous community
contacts which subsequently were a benefit to the business development. Third,
the networking was undertaken by the entrepreneur for the long-term benefit of
their children, for social or business connections that directly or indirectly
improved the social acceptability for their children. Once again this
entrepreneurial characteristic is motivated by racial oppression.
Prior to entry into business, almost all of the entrepreneurs had relatively strong
Indigenous community ties and connections, which included strong wider family
connections and they were pro-active in the indigenous community. Within a
relatively short time in their entrepreneurial history the majority had ceased pro-
active involvement in Indigenous community organizations and had severely cut
back on wider family contacts and family involvement. The lack of time was the
common explanation as their time was now absorbed by the business. The
business had overtaken their previous social commitments. Their previous value
system, based on kinship and community obligations, had been altered in
response to the ever-growing demands on their time from their enterprise. Thus
their opportunity to network within the Indigenous Australian community was
severely curtailed.
The findings provide examples of Indigenous people who were once active in
'grass-roots' Indigenous community organizations such as land council, housing
co-operatives and Aboriginal education organizations. The shift in cultural
commitment has been partly economic, partly recreational, or for the benefit of
their children's future. The individual comments of the entrepreneurs confirmed
that their actions were to make it easier for their children, providing acceptability
and connections that would directly benefit the child:
I've got a young family, . . . we are involved in a triathlon club and a swimming
club [children are talented athletes]. These all-white organizations are
confronted by our presence and have to confront their attitudes and change
those attitudes. The same in my business circles, the 'white' business people are
confronted by an educated well dressed black and I have to ensure that I back
up this professional image with a professional business ethic of the highest
standard as I am continuously viewed under a microscope, yet this has paid off
for my children. The hard yards that I have been forced to walk in business
circles has resulted in their [his children's] acceptance in their sporting interests
based on their raw talent. The barrier of their skin color no longer seems to be a
major issue as most people in the clubs know me through business contacts and
we seem to be accepted as 'one of them'. Without the business networking I
doubt if the acceptance of my children would have occurred as I have witnessed
other very talented Aboriginal youth ignored in the club selection process"
(interview notes, E, 21 October 1998).
A has witnessed his children "being treated like outcasts prior to business. My
involvement in Rotary, the Golf Club and other organisations has definitely
opened doors for them. One is now well established in his own business and the
others have good jobs" (interview notes 19 January 1998).
While it is acknowledged that the study is restricted in its overall sample size, a
single second-generation entrepreneur was examined that re-enforced the
characteristic of networking that assisted them in the establishment of their
business (Bolton & Thompson 2000). There has also been a change in social
positioning of the individual entrepreneur in the study that has benefits for the
wider Indigenous community. The entrepreneurs provide role models,
contradicting popular stereotypes in mainstream Australian society. They have
the potential to create a positive change in the social order for other Indigenous
Australians by their active participation in organizations that traditionally have
been bastions of Anglo-European society. This is in addition to the social change
that they create for themselves.
There is a link in the entrepreneurs' social economic action to the management
of resources through social networks (Hart, Stevenson & Dial, 1995). A's
membership on the board of a Golf Club, his pro-active role in Rotary, board
membership on a motel franchise chain and success in business has altered his
social position. This is also evident in C' s membership in the local retail traders
association and E's membership in several sporting clubs. There has been a shift
in cultural commitment, which has been economically driven, as they needed to
establish strong networks for their business links. The entrepreneurs know where
and how to find resources, they are quick to build and maintain networks that
help them in their business (Bolton & Thompson, 2000). The study revealed a
dramatic shift in social embeddedness away from Indigenous cultural
commitments to the enterprise commitments, shifting values superficially from
their cultural commitment to the economic priorities of the business. This
conforms to Hart, Stevenson and Dial's (1995) concepts. However, as mentioned
previously there has also been a subtle substitution of the previous pro-active
Indigenous community involvement with more subtle community contacts.
Immediate Family
The study revealed that Indigenous Australian entrepreneurs' are driven by the
Indigenous entrepreneurs' 'need to provide' for their families. This finding also
complements the definition of an Indigenous entrepreneur in their pursuit of
economic sustainability as economic independence is driven by a need to provide
for their family.
Different cultural values affect individual cognition, motivation and performance
(Baum, 1995; Herron & Robinson, 1993). The cultural value of providing for
children in the Indigenous Australian context is consistent with other literature
that the social and economic environment is a determining function in the
entrepreneur's "thinking", which can directly influence the individual's cognition
(Bird, 1989; Busenitz & Lau, 1996).
In the previous discussion on the entrepreneur's definition of success, a
contributing factor was to provide for the entrepreneurs immediate family:
Why shouldn't our kids have the same opportunities as the whitefella (interview
notes C, 13 September 1998). We want our kids to have the same chance as
theirs [white Australia]. We want our kids to have the same opportunities,
(interview notes E, 21 October, 1998).
The need to provide for family is a motivator for the entrepreneur, an apparent
driving force that is again based on racial lines. It infers that to provide for one's
family is to break the welfare concept scenario (and social stereotype) to
progress up the racial stratification ladder. Income from business will provide
food, clothing, and shelter increasing the educational opportunities of the
children resulting in a better life than what the entrepreneur experienced prior to
entering business. To provide for the family is a justification by the entrepreneur
to exist in business.
The research results highlighted the experience of Indigenous entrepreneurs
that, following entry into business, what appears to be racist discrimination from
mainstream Australia was a common occurrence. This was evident when dealing
with Government institutions, financiers, creditors and even the entrepreneurs'
clientele. To an Indigenous Australian, racial discrimination is a part of life. The
Royal Commission findings of Aboriginal Deaths in Custody acknowledge the
development of racist attitudes, both overt and hidden, and the way these
attitudes have become institutionalized in the practices of legal, educational,
welfare and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander assistance authorities
(Commonwealth of Australia, 1992:5). The Royal Commission report
acknowledges that racism towards Australia's Indigenous people is
institutionalized. The Australian Human Rights Commission also acknowledges
the extent of racism in Australian society. The findings of the National Inquiry
into Racist Violence in 1991 state that:
Many Aboriginal people have grown so used to being verbally abused and called
by insulting names over the whole period of contact with whites that they tended
to focus their complaints upon physical harassment and discriminatory exclusion
from social venues. (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission 1991:16)
Discrimination (racism) is so common to Indigenous Australians that it is only
acknowledged when it is physical or exclusionary. The entrepreneurs also
reported negative dealings with government agencies whose mandates should
have required them to be supportive. This suggests that racism finds its way into
the very agencies intended to counteract it.
The Indigenous entrepreneurs experienced discrimination from within their
Indigenous community. The research findings indicated that as Indigenous
entrepreneurs' achieved a perceived level of success, the effects of social change
together with the subsequent realignment of networking and community contact
often resulted in their temporary (and possible permanent) alienation from the
participants' community.
I had to buy a reliable motor vehicle for the business, with 95% Bank finance I
purchased a small Korean sedan, straight away family stopped talking to me.
They thought I was rich all of a sudden and was rude in not sharing this fictional
wealth with them. The trouble was I was the first person in my entire family to
purchase a new car and they [the wider family] could not understand it. Even
today, things are strained. They see me as no longer Aboriginal as I wear a tie, a
suit and drive a new vehicle. They don't understand, (interview notes E, 21
October 1998).
In a comparative cross-cultural example, this distinguishes the Indigenous
entrepreneur from the Chinese entrepreneur in Australia. The Chinese-Australian
community values the Chinese-Australian entrepreneur's success and the
entrepreneur is drawn closer to that community as a consequence of his success
(Casimir & Keats 1996, Holt & Keats 1992). The can be the opposite in the case
for many Indigenous Australian entrepreneurs and highlights the need to
examine the values of Indigenous Australia in relation to business success. The
study revealed conflicting evidence concerning the Entrepreneurs value systems
beyond the nuclear family. Some were steadfastly pluralistic in the sharing of
wealth, others centered on improving their immediate family only, with little
thought of the wider community. There is some correlation between the
participant's formulative years and this occurrence, as participants growing up in
old 'mission' communities focused on wider dispersion of wealth. Several
generation urban participants did not. In addition, another distinct characteristic
was the occurrence of the non-indigenous spouse. It would appear that this
situation provides positives for some Indigenous participants. This together with
the conflicting values systems (and other characteristics) requires further
empirical evidence beyond the scope of this paper.
The study indicates that the dominating factors underlying business success for
the Indigenous entrepreneur is their individual motivation to correct negative
social perceptions and resultant social stratification based on race. The
Indigenous entrepreneur is ultimately seeking self-determination through
economic independence and in that process is correcting the negative racial
stereotypes. Yet in doing so, the Indigenous entrepreneur risks losing links to the
Indigenous community and culture because the requirement for success in
business clashes with Indigenous cultural norms.
The Indigenous Australian entrepreneurs positivity, their vision, the driving sense
that success will happen, and their unselfish willingness to sacrifice personal
luxuries to realize a business success reflect the seemingly desperate plight of
being the subject of negative stereotyping. The use of a non-indigenous
accountant for perceived legitimacy is an illustration of the process to gain
societal acceptance to counteract racial stereotypes.
Initial chaos prior to business commencement is the catalyst, the trigger, the
'crisis' (Fay, 1987) and the opportunity (Hills, 1995) for the Indigenous Australian
entrepreneur that instigates entry into entrepreneurial activities and self-
Education and industry experience are linked to success in business activity. Yet
Indigenous Australia suffers poor educational outcomes for numerous reasons
that include institutional racism within the education sector that results in fewer
graduates that limit the pool of potential Indigenous entrepreneurs. This is a key
area that needs to be looked at by Government, policy makers and the
vocational education sector.
Networking, substituting Indigenous community contact with specific business/
social related contacts to improve the entrepreneur's social position by being
accepted into wider social (mainstream) networks are the entrepreneurs' process
to overcome societal stereotypes and to raise their position on the racial
stratification scale. The Indigenous entrepreneurs challenge their perceived
societal position by improving it through success in business; networking is an
essential tool in this process.
The entrepreneurs' perceived/real need to provide for their children and
following generations is an illustration of the negative effect of race stratification.
The entrepreneurs' pursuit for acceptance and economic independence to
provide for their children to enable them to be a part of Australian society
highlights the Indigenous social plight.
Discrimination is the final characteristic discussed that is the dominant inhibiting
factor that the entrepreneur experiences in business and wider society. The
direct or indirect discrimination from mainstream Australia and also from within
the entrepreneurs own Indigenous community has a continuous stifling affect on
the entrepreneurs' fortitude. It is the societal discrimination from stereotyping,
'the welfare shackles' (Herron, 1998) and the low level of Indigenous positioning
on the racial stratification ladder of Australian society that are both the inhibitors
and motivating force behind Indigenous Australian individuals pursuit for
economic independence and success.
It is also important to keep in mind the need for sensitivity to cultural meanings
and practices in interpreting ethnographic and quantitative research (Miller,
1997: 171). Sensitivity is an understanding, not a methodological process. One
must be sensitive to the environment of the Indigenous Australian entrepreneur,
and seek an understanding of the unique person that has achieved this
classification. Attempt to understand the personal initiative of the Indigenous
entrepreneur as seen as a behavior syndrome resulting in the individual taking
an active and self starting approach to work (Frese, Kring, Soose & Kempel,
The entrepreneur is self-motivated, in control of their actions and their attitudes
to workplace endeavors; this is supported by the positivity characteristic of the
Indigenous entrepreneur. Entrepreneurial success to the Indigenous Australian is
a chance to change their social positioning "we have a chance to live like human
beings. If we don't succeed we may never get another chance!" (interview notes
E 21 October, 1998). This was a common comment, before entrepreneurial
success the participants saw their lives as sub-human. Such are the levels of
poverty, of hopelessness within Indigenous Australian society. "Has anything
changed in the last hundred years? . . . While many things have improved, many
things have not really changed. In fact they've regressed . . . Racial
discrimination is the prejudice most cosmetically apparent" (Huggins, 1998: 135,
Huggins (1998) is correct in questioning has anything changed. The case study
participants envisaged their business involvement as a step towards social
acceptability in that they could live like human beings. Racial discrimination is
perhaps the greatest hurdle that Indigenous Australian entrepreneurs must
address. For the Indigenous Australian self-determination through economic
independence is attainable. The results of this study form a small part within the
literature base of this evolving story.
The attribute linking the positive behavior that follows this to the concept of
'face' relates to the concern people have about the way other people perceive
them is internally driven (Hallahan, Lee & Herzog, 1997). The public self-image
that Indigenous Australian entrepreneurs want to claim for themselves is a
universal human need, it is not limited to just the Indigenous entrepreneur. The
'positivity' is a determining factor or attribute of the Indigenous Australian
entrepreneur's survival in a negative societal environment.
The pursuit for economic independence is the forceful change that breaks the
stereotypes related to 'the welfare shackles' (Herron, 1998) that are included in
the definition of what is an Indigenous Australian entrepreneur. The preliminary
work on Indigenous Australian entrepreneurs highlights two other areas of
literature that require further examination; first, the concept of success. Does the
Indigenous entrepreneur view, value and measure success differently than the
non-indigenous entrepreneur? In addition there is a need to explore the concepts
of values, do they differ between the Indigenous to the non-indigenous? What
values are dominant to the Indigenous Australian, as the value systems of
Indigenous Australian entrepreneurs appear to slightly differ from those of the
non-indigenous? Understanding the entrepreneur's values is critical as values
reflect social priorities and influence how social and business decisions are made
(Holt, 1997).
In conclusion, this article provides insights into minority entrepreneurship on the
eastern seaboard of Australia. Common characteristics of Indigenous
entrepreneur's may differ in the northern end, or in western states of Australia.
This is what the researcher must accept, never follow stereotypes or
standardization as Indigenous groups differ not only from country to country
(race to race), they may also differ within their own country due to a plethora of
reasons. This article however, adds to an almost nonexistent base of knowledge
enabling potential researchers to develop an empathetic approach and
understanding on a sample group of Indigenous entrepreneurs. It is hoped that
further research will be undertaken to improve our collective knowledge in the
area of Indigenous entrepreneurship.
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Dennis Foley, of the Queensland University of Technology, has published across
a broad range of Indigenous subjects. He recently completed a Fulbright
Scholarship that involved research into Hawaiian entrepreneurs. Without the
support of the equity initiatives of Griffith University and the financial award of a
Griffith University Indigenous Postgraduate Research Scholarship, (a
developmental scholarship within the Griffith University Indigenous Australian
Employment and Career Development Policy), this study would not have been
achieved by the writer. The author extends sincere appreciation to all staff
Copyright Norfolk State University Foundation Aug 2003
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... Legacies of colonialism persist in Australia with many Indigenous people continuing to experience restricted access to Country and resources (Banerjee & Tedmanson, 2010); an entrenched reliance on government support (Australian Government, 2020;Schaper, 1999); and disruption of cultures, kin relationships (Foley, 2003) and language groups (Trudgen, 2000). The intergenerational trauma experienced by Indigenous Australians is a direct result of the seizure of land by colonisers and its legacy of "overt physical violence (invasion, disease, death and destruction), covert structural violence (enforced dependency, legislation, reserves and removals) and psycho-social domination (cultural and spiritual genocide)" (Atkinson, 2002, cited by Kwaymullina, 2016, p. 440). ...
... We begin with the recognition that the processes of colonisation have attempted to delegitimise and silence Indigenous knowledge (Foley, 2003;Kwaymullina, 2016). As Foley (2006, p. 27) explains, "increasingly, Indigenous knowledge is interpreted by non-Indigenous academics and governments as a commodity, something of value, something that can be value added, and something to be exchanged, traded, appropriated, preserved, excavated or mined". ...
... Kwaymullina (2016) warns against non-Indigenous researchers rushing in to fill the silence because doing so perpetuates the colonial project that has disembodied and dislocated Indigenous knowledge from the 'knowers'. As non-Indigenous researchers, we acknowledge our position as outsiders, recognising we can never explicitly understand the lived experiences of Indigenous Australians (Foley, 2003;Minniecon et al., 2007;Nakata, 2007). As outsiders we also acknowledge the limits of our ability to understand Indigenous ways of knowing which are deeply connected to Country, and we recognise the limits of our capacity to "feel what is it is like to be a 'knower' of this world" (Nakata, 2007, p. 11). ...
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... The respondents' lack of formal marketing training is symptomatic of the general lack of resources in remote areas. Yet prior researchers have noted that Aboriginal entrepreneurial success requires access to business skills, knowledge and resources (Foley, 2003). Tourism training programmes specifically relevant to Aboriginal Peoples are required to unlock operators' latent skills (Altman & Finlayson, 1992): They [staff] are developing while they are working on the job some of them, you couldn't even get a boo out of them … .. It was like that till we did the public speaking courses. ...
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... This is the scale at which Indigenous political economies operate and therefore where the direct impact of neoliberalism as an economic development This research therefore considers the broader theoretical problematisation of neoliberal policies within a localised Indigenous region and First Nation case study context, prior to considering the efficacy and impacts of these policies on Indigenous peoples and economic development outcomes in northern Australia. This is a gap in current research, which has taken a narrower focus on Indigenous employment or business development often through the lens of a sectoral interest (Bennett & Gordon, 2005;Collins & Norman, 2018;Foley, 2003;Gray & Hunter, 2011;Hindle & Moroz, 2010;Hunter & Gray, 2012;Nikolakis, 2008;Russell-Mundine, 2007;Welters, 2010;Wood & Davidson, 2011) or more theoretically on a liberal/neoliberal analysis of Indigenous policy (Altman, 2014;Brigg, 2007;Kowal, 2008;Strakosch, 2015;Sullivan, 2015;Taylor, 2009). ...
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Culture is integral to Indigenous entrepreneurs, but how culture manifests in their entrepreneurial processes is understudied. This paper explores how Aboriginal entrepreneurs in Perth, Australia navigate cultural and commercial imperatives in their entrepreneurial practice. The study uses an interpretive lens and thematic analysis based on Altman’s hybrid economy model (HEM) to explore how ten Aboriginal entrepreneurs managed commercially viable enterprises while meeting their cultural obligations and aspirations. The focus is on the convergence of the customary and market economies and entrepreneurs’ experiences of navigating the hybridity of that space. We find that Aboriginal entrepreneurs iteratively assess the complementarity of cultural and commercial imperatives to protect their Indigenous identity while meeting business objectives. Cultural and commercial imperatives are navigated using context-dependent strategies. Strategies fall within fluid classifications of ‘high cultural–low commercial bias’, ‘high commercial–low cultural bias’, and an even consideration of both. We propose a contingency model to help explain Indigenous entrepreneurs’ approaches to navigating customary and commercial imperatives. This study contributes to knowledge of culture in Indigenous entrepreneurship by uncovering strategies Indigenous entrepreneurs can, and do, use to conduct business in ways culturally attuned to their indigeneity and situations.
Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander not‐for‐profit organisations (NFPs) are vital to the cultural and social fabric of the communities they represent. Yet while such entities are obligated to publish annual financial and non‐financial information, little is known about the role of these reports in terms of delivering accountability to culturally diverse stakeholders. This benchmark study is among the first to use grounded accountability theory to compare the results from quantitative content and qualitative thematic analysis of annual reporting across 100 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander NFPs. Our analysis reveals the communication of ‘cultural accountability’ that sets these entities apart from other NFPs. Implications of these findings for accountability practices in non‐Anglo‐Saxon cultural contexts are discussed.
In examining the global landscape, it is clear that some cultures produce many more entrepreneurs than others. To explore this phenomenon, we take a cognitive perspective because it is assumed that the way one thinks has a significant impact on the intention to start a new business. Through the development of this model we clarify why some Individuals across different cultures tend to be more prolific in starting new ventures than others both Inside and outside the home country. In illustrating the model, the Chinese population and their high propensity to start new businesses when they migrate to new countries are discussed. Implications for competitive advantage and other areas of cross-cultural research are made.
This new edition completely up-dates the text and takes account of recent work. New material replaces existing information so that individuals such as Michelle Mone (taking on giants) and Ken Morrison, and the stories of Yo Sushi and Lonely Planet are included.The following features are incorporated :Social enterprises (which generate income) are separated from community based ventures which are more grant dependent. The story of Aspire will be introduced and The Storm Model Agency The chapter on the Entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley is to be re-crafted and moved towards the end of the book. It covers both the entrepreneurs and the process and context issues that have helped explain the Silicon Valley phenomenon. The New Internet Entrepreneurs chapter is now to come immediately after Chapter 4 and will be rewritten to include new stories on E-Bay (success) and e-Toys (failure).. There is to be a stronger section on the characteristics of 'The Entrepreneur Enabler' - people who advise and support entrepreneurs . Web support materials and worked examples are to be written for academic adoptions. © 2000, 2004, Bill Bolton and John Thompson. All rights reserved.
Indigenous Australians have long been regarded as a disadvantaged group in Australian society, and have found it difficult to compete with other Australians for employment opportunities. As pointed out by the Miller Report (1985) Aboriginal society has been through the stages associated with expropriation involving dispossession, dispersal and destruction of their traditional economic base. In many areas this destruction has been characterised by a dependence on government services and programs as a replacement for the previously productive economic system of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander society. As productive employment opportunities disappeared for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, there has been a natural and increasing dependence on social welfare, in order to survive.