Sodexo employees with Indigenous students

Indigenous business is critical to the future of corporate Australia

About the author : SEAN ARMISTEAD

General Manager – Indigenous & Community Engagement

Published on : 5/24/20
  • Australia’s Indigenous population has a vital place in the history and culture of our nation; however, there is still an enormous journey to go in Bridging The Gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

    An essential element is the success of Indigenous-owned businesses, which is not a part of the Federal Government’s Closing the Gap seven national targets. Supporting Indigenous business to overcome barriers to success, particularly those businesses in early establishment, is the responsibility of corporate Australia.

    A huge step in this direction was when the Indigenous Procurement Policy (IPP) commenced in 2015, creating a demand for Indigenous business at a level which hadn’t previously existed. The emergence of this government policy, supported by the corporate community, changed the game. This policy was the result of many individuals and organisations advocating for Indigenous business over an extended period of time and the government at the time making the decisive commitment to turbo charge the Indigenous business environment. Indigenous businesses and advocates had always been in existence and had been doing significant work with notable success, but it was in the 2000’s we saw momentum build directly from this work. Key to the movement was the large-scale uptake of Reconciliation Action Plans (RAP) throughout corporate Australia, Universities committing to revolutionary programs (such as Murra Indigenous Masterclass at the Melbourne Business School), and Indigenous Business Chambers (such as Kinaway).

    The IPP in conjunction with Exemption 17 of the Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines (instituted in 2011) ushered in unprecedented growth in Indigenous entrepreneurship and business acumen, as Australian businesses increasingly looked to partner and employ Indigenous businesses for the long term.

    However, it’s important to understand that, historically, Indigenous businesses have been disadvantaged in Australia. Many of these have been shut out from a number of sectors due to a stigma that they don’t have the capability or capacity to complete the work at the same level as a non-Indigenous business providing the same service. As a large corporate in Australia with more than 250 locations, ranging from remote communities to major cities, Sodexo transacts with commercially savvy businesses who can deliver to our and our client’s high standards – and we’ve found Indigenous businesses measure up.

    That being said, a certain level of understanding, commitment and will power is required to support these businesses effectively and enable them to deliver the high-quality services they are capable of providing. As an organisation or Supply Chain Team, you must be committed to working with Indigenous businesses if you hope to achieve any significant level of spend. We’ve found that many Indigenous businesses are raring to be given a chance to work with corporate Australia, but it’s clear many organisations are still reluctant to take this step or to change their fundamental processes to create an environment of facilitation and support.

    Having suffered neglect over the decades, there’s a responsibility on organisations who work with and employ these businesses to provide them with a level of support ‘beyond just the transactional’. It’s negligent to take a ‘feast or famine’ approach – you want to ensure a consistent amount of spend which enables them to consistently grow their business over time.

    3 people standing in front of a roll up bannerParticularly during this COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to be committed to Indigenous business as an essential element in your supply chain. During the past three months, Sodexo has spent more than $10M with Indigenous businesses. Our team has been surveying the impact and identifying the support we can provide. We are determined to ensure spend with Indigenous business does not drop during this period and where there are opportunities, we are seeking to increase it. This is the case with Spartan First, an Indigenous business specialising in occupational health which had been servicing Sodexo in WA. We have now expanded their services to Sodexo’s operations in QLD.

    How to successfully work in partnership with Indigenous business

    Part of the reason Sodexo has managed to work with Indigenous businesses successfully in recent years is an approach which considers the resources, needs and support required for Indigenous business owners. In addition, Sodexo’s Indigenous business strategy is led by Indigenous people, with organisation-wide support, from operations through to supply chain, starting with our National Indigenous Business Manager, who undertakes community and cultural due diligence of all prospective vendors through on-boarding and continues to be their advocate within Sodexo if issues occur. 

    Spend targets permeate through the business, linking together the business’ RAP targets, internal targets and client targets. This ensures it is not only the senior leaders within the organisation but the critical middle-level decision makers who understand what is required, what has been committed and, through education and awareness of the positive impacts of Indigenous business, are strong supporters of the strategy. This is essential to establishing the requisite top-down organisational support to gain momentum.  

    The Indigenous Leadership Team at Sodexo are spread across national locations and provide deep understanding of the cultural nuances in Indigenous businesses operation. Their role goes beyond financial support and extends through to an investment of time and experience into these businesses, exposing them to successful business practices, operations and opportunities.

    Since September 2019, we’ve already spent $22.8 million on Indigenous suppliers, smashing our Elevate Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) target of $10 million, and we are on track to hit $30 million this French financial year ending 31 August.

    Sodexo consistently supports more than 50 different Indigenous businesses as part of its supplier and partners list. Since September 2019, we’ve already spent $22.8 million on Indigenous suppliers, smashing our Elevate Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) target of $10 million, and we are on track to hit $30 million this French financial year ending 31 August. More than 50 percent of these businesses we support operate in regional and remote communities, meaning the dollars bounce around the community a lot longer.

    We also understand the need to support Indigenous communities through employment. Sodexo’s RAP journey began in 2009 and we’re proud to now be on our fifth RAP and second at the Elevate level. We’ve employed 1,100 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, providing more than $33.5 million worth of employment to Indigenous Australians. During the recent pandemic, Sodexo has worked with other corporates in the Reconciliation space to transition their Indigenous employees to roles within Sodexo.

    We understand the role we have to play as a large organisation in actively bringing Indigenous business into corporate Australia. Our goal is to lead in this area and, where possible, support and share our experience to break down preconceived notions about Indigenous business

    two men standing in front of a coffee bean roast machineWe have been proud to see numerous businesses flourish through our support, such as Australian Indigenous Coffee (AIC). In 2016, Sodexo began supplying AIC’s coffee to a number of our energy and resources sites. Their coffee is now served at more than 20 of Sodexo’s sites and has been selected as the exclusive Australian coffee supplier for Sodexo’s global coffee offer, Aspretto. This business partnership resulted in instant scaling for AIC and enabled them to quickly become the largest Aboriginal-owned coffee supplier in Western Australia.

    More recently, Sodexo enabled the launch of a new Indigenous brand of bottled water through a pre-launch commitment to supply five pallets of Yurrama Water at its 38 mine sites in Western Australia. This was the boost Ashburton Aboriginal Corporation needed and sales from Yurrama Water will result in more funds invested in Indigenous employment programs.

    There is opportunity for all Australian organisations, big or small, to help support Indigenous business and business people. A starting point is looking to other organisations who have established relationships with these suppliers and businesses. It’s important to build a strategic approach which outlines how you’re going to work with these businesses and establish critical roles for Indigenous business procurement and retention.

    I’d encourage any organisation looking to partner or work with Indigenous businesses to reach out. Using Sodexo’s working model, I’m always looking to support other businesses in their commitment to reconciliation so that we can collectively continue to bridge the gap in Australia.

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