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Getting down to business

THE fostering and nurturing of Aboriginal business would be made far more difficult without the vital conduits formed by individuals such as Gidja (East Kimberley) man Kim Bridge.

The son of Kimberley personality Ernie Bridge, who became WA’s first Aboriginal politician in the early 1980s, Kim Bridge has started his own company to help Aboriginal people into their own enterprises.

Mr Bridge was born in Halls Creek but was sent to boarding schools in Alice Springs and Perth to get the vital ingredient needed for success – an education and a degree in business.

He says he wanted an education qualification since the age of 11, and there was no deviating from that path.

“My father has been generally influential on me but he’s never direct-ed me as such, he’s always left that up to me,” Mr Bridge says.

“He encouraged us to go to school and I enjoyed school, including boarding school.

“Education had meaning to me and it had a real purpose.”

Mr Bridge has been working with Indigenous Australians in WA, the Northern Territory and Queensland for about 15 years in business development.

“I play a very keen role in facilitating, fostering and motivating indigenous people into progressing towards Western business culture,” he says.

“I help with business plans and business support at a general level and I know enough with my own experience and my own education of an accounting degree and a business degree.

“In the past five years I’ve been an independent consultant and I’ve concentrated more on getting Aboriginal people into the workforce

through industry, and one component of that is the facilitation of cross-cultural awareness.”

Mr Bridge says cross-cultural awareness is a vital and growing industry, mainly because of the media’s failure to grasp the issues around Aboriginal reconciliation.

“It’s clear to me that we have an Australian public with a huge lack of knowledge,” he says.

“What is needed is awareness-raising exercises over two three or four days and that is the commencement, the catalyst for knowledge.

“I’ve run a series of about 100 two-day workshops over the past four or five years and I find it’s a positive program to do, despite the negative aspects of our shared history.

“I share components of the history such as the 1905 Act, which has helped construct a lot of what we’re dealing with today.

“I also talk about the various massacres that occurred such as Pinjarra (1834) and the violent settling of the Kimberleys (1890s).

“I find that people want to be made aware but they don’t want that history shoved down their throat, so the way I do it is share that history and ask them what they believe is the impact of that history on today.

“I always ask the group to dissect that, and without fail they’ll construct all of the things that we’re dealing with such as depression, loss of culture, discrimination, segregation, genocide.

“Then I get each group to talk about solutions because that’s what’s important.

“Such sessions make good economic sense because what will happen, especially in industries like mining, is that if you have an aware workforce. There’s actually a skills transfer happening.

“If you can think better, you can communicate better, you can work with your staff better and there are leadership, management and productivity issues involved here.

“I can see a time in the future where cultural awareness will be included in job criteria.

“Cultural awareness is not a ‘feel good’ thing, it’s a deserved thing, and if business talks about the triple bottom line becoming important rather than the single bottom line, then get fair dinkum.

“Components such as cultural aware-ness are an important part of the action plan of many companies.”

Mr Bridge says Aboriginal Australians should look positively at the integration into the business culture because there are some tremendous opportunities to be explored and evaluated.

“These things have been talked about for 20 years or more but what we need now is a real transition and implementation of some of those ideas,” he says.

“To be involved in business, Aboriginal people need the appropriate skills and knowledge.

“The tourism industry, for example, is one of the growth areas at the moment and yet if you counted up how many are ‘export ready’ (world standard tourism business) there are probably only about two or three.”

Mr Bridge says that while some government policies of the past have hindered the development of Aboriginal business, the indigenous community itself also has to lift its game.

“I think Aboriginal people have dragged their feet in the past few years,” he says.

“So many opportunities have been lost.

“I think government needs to improve too, but it’s an excuse to say the government has dragged it feet on this issue.

“I don’t say that Aboriginal people have dragged their feet as a criticism.

“We have come from a history of oppression which does not give anyone the passion and drive and goal setting and the visions needed to get up and go.

“For that reason, the starting point for Aboriginal people is challenging and that’s where the government is needed, to give people that starting point.

“There are plenty of programs in place but none of those gives individual skills.

“I also work hard on professional development to try to get the individual skilled and ready at that entry point.

“If you’ve got an unhealthy body and mind and low self esteem, you’re not going to perform, and we have that in our environment big time.”

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