New research project -From Members to Leaders? Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Participation in Political Parties

I’m thrilled to announce that Dr Duncan McDonnell (Griffith Uni) and I have received an Australian Research Council Discovery Indigenous Award to examine Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in Australia’s major political parties and the leadership opportunities and challenges experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander party members.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians (A&TSI) have always been underrepresented in Federal and State parliaments. Although there are more A&TSI representatives now than at any previous time, no territory, state or federal parliament has ever included a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives proportional to their share of the population. Indeed, some states have never returned a single federal or state A&TSI representative. In recent decades, parliamentary commissions have therefore called on political parties to make greater efforts to recruit A&TSI members and promote them into leadership positions such as candidates for elections and/or internal party organisation leadership roles (NSW, 1998; QLD, 2003). Doing so, the commissions concluded, would significantly benefit A&TSI communities and wider Australian society by helping to give A&TSI citizens a more prominent place within democratic processes.

The proposed project speaks to this issue by investigating contemporary A&TSI party membership across Australia and examining the leadership opportunities and challenges experienced by grassroots A&TSI party members. In answering the overarching research question of whether, and how, A&TSI participation in parties translates into leadership, the project poses the following inter-related questions:

  • How do A&TSI members, candidates and elected representatives conceive of their roles within the major parties? How do they view the pathways to leadership positions (as candidates, internal party officials and in policymaking) offered by parties?
  • How do party officials and elites see the role of A&TSI members? How do they recruit and prepare members for leadership positions as candidates and/or as officials within the party organisational hierarchy? What opportunities are there for A&TSI leadership roles in developing policy platforms?
  • What differences do we find across Australia in the relationships between the two major parties and their A&TSI members as regards the above leadership roles? Do some relationships work better than others? Why?

Bringing together our joint expertise in A&TSI leadership and political parties, the project first maps out and investigates A&TSI participation and leadership roles in the major parties across all states and territories in Australia. It then focuses on two territorial case studies that exemplify A&TSI elected representative presence and relative absence: the Northern Territory and New South Wales. The Liberal Party (LP), Country Liberal Party (CLP) and Australian Labor Party (ALP) in each case study area have already agreed to facilitate the research, as has the NSW Aboriginal Labor Network. We thus have an exceptional opportunity to address a very significant social and political issue for Australia.

So if you are interested to participate in the project, follow the project and support the project please contact us directly via twitter @MEvansAs @duncanmcdonnell

Celebrating leadership this Indigenous Business Month

“A central element of a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem is the encouraging and celebration of success.”

There are so many things to do to build the Indigenous entrepreneurship ecosystem – creating capital options for Indigenous businesses, further leveraging gains made on the Indigenous Procurement Policy, growing bigger businesses and encouraging more new businesses – so why is the second Indigenous Business Month focusing on celebrating leadership? Leadership in our sector is critical. We need to showcase the excellence and success of Indigenous business across our diverse ecosystem – large businesses, international businesses, cultural businesses, family businesses, joint ventures, community controlled businesses, social enterprises, profitable businesses.

A central element of a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem is the encouraging and celebration of success. These showcasing events, such as Indigenous Business Month, grab the broader public’s attention for a moment to put forward a range of new stories about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Let me share a MURRA success story that I love to talk about and why I think we need to celebrate this amazing young woman’s leadership.

Many of you who know me will know how passionate I am about encouraging young people into business and having great role models for our children to look up to. One young dynamic woman, Rebecca Blurton, did MURRA in Generation 3 (2014). Rebecca now runs three companies/organisations – the national Indigenous Women in Business, Moorditj a manufacturing and supply business, and If it’s Style you want (Rebecca’s personal styling business). Rebecca is a leader. She puts herself forward for opportunities, she creates her own opportunities, she tries and if she fails she gets up again and tries again.


Rebecca said to me “I love wheeling and dealing, I love it, and negotiating. Like, tell me why you don’t want to get involved with my business. Let’s talk about that!” Rebecca’s confidence should not be mistaken for arrogance, on the contrary, Rebecca spends a lot of her ‘free’ time mentoring young Aboriginal women and girls and working on structural; problems like her idea for the Indigenous Business Month Melbourne Hackathon. Rebecca saw a problem – difficulty in accessing information about Indigenous scholarships and awards – so she has devised an event to bring philanthropists, Aboriginal youth, educators, businesses and software developers into a room to make something happen to address this problem.

Leadership is fundamentally about creating change. Rebecca Blurton is one fine example of an Indigenous business leader making a difference through her personal commitment to Aboriginal young people, her entrepreneurial spirit and her innovative approach to addressing difficult problems.

When leadership becomes just about positional power we disengage from this kind of leadership and we tend to see the idea of leadership as being the problem. How about this month you look at the inspirational everyday acts of leadership all around you, including your own attempts to empower and uphold others. This month I’m celebrating leadership in the Indigenous business sector in all it’s different ways of manifesting.

Indigenous women entrepreneurial researchers

Over the past few years I have been really interested and inspired by the many Indigenous women entrepreneurs I have been blessed to work with, research with and teach. Indigenous women who run a business are often quite isolated by the level of work and personal pressures they work with. Running a program like MURRA Indigenous Business Master Class has created a space to encourage not just ‘network’ connections but friendships that have nurtured Indignous women entrepreneurs (and me too). I was speaking to a friend, and MURRA Alumni, who speaks about making time, not matter how busy she finds herself, to spend time ith her MURRA sistas when they visit her hometown.

So this resonant idea of connectedness is so fundamental to Indigenous women entreprenuers as many report having to do it all themselves with little encouragement and little mentorship. It made me wonder is this an Australian only phenomena? 

I recently did a skype keynote to the Wahine (Mari women’s) entrepreneurs conference and I found that the level of connectedness as a focus for Indigenous entrepneurs was a big theme – exemplified by one question I recieved which was ‘do you know my cousin – she lectures at your uni?’ (yes I do!). Other questions and feedback from my talk seem to suggest the hunger for lengthy, supportive and positive discussion and research about Indigenou entreprneurship because people need to hear each others stories and share the lessons learnt.

So coming to he photo I have posted below – it features my beautiful, fellow academic friends L-R Sonya Pearce (UTS) who is researching NSW Indigwnous women entreprneurs, Wanda Wuttunee (Uni of Manitoba) who researchs the Canadian Aboriginal economy, Liz Ross (Uni of Alaska Fairbanks) who runs the MBA progam and Ntive Alaskan Business networks, and me! As a researcher I am interested in sharing lessons lerant and foregrounding Indigenous entrepreneurial stories. However, I aso want to ground up theoretical and conceptual ideas that adds to the collective understanding of entrepreneurship. It seems to me that a starting point for international collaboration begins by listening to each others stories and engaging with each others research. I want our research approach to reflect what Indigenous women entrpreneurs are telling us is important to them – connectedness and friendship.


Subtraction and living a slower, happier life

When we moved to regional NSW from the hussle bussle of Melbourne last year, I did give pause to how small the place I had choosen to live and continue my lifes work was. I enjoyed Melbourne on every level – the pace, the diversity, the arts and cultural life, working at Uni of Melbourne – all of it, especially the bay. So moving to a land locked, small regional town and a regional University did have an impact. At first it was hard, and I ached for my old life and home. However, slowly, things have settled and many things have shifted, some have morphed and some transformed comletely.

I noticed that I was quick to shrug off my previous status accoutrements – I stopped wearing suits to work, I gave away my need for Qantas Club and even flying Qantas, hugging my new regional identity as it emerged. I found myself subtracting things from my life, things like national and international travel, like the need to be permanently busy. I let go some of those old habits – specifically the need to be on task all the time – and made room for what my wife and I really wanted in our life: a family.

Becoming a mum (instant foster mum at that!) has altered the axis of our life. Subtracting the strong career orientation that has driven my past twenty years and adding a new intense personal drive of family has both softened me and made me more focused. I have been encouraged, by important people to me, to slow down many times before. Probably much like you reading this post, I know best for me and had to come to it in my own way. I am living a slower life. It’s happier because the amount of laughter with these little ones each day is such a joy, and watching my wife be a mum is the true embodiment of happiness.


Gender order and the BRW Young Rich List

I found myself shocked to see that only six women entrepreneurs/artists/sports women were listed in the BRW Young Rich list. Perhaps I should not have been surprised, but it has been my experience working and teaching entrepreneurs over the past three years that our women are overwhelmingly represented.

The BRW list features entrepreneurs Carolyn Creswell (Carmans Foods) and Tammy May (My Budget), models Erica Baxter and Miranda Kerr, artist Sia Furler and sportswoman Karrie Webb.

The men that dominate the list are most often in their 30’s, working in technology, sports or services and mainly Anglo-Saxon Australian. It can’t be the case that this is the only demographic of ‘smart’ but it does tell us a lot about the value of human capital (individually endowed value) like education, work experience, tacit knowledge, family background, demographic advantages and/or disadvantages.

Are our Australian business women with awesome ideas getting their fair share of capital investment? Are they networking in the same places the young male youthful rich people are? Are they supported to do higher business education? Are they competitive and hungry for the opportunity?

What if the answer to all these questions is yes…then what would we be facing? I argue that there is a gender order facilitating the over investment in young men and shying away from women entrepreneurs.

This week I attended the Melbourne Business School Alumni Dinner where Torres Strait Islander female entrepreneur Jasmin Herro (Outback Global) was awarded the MBS most outstanding recent Alumni award. Not only is Jasmin the first Australian Indigenous person to be awarded an MBS Alumni award, she is an alumni of the bespoke MURRA Indigenous Business Masterclass program developed to cultivate growth in the Indigenous enterprise sector.

I was speaking to a few people about this blog post and some of the reactions called my framing of the structural power differential between male and female entrepreneurs negative. In fact many people encouraged me to focus on positive examples instead of talking about gender as an key divide we all need to pay attention to.

I think it’s important to do both, and I think it’s important to ask what’s happening in the general investment environment. I am extremely excited by the achievements of Indigenous women entrepreneurs like Jasmin Herro, Kate Kelleher, Nicole Stewart, Sam Cook and the nearly thirty Indigenous women entrepreneurs I have worked with individually over the past three years. I also think it’s important to explore the context for success and the way the discourse of success swamps any investigation about unconscious bias in the investment sector.


Creating a research agenda

I am returning back to Bathurst from a research scoping trip in the Northern Territory. Perhaps a little adjacent sounding to my focus on ‘leadership’; this research project looks at health and resilience and the spread of epidemics.

So what’s my angle as a leadership scholar? One of the interesting connections in talking with diverse colleagues from health, epidemiology, computer sciences and organizational studies has been the interest in how social networks intersect between community members, parents and organizations. How does the information flow through these networks? What about influence and leadership around communication of important information? What about resilience and networks?

For me, the innovation comes from thinking through wicked intractable and complex problems from a range of paradigmatic viewpoints. So that’s one of the developments I am working on at the moment.

I have been asked a few times in the twelve months about tips for setting your research agenda into motion. Recently I found some notes I had made for my chat with the Charles Sturt University Academic Women’s Association.

My ‘advice’ (read experience) included:
– what questions are you interested to Investigate? For me, in the above example I am really interested in understanding the collective dimensions of leadership and I think understanding social networks in communities could help me and others think about this important area of investigation

– you need a pipeline of research I.E. interlacing projects that provide continual opportunities for you to hone your research skills, explore new methodologies, collect fieldwork, analyze and write!

– what research does your university value? I have given this question a lot of thought, especially since joining Charles Sturt University’s School of Management and Marketing. CSU is one of Australia’s most expansive inland and regional universities – place matters and applied research that addresses important issues relevant to those places matter. So for me my intent to work in the area of applied research is something that harmonizes well with the values of my university

– understand how you can contribute to your faculty: being a team player is important to my faculty and to the work I do. I prefer to collaborate, and I think it is important to collaborate with colleagues. I have recently begun to work with environmental, computing science and marketing colleagues and the work we do to find an interesting and meaningful intersection

– get as many papers out of your PhD as makes sense!! But strategically submit to journals you enjoy and read as well as those that will highlight how your contribution moves the field forward

– use conferences to test out draft papers and get feedback via peer review conference systems and from the audience listening to your presentation

– establish and build diverse social networks across interest areas and internationally. I am a fan of the cold email! Writing to authors that I have enjoyed reading and telling them what their work means to me as well as how it connects to my work is a great way to build connections with leading authors

Finally establishing your pattern of inquiry – be known for something particular in your field, become the go to person!