A streamlined ACT Indigenous Business Support Program has commenced, giving local businesses and their employees help to adapt and flourish through the trying times of the pandemic.
Run by Indigenous majority owned and managed Canberra Business Yerra, managing director Dion Devow has championed the cause for several years.
Mr Devow told Canberra Weekly he was inspired to create the program after winning the 2014 ACT NAIDOC Business Of The Year Award with Darkies Design.
“Because my journey was so lonely, I didn’t have many people I could talk to … there was no coordinated supports or networks or get together or workshops,” he said.
The fact Mr Devow’s award was sponsored by the ACT Government inspired him to reach out to see if they would aid him in establishing a local Indigenous business support program.
“I thought ‘well that’s great and it’s an honour but I’m going to go to the government and say let’s do something with it’.
“And to his credit, the Chief Minister Andrew Barr has been one of the biggest champions of this program.”
Several discussions then led to the first Canberra Business Yarning Circle, an ongoing event which serves as a community-building exercise.
“I talked to the Aboriginal Torres Strait entrepreneur community and asked what they wanted, and it was mostly basic business advice,” he said.
“Stuff like how to get a website up and running, how to pitch, how to write a tender, marketing, social media.
The event, in turn, served as a feedback mechanism that aided Mr Devow to develop and establish the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Business Support Program in 2015.
“When we get together and yarn, I ask the community what is it that you need and then I work backwards form there.”
Five years on, that program is still running – but is now implemented differently due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“There’s still demand for that support,” Mr Devow said.
“Over the coming months we will be sharing education, resources, programs, training packages and other relevant information to help businesses survive and recover from COVID-19.
“It’s more than just about helping people start a business, more of a wholistic approach to inform people of how we can still be effective, trade and drive in these unprecedented, uncertain times.
“It’s not so much one-on-one or face-to-face contact, but more about connecting of people virtually, running online surveys and questionnaires and making sure information is going out all the time.”
A proud community leader, Mr Devow said he feels “honoured” to see local Indigenous business owners achieve their dreams and aspirations in part because of the assistance these programs offer.
“I think it’s a part of who I am, it’s a part of me to want to help people,” he said.
“A beautiful artist has gone from doing children’s face paintings to being engaged to produce pieces of work for Mastercard.
“That’s the kind of impact a program like this can have around supporting the dreams and aspirations of Aboriginal businesses … it’s just been really nice to be a part of that.”
Having reached and abetted over 190 local Indigenous businesses over the years via the program, Mr Devow said he’s proud to have benefited from the programs himself too.
“I’ve tried to better myself and access things for myself, being part of the cohort as well as the person leading it.
“In my Yerra offices I have spaces for Aboriginal and Torres Strait entrepreneurs to come and work for free.
“There’s hot desking, they can have an address there, phones, utilities, they can park for free. I allow them to come and work there whilst they’re establishing themselves … At the moment, four entrepreneurs come on a regular basis three or four days a week.”