Indigenous Business Month a Special Feature on Research from Dr Kerry Bodle at Griffith Business School

NEWS - 28 Nov 2022

October is ‘Indigenous Business Month’, an initiative that supports Indigenous business as a way of providing positive role models and improving the quality of life in Indigenous communities. This month, we feature an interview with Dr Kerry Bodle, who firmly believes in the roles of self-determination and business education in advancing career opportunities in Indigenous communities.

Dr Bodle is the Academic Director (Indigenous) for Griffith Business School, and an Associate Professor in the Department of Accounting, Finance and Economics at Griffith University within the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct (GCHKP).

She is passionate about empowering young Indigenous people to embrace business as a potential career, through transforming the traditional business education curriculum and using community-led research to break down barriers to commercial success for Indigenous businesses.

Dr Bodle has contributed significantly to the ongoing development of research into First Peoples and has been awarded several research grants that have supported her work in areas including the Indigenous Financial Literacy Project. Her contributions have increasingly influenced industry professionals, government policymakers, and educators around Australia, progressing efforts toward ‘Closing the Gap.’*

Designing innovative curricula with non-traditional teaching and learning styles is key to supporting Indigenous business education.

Dr Bodle has been active within the tertiary Indigenous education sphere for many years, supporting the ongoing need to attract and retain First Peoples higher degree students and developing Australia’s first Indigenous business course. She is the first Indigenous Accountant (CPA) with a Ph.D. and has seen firsthand the challenges Indigenous students can face within traditional models of education.

“In the last 20 years, I’ve completed an undergraduate program, my honours, and a Ph.D. All along my educational journey, there was not much content or many initiatives around Indigenous curriculum research,” Dr Bodle said.

“A few years ago, I proposed that we create a specific Academic Director (Indigenous) role at Griffith University, so that there are formalised, strategic plans at the University level to embrace and take on key priorities from the Closing the Gap report.”

In this new role, Dr Bodle created the first Indigenous business course, which took existing ideas of how to develop a business degree, completely pulled it apart, re-engineered it, and shifted the focus from the teacher (and a top-down structure) to a focus on student participation, reflection, and active learning.

“Business has typically been seen as a dirty word in Indigenous communities. When you talk about accounting, you’re talking about tax and government policies. Business and finance have never been embraced by Indigenous kids as a potential career opportunity.”

The new business program curriculum includes topics such as ‘Why Money Matters,’ and integrates a storytelling teaching pedagogy based on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and learning.

Dr Bodle says it is ‘decolonising’ the concept of business and embracing the deep knowledge that is already there in the community. She explained that Indigenous elders have been doing business for thousands of years, and it is time to break the mould of historically Western approaches.

“We are now taking a ‘bottom up’ approach to business education, engaging with Indigenous people and culture – which is how I led the Indigenous Financial Literacy Project.”

The Indigenous Financial Literacy Project supports Indigenous business owners to become economically sustainable in running businesses.

The Indigenous Financial Literacy Project was established by Dr Bodle and her research collaborators to closely look at how Indigenous people can make their businesses successful without relying on traditional Western ways of doing business. To do so, she and her team led consultations within Indigenous communities and assessed the success of initiatives, training programs, and processes already in place.

Indigenous-led businesses are in a broad range of industries across Australia, including manufacturing, construction, farming, natural medicines, tourism, the arts, and many more. To ensure their success and sustainability in a commercially competitive market, Indigenous businesses need to have a business education foundation. Dr Bodle shared an example of an Indigenous artist, whose business was growing – as money was coming in, it was important to formalise a financial process, such as setting up an ABN and assessing legal and tax accounting scenarios.

“We also looked at commercial initiatives that were currently out there for Indigenous businesses. We asked Indigenous business owners what they thought of the initiatives – were they successful? Could they be better? We reviewed the government initiatives within the Reconciliation Action Plan, looking at business workshops, training, and marketing modules.”

“We also looked at the Indigenous procurement policy in joint ventures, where Indigenous businesses are connected to large public companies in the supply chain.”

While Dr Bodle is awaiting the publication of the full outputs of the project, she explained that the outcome of the research is that current commercial initiatives aren’t as successful as they could be in supporting Indigenous businesses and that there is an opportunity for improvement. One of the main factors hampering success is that more engagement with Indigenous communities was needed throughout the planning process when these programs were being developed.

“When I went out in remote communities, it was about giving voice to our people and bringing them to the table to advise on what the community needs and how to best deliver it. It’s got to be a bottom-up approach of how a business training program should be developed.”

Dr Bodle said there was also an opportunity to embrace and commercialise the knowledge that Indigenous people have naturally and efficiently – to empower their expertise. For example, there is expertise in the narrow fields of water management, bushfire mitigation, natural medicine, and others, that could be better commercialised to help increase Indigenous economic development and employment outcomes.

Organisations within Lumina and the wider Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct can support Indigenous businesses.

Dr Bodle’s work extends beyond business education – she is also an expert on community engagement, connection, and service. We asked her about how organisations within the Lumina community, and the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct, can support Indigenous businesses this month and into the future.

Here are some of her tips:

  1. Understand the history and spirituality of the traditional land that your business is located on, and be involved in social connections to the community, especially with Aboriginal elders.
  2. Assess if a voluntary Reconciliation Action Plan can be implemented within your business, and consider ways to support it authentically to have an impact, before submitting your plan.
  3. Consider Indigenous cultural training for your employees to build a culturally responsive workforce.
  4. Consider joining a network such as ‘Black Coffee’ – a grassroots Indigenous business networking event held in regions around Australia each month. Indigenous business owners and professionals, along with their non-Indigenous supporters, get together and yarn (ie. network and build relationships)

*‘Closing the Gap’ is based on the belief that when Indigenous people have a genuine say in the design and delivery of policies, programs and services that affect them, better life outcomes are achieved. This new way of working requires innovative thinking and communication, built on the strong foundations Indigenous people have, through their deep connection to family, community, and culture.

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