By Lan Hoang – Communications Manager, Asia-Pacific Social Impact Leadership Centre Melbourne Business School.
For Indigenous managers and entrepreneurs, success in business is a combination of several factors – a good idea that meets a market need, hard work, and the ability to deal with current demands while planning for the future. The last factor requires the ability to step away from the business and assume a helicopter view.
The MURRA Indigenous Business Masterclass delivered by Melbourne Business School offers Indigenous Managers and business owners the chance to do just that. Over 12 days, participants are given the chance to delve into core areas of their business with faculty who are experienced as teachers and consultants. The outcome has been tremendous.
“Every day I was at MURRA, I discovered a gold nugget which provided me with an invaluable insight into the way I do business,” recalls Noel Niddrie, owner of Indigenous consultancy Winangali. “The ability to speak with leading business academics, to discuss the issues with colleagues from across the country and exercise my newfound knowledge back in my business was beyond measure. Winangali now takes a more considered approach to planning our future projects, finances and marketing activities as a result of my time at MURRA.”
That interaction with thought leaders is a critical component of MURRA. During the 2014 program, the class welcomed a leading expert on procurement law in the United States, Professor Danielle Conway, to speak about the connection between a well-functioning public procurement system and a thriving Indigenous community. As one of the largest consumers, how governments procure those goods and services is important because it has enormous effects for Indigenous suppliers.
“There are three underlying principles.” Professor Conway explained, “The first requirement is fair, open and objective competition. This is critical in the expenditure of taxpayer’s money. If you think of the government as a steward of tax money, it requires a government to function well in order to achieve the best value for the taxpayer.
“The other two are integrity and transparency – conducting your processes with openness to the community. You need to distinguish between the best and optimal exploitation of resources, not just the greatest exploitation – these are two different things. Implicit in this are the principles of risk avoidance and uniformity. You cannot waste the resources of your community and you must aim to do things the same way so you can build a model. If you have all these elements, then you can establish a system that taxpayers can trust.”
But government procurement is merely one side of the coin. On the supplier side, much can be done by the Indigenous community. “In North America, we are seeing the emergence of a new cadre of acquisition professionals, indigenous youths who are moving away from clerical duties into more strategic roles. We’re starting to see new people being hired at state and federal level who understand what native rights are. I believe that it is a watershed moment.”
Professor Conway also points to a need for Indigenous business owners to upskill through training and education programs like MURRA. “I was counsel acting for a native Hawaiian called Vaughn Vasconcellos. Vaughn’s company had developed sophisticated security software which he had contracted to the government for a lucrative sum. But like a lot of contractors, he didn’t read the fine print of the agreement which said that the government would own all his Intellectual Property (IP). Now, there is a very utilitarian reason as to why contractors should own their IP. If you want them to go and create more great things, governments taking their IP would frustrate this. You wouldn’t get any more people wanting to make things if the government is going to take it. So, my firm worked with him and negotiated with the government for a mutually acceptable outcome.”
“But you know, there was another reason why we were able to negotiate an outcome,” added Professor Conway. “What you don’t know is that I’m also a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army.”
To clapping and cheers, Professor Conway shook her head to the idea of her using force to gain an outcome for her client. “No, no. It wasn’t like that,” she laughed. “I taught a lot of the military lawyers that they had on the case so I knew where they were coming from. And that’s the point I’m trying to make. To effectively argue your case and negotiate, it’s important to know what the other side is thinking. Read the contract and understand the other side’s perspective. It’s a good lesson for everyone.”
Mr Niddrie, whose time at MURRA has given him newfound confidence in his ability, found this lesson particularly informative. “It's always a joy to be in the presence of someone who is able to explain technical knowledge in an accessible way. Danielle’s engaging style in sharing her insights was a highlight. I also loved being with like-minded entrepreneurs and we’re now talking about areas of collaboration. I now have pride in describing myself as an entrepreneur.”
Applications for the 2015 MURRA Masterclass starting in March are now open with generous travel and accommodation scholarships from IBA. Go to www.mbs.edu/murra or contact Kate Brown on 03 9349 8394.
Supply Nation is a proud sponsor of the program.