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Message Stick – carried to Indigenous and Corporate Australia

31 Aug 2018

For thousands of years, Indigenous groups sent messages to each other about ceremonies, disputes, invitations or meetings on a message stick carried by a group member.

In 2003, Michael McLeod began sending a message to corporate Australia and to Indigenous people around Australia. The Ngarrindjeri Monaro man from Southern NSW co-founded communications company, Message Stick with Dugald Russell.

‘I wanted to prove that an Aboriginal person could own and manage a business regardless of their social circumstances and geographical location, and which the corporate and business sector would take seriously,’ Michael said.

Michael, CEO of Message Stick, said that in 2003, it was difficult to identify Indigenous owned and run businesses.

With proven success in arts and crafts, sports, academia and politics, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people did not enjoy the same profile and success when it came to business.

His new business offered a range of professional services including video and audio conferencing and enjoyed immediate success.

But Michael’s business vision was not limited to Message Stick.

When corporate Australia started to recognise that Aboriginal businesses could provide expert services and products, the Message Stick team, with support from corporate Australia, co-founded Supply Nation. It’s the organisation which links Indigenous owned businesses with government and corporate Australia.

‘We kind of got the idea from the USA who have been doing this for 40 odd years. It’s called Supply Diversity over there,’ Michael said.

‘It introduces minority owned businesses to corporate America and government departments. Over the past 40 years, in excess of one trillion of procurement dollars have flowed from these corporate members to the minority owned businesses.’

Michael said the reason this approach was slow to be adopted in Australia was historical.

‘I think it was because the mindset of Aboriginal Australia was truly that of government grants and subsidized employment programs so no-one had gone down the path of entrepreneurialism.’

‘Businesses existed but mainly at the community level supplying services to government funded organisations like local Aboriginal health centres.’

Supply Nation has enabled a change of vision and expectation for Indigenous business.

It has played a key role in supporting the Australian Government’s Indigenous Procurement Policy (IPP). This policy requires that the Australian Government award at least 3% of government contracts to Indigenous owned businesses each year.

Both Supply Nation and the IPP have profoundly changed the business landscape for Indigenous entrepreneurs and business owners.

Stay tuned for more - Michael’s vision, gradually being realised, was born of a personal story that we’ll bring to Indigenous.gov.au in the future.

Find out more

The Australian Government’s Indigenous Procurement Policy helps to drive demand for Indigenous goods and services, stimulate Indigenous economic development and grow the Indigenous business sector.

For more information, see Supply Nation.

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