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First Nations female-led 'Make It Happen HQ' strikes partnership with Indigenous Business Australia

Jess Whaler -

Make it Happen HQ (MIHHQ), a business striving to support First Nations entrepreneurs, announced a partnership with Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) last week that promises to deliver professional development and economic growth opportunities for women, girls and sistagurls in Broome and Fitzroy Crossing, Western Australia.

MIHHQ is an all-female led First Nations Innovation Hub and Think Tank that has supported 34 First Nations entrepreneurs, and 15 businesses since its inception in 2015. With welcomed support from IBA, MIHHQ will deliver several culturally appropriate professional development programs covering eCommerce, financial literacy, digital masterclass and mentoring and coaching in an effort to boost economic growth in the region.

Due to a lack of funding for Indigenous entrepreneurs, the MIHHQ team have called on governments, corporates and philanthropists to open the funding gates and fund First Australian-owned and controlled initiatives, stating "that real impact can only be achieved when delivered by Indigenous-run organisations that have the first-hand knowledge and cultural experience needed to deliver programs that directly contribute towards closing the gap".

Founder of MIHHQ, First Nations entrepreneur Yawuru/Bunuba woman Adele Peek overcame undiagnosed dyslexia in childhood to establish and lead several businesses designed to advocate and support First Nations communities.

"My grandmother's country's Yawuru and Bunuba and my grandfather was a pearl diver from Hong Kong," she told National Indigenous Times.

Ms Peek's father is Anglo-Saxon and she grew up on the multicultural outskirts of Melbourne. On her mother's side, her family roots are deeply embedded into the Broome and Fitzroy Crossing communities.

Having only received a diagnosis of Dyslexia whilst in university, Ms Peek said she "had to work, I guess very hard, in different ways to realise what works for me as an individual".

Ms Peek realised that while she understood content, it didn't translate to her performance "my brain didn't receive information in the same way that others did".

"You know how people invert numbers? I do that with sentences. So it will make sense the first half and then the second half is sort of like… did you miss something?"

Ms Peek said once she got assistance at university with this, her writing transformed and her natural style came out.

She said this experience opened her eyes to the fact that everybody is different and have different learning styles and through this experience she has discovered that entrepreneurship was a natural fit.

Her entrepreneurial spirit was inspired by her parents who were both savvy businesspeople when she was growing up, her parents also fought for the underdog, or the disadvantaged and have instilled the values of her grandmother and the broader family.

MIHHQ was established ten years ago by Ms Peek and her sister Cara, she said their business model is different from others because they are First Nations entrepreneurs that did not have enormous amounts of capital.

"To be honest, it's a I think a physical manifestation of what our journey has been to get to the point where we are, and by that I mean is that as two First Nation women living in very remote communities with no infrastructure, no networks, no general support for what we think is possible and want to do," she said.

"We then had to build that over the last 10 years and as a result of that learning process, that's how Make it Happen has been founded, because we know that noone in our community but also other remote communities across Australia, is providing First Nation entrepreneurship and that's actually what we need to be nurturing.

"We see entrepreneurship as the critical lever that needs to be pulled in order to move out of the welfare dependency into Aboriginal economic advancement".

In a formal statement, Ms Peek said: "Following years of advocacy and our best practice co-design process, we are excited to be bringing our programs to Fitzroy Crossing and Broome in partnership with IBA. As a grassroots, First Nation, female-led initiative, it is truly great to see that our bespoke solution with a proven track record has been recognised by the likes of IBA, who possess the funding we need to help roll out these much-needed programs."

Stella de Cos, Southern Arrernte woman and IBA Director of Community and Customer Experience, said the program will drive positive change for First Nations women and The Cultural Intelligence Project is a well-known and well-positioned delivery partner in the region.

"Women are the strongest pillars of many of our First Nations communities. Empowering them builds opportunities to continue the positive impact and change they drive," said Ms de Cos.

Low employment rates are problematic in Western Australia for Indigenous communities and the Peek sisters believe that driving economic opportunity is the solution to improving outcomes.

Helen Ockerby, who has participated MIHHQ programs, said they "help First Nations women gain valuable skills and attributes to ensure we get to where we want to be, for me, this was about growing the management side of the business".

"For far too long we have sat in the background with so much knowledge. Being able to harness this knowledge into business outcomes is just fantastic. It's a need that has little to no representation in the region as well as on a national scale," she said.

"It's really important to be present and seen so the future generation can see anything is achievable if you grasp great opportunities and believe in yourself. I encourage other female First Nation entrepreneurs to surround themselves with great people like MIHHQ who believe in change and have engaged with IBA to deliver and support the local growth of empowered women and their communities."

Ms Peek said she hopes that through the success of the current partnership with IBA, the momentum will continue.

"I think IBA like all, would recognise that there are little to no indigenous initiatives supported. Most funding in Australia goes to non- Indigenous organisations that are supposed to facilitate capability development for indigenous people and that's why partnerships like this are important, because this is one of the first times ever that Make It Happen or anyone of our platforms has actually been given substantial program funding to deliver what we know works," she said.

"Anybody else in the Australian market knows that money does not come to First Nation-led initiatives and that needs to change, and unfortunately, you know, with the results of the referendum, our thinking is that the referendum result really just reinforces our experience to date and although we are the best place to deliver capability development in our communities, we're not the ones to do so.

"I would be saying actually look at the facts around where funding goes and is spent and you'll find 99.9 per cent of the time it's not Indigenous-led or owned organisations that are facilitating the change that's required, and that's still what needs to happen in this country, regardless of the voice outcome."

Ms Peek said First Nation initiatives should be supported and funded to do "what only we can do".

"And the reality of the external political climate is, and just the general nature of this country is, you know, we know why the needle hasn't shifted, we know why closing the gap hasn't been closed," she said.

"People are looking at it like there's some type of big hard answer, but the reality is, it's because Indigenous people… like the voice failing… have never been empowered to empower their people."

The partnership will support the following programs:

'Swagga' eCommerce program: A two-day face-to-face environment with two separate cohorts ("Base" in Fitzroy Crossing and "Intermediate" in Broome) for 8-15 women, girls or sistergirls. Learnings include how to build and maintain a website, Instagram, and eCommerce platform that will enable them to begin selling their services and products online.

'Hustle + Flow' Financial Literacy Program: Run over one day with two separate cohorts ("Base" in Fitzroy Crossing and "Intermediate" in Broome) for 8-15 women, girls or sistergirls from the Kimberley region. The content will support the empowerment of First Nations women with the financial knowledge, tools and skills to grow their new and/or existing business ideas.

Digital Masterclass Series: Delivered by partners and a First Nations female co-facilitator from The Cultural Intelligence Project for women, girls and sistergirls across the North of Australia. The program contains eight masterclasses (approximately 15 hours total) in legal start-ups, tax law, business development, financial start-ups, tax planning, impact measurement, fundraising, cyber security, digital and marketing.

Twelve-month Business Mentoring and Coaching Support: Available for 10 women in the Kimberley Region and remote NT and QLD; including upfront business coaching which assesses their idea/concept or existing business and one-on-one business readiness assessment resulting in an action plan.

More information about Make It Happen is available online.

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