What was your first job?
Unofficially, my first job was in our family business sorting out invoices during my school holidays. Small business entrepreneurship runs in my family.
I then worked in a family-owned bookshop and spent my shifts reading and talking about books.
When did you know you wanted to work in finance/business?
To be honest, I never really wanted to work in finance. I wanted to work in an organisation that was changing society for the better, and I wanted to work for an organisation that was focused on shifting unjust systems of power and inequity. Finance happens to be one of those unjust and inequitable industries for most Australians, but particularly, for First Nations people. Growing up in my community, there was no real tangible empowerment for First Nations entrepreneurs, and today, the support is still scarce. But there are good organisations, like FAC, that trying to change these systems and investor mindsets.
When did you first discover the concept of Impact Investing?
I heard about it a few years ago when companies were shifting away from CSR and Shared Value. It seemed like a solution to the behemoth inequity capitalism has created, but it’s yet to be seen whether it will achieve its ambitious goals. For me, there seems to be a desire to put a new name on a ‘new’ thing, that’s quite like the old thing, the logo is just different.
Indigenous entrepreneurs have been running businesses, with community and country at the centre for generations. Always focusing on impact first.
We run our businesses for our communities, it’s always about asking, how will this help our mob? In my opinion, Impact investing exists to right the wrongs of capitalism. Maybe we should just make better use of our capital and make better investments into organisations that prioritise community and country?
Working in my space, I reflect a lot on the different approaches to solving our world’s greatest problems, Impact Investing is one of those approaches. I am optimistic that there is a growing movement of powerful investors looking to shift their capital to underserved and emerging markets (which the Indigenous economy is), but I am also cautious. Attending the recent Impact Investment Summit in March drove home to me how diverse the views on what ‘Impact Investing’ means to different individuals. I listened to VC professionals explain you can get above-market returns and make an impact, and I listened to social enterprises lament that way of thinking. For me, Impact Investing is exactly that, it is using an investor’s power, resource and networks to enable a business to achieve its impact goals. Monetary returns are important, but these returns should not compromise a business’s impact goals or self-determination.
When thinking of Impact Investing in Indigenous enterprises, much work needs to be done to change mindsets and systems. I often push investors to think about the systems and structures in their investment process, a process that they created, a process that is filled with barriers to creating impact. We are the designers of these systems, therefore we have the opportunity and ability to design those barriers out. The Australian Impact Investing market is juvenile when compared to other countries. It’s easier for an investor to donate money rather than invest. I reflect on what that fundamentally means for the business receiving those funds. Power won’t shift unless investments are made. Impact investing has an important role to play in shifting power to those enterprises that have been historically excluded from accessing capital. The opportunities for impact are huge, especially in the Indigenous economy. These opportunities are what get me excited about the future, but these opportunities rely so heavily on investors to come to the table with transparency, a willingness to learn and intentionality.
There is a lot more to be said about Impact investing, the role of philanthropy, implications of tax and DGR status, networks etc- but I’ll save those thoughts for my next Impact Investment Summit session.
What’s one exciting development you and your team have in the pipeline?
There are many exciting things happening at First Australian’s Capital – but our Indigenous Enterprise Impact Fund will be launching later this year and we are soon to be seeking pledges from interested Impact investors for the Fund.
The scale of this Fund will determine how many Indigenous entrepreneurs we can support, so this is FAC’s top priority. To complement our Fund development, we have created, in partnership with Indigenous Impact Pty Ltd, an Indigenous First Impact Investing Framework. A tool for Investors looking to make authentic, long-term and values-aligned investments into Indigenous enterprises.
What was the most interesting impact deal (from any team across Asia/Pacific) in the past 12 months?
Any Investment into Indigenous enterprises is exciting, unfortunately, the scope for investment is quite limited and there is very little focus on start-up and venture capital opportunities so it is difficult for Indigenous enterprises to get a foot in the door. I would say the development of the First Nations Clean Energy Network is very exciting, because of its collaborative nature, bringing together so many First Nations and Industry participants, and that it is Indigenous-led, so the opportunity for First Nations people to not only participate in but lead the transition to a low-carbon economy is game-changing for Indigenous communities. And the outcomes of a project like these benefits everyone, there is so much scope for positive outcomes for Community and Country.
Name one high-impact company (globally) that investors should keep their eye on?
Unsurprisingly, I have to say First Australians Capital, we are leading a completely new approach to invest in Indigenous Enterprise to create long-term sustainable impacts, but I should say that we are driven by the ambitions of the global Indigenous investment market, and key players such as Raven Capital Partners who are paving the way for investors like us to fulfil our ambitions.
What’s your vision for impact investing in 5 years time?
That is much more normalised in Australia and participation is across the whole of the finance sector. We look to North America for its impact investing and community development models, and there is such a different attitude towards returns on impact investing, and a higher risk appetite in investments – these enablers widen the scope for the types of entrepreneurs that can start to develop their ideas into viable businesses and I’d like to see much more of that in Australia – giving many more people a chance to participate in industry and economic development.