Boosting the capabilities of Indigenous organisations through technology, John O’Driscoll is bridging the connectivity divide between remote Western Australian organisations and the world.

O’Driscoll is the Enterprise Group Manager at Telstra Business Technology Centre Perth North—a Telstra branch that supports local businesses in Perth’s northern suburbs and beyond.

Currently managing several large Indigenous businesses, O’Driscoll and his team are gearing up for the Indigenous Emerging Business Forum 2020.

The forum was originally scheduled for March but was cancelled due to COVID-19. Now it’s back on the calendar and scheduled for October 30, with 250 Indigenous organisations signed up as attendees.

After noticing there was no Indigenous Engagement Officer at the Centre, O’Driscoll took it upon himself to assume the role unpaid while simultaneously managing his team and other work as Enterprise Group Manager.

On his own journey to discover his family’s Aboriginal heritage, O’Driscoll said Indigenous business success and technology are a matter close to his heart.

“I’m sick and tired of people just labelling Aboriginal people as labourers, cleaners, when they can be so much more,” he said.

“The work that we’re doing is going to benefit far more people than just driving normal business.

“It’s also good for us [Telstra Business Technology Centre Perth North] as well because I feel like we’re giving back to community.”


Going the distance

Although WA is home to many Indigenous businesses, they are separated by vast distances—particularly outside the Perth metropolitan area.

“There’s a lot of different Indigenous businesses but they weren’t really working together … to win grants or any kind of jobs,” O’Driscoll said.

“If there’s not the right technology for them to compete on the same playing field, it’s very hard for them to compete nationally [and] internationally.

“What we’re trying to do to bridge the divide is to show them that they don’t need to have a corporate office in a capital city, they don’t need to have a lot of infrastructure behind them to make things work.”

O’Driscoll said it’s important to get remote businesses connected in the digital age so they can showcase their product and in turn drive revenue within their communities.

“They are better than just being labourers, they can do whatever they want having that technology.”


Connecting within WA

The Enterprise Group Manager believes better connectivity is the way forward for remote WA organisations to be able to compete on the international stage.

“It’s really important because there’s a lot of business that’s being farmed outside of the state,” he said.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of east coast companies coming in and doing a [joint venture], hiring people and then dumping them as soon as the job’s completed.

“It started to really get up my nose, so what we’ve done is we’ve been able to connect the top end of WA to metro down here [in Perth] and all the way down to south west [WA].

“We want [Indigenous companies] to win the contracts … but what we want to do is grab local boys and girls within community, train them up with that skillset, let them maintain that contract after the fact, and keep the money within WA.”

O’Driscoll has recently set up an Indigenous hub in the Kimberley with a Traditional Owner acting as the Telstra partner and point of contact with community.

The Telstra Business Technology Centre Perth North is also trying to connect communities with training services in northern WA to upskill locals.

“We can skill these communities, keep the economy going within the communities so they’re not reliant on anyone else. It’s also keeping self-worth and tradition alive as well.”


Bridging the divide

With a vision for a digitally interconnected Indigenous business sector, O’Driscoll wants Aboriginal organisations to hold their own both nationally and internationally.

The Enterprise Group Manager said technology such as video conferencing takes no more than 15 minutes to set up and opens local communities up to conversations with anyone in the world.

“Aboriginal people [are] a very visual people, so a phone call just sometimes doesn’t do it, or if you’re trying to build trust … a face to face is probably the best way to get things done,” O’Driscoll said.

“It’s really just giving that connectivity back to the community.”

“We’re a remote state, we’re a remote country, but we don’t have to operate like that.”

In five years, O’Driscoll hopes to see Indigenous businesses competing with the rest of the world.

“If we don’t bridge the divide, I see [Indigenous business] as exactly where it is now, if not going backwards,” he said.

“If we’re able to bridge the divide and give the technologies out to Aboriginal businesses, I see us competing with the best in the world.

“[Aboriginal people have] a beautiful mindset … a strong culture … it’s about getting [the] culture out to the rest of the world.”

By Hannah Cross