Enabling access to start-up capital for Indigenous entrepreneurs in Western NSW may sound like a fairly niche target for a large bank, but for National Australia Bank’s (NAB) Community Finance and Development team, it is core business.
A sound economic imperative and commitment to promoting the financial inclusion of Indigenous Australians underpins the new partnership between NAB and Murdi Paaki Regional Enterprise Corporation (MPREC), and gives Indigenous entrepreneurs in Western NSW access to small business training, mentoring and start-up capital.
The Murdi Paaki region encompasses the whole of Western NSW, stretching from the Victorian border to Queensland and takes in towns such as Cobar, Bourke, Broken Hill and Wilcannia that have significant Aboriginal populations.
The economic argument is about sustaining regional communities. Small country towns flourish and wane on the back of good seasons and drought, and subsequently so do services and small business in the area.
However strong cultural ties to country and family mean Aboriginal communities are more likely to stay in regional areas. So if people are going to live and thrive in regional areas, they need small business to service them, and it makes sense that those small businesses are owned and operated by people committed to the area.
The challenge is that Indigenous Australians often have difficulties accessing start-up capital, and thus the second plank supporting the partnership: promoting the financial inclusion of Indigenous Australians through improving access to financial products and services.
This commitment forms part of the NAB Reconciliation Action Plan, launched in December 2008, and is part of the bank’s broader commitment to fairness by addressing our broader responsibility to society.
Hence we have forged a partnership with MPREC. Part of our Indigenous Entrepreneur Program, NAB offers loan facilities of up to $20 000 to start up Indigenous businesses, while the MPREC Business Unit delivers ongoing mentoring services to start-ups who qualify for a loan.
The flow on effect is that Indigenous-owned businesses hire Indigenous workers and create sustainable economies in areas where there might not have been one previously, and Indigenous Australians in the Murdi Paaki region can focus on creating self-sustaining pathways to employment.
The types of businesses may vary – from bush tucker, arts and crafts, and cultural tourism built around local Dreaming Stories, to catering companies and environmentally sustainable pushbike storage facilities – however the outcome is the same: a stronger Indigenous economy.
Glen Brennan is the Senior Manager, Community Finance & Development for NAB.